For those of you who have read my articles in the past, I owe you an apology for what you are about to read (and for subjecting you to Mark Davis’ haircut twice). I take pride in the effort, research, and thought I put into my other articles, just like every other writer here at Check Down. However, this article will feature relatively little of that. Best to call a spade a spade because this is no article: It’s a rant.
It’s a rant on Roger Goodell, it’s a rant on the NFL, it’s a rant on Las Vegas, and numerous other things. I must give credit where credit is due, as a brilliant article in the New York Times by Michael Powell inspired me. The article, found here, and the points it makes are what most of this rant is based on. So here goes:
I’m not even a fan of the Oakland Raiders, and I still hate everything about their relocation to Las Vegas. As a Bay Area native, the Raiders have been a stark point of uniqueness for NFL fans in the area. Similar to the A’s in that regard, the black and silver faithful stand out in a sea of red and gold. The Raiders’ brand has also often captured Oakland’s own brand: Tough, gritty, grind-it-out people. As Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is quoted in the article, “This team was blue-collar and born and raised here, and the pride and passion that Oaklanders feel about this team is in our blood”. While my fanhood for the New England Patriots is undying, I can’t help but empathize for the Raider fans in Oakland, and for the community we share. A piece of me would die if the A’s ever left Oakland, so I feel for the Raider Nation.
The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas on the back of a nearly $1 billion gift of public funds from the city, joining the pool of $6.7 billion in public money that has been spent on NFL stadiums in the last 21 years. Oakland, on the other hand, promised land and other benefits to the organization and league, but no public money was on the table. Mayor Schaaf was firm on that point. Unfortunately, that doomed her and Oakland to the losing end of the NFL’s trend: cities better fork over the cash for new stadiums, or owners’ eyes will wander to places that will.
This brings me to Roger Goodell. I dislike Roger Goodell, but have never been much of an outspoken critic against him. Until now. From browbeating the Patriots with Deflategate, to terrible management of the league’s very public domestic violence issues, Roger Goodell puts in mediocre performance after mediocre performance. The only reason he sticks around is because he’s good at the one thing NFL owner’s care about these days: money. Goodell is the epitome of say one thing, do another. The move to Las Vegas is no different. The NFL is incredibly anti-gambling, which is natural for a sports league. It follows this up by moving a franchise out of the sixth largest market in the country–and from a city growing by leaps and bounds–to Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the U.S., that offers both a smaller market and population. The New York Times article also points out that Las Vegas is notoriously small business, had fewer foreclosures this year, and also just shut down a public school for at-risk youth under the claims of “not enough money”. Damn good thing they have an NFL team. While none of that is specifically Goodell’s fault, the lack of shame by him and the league is remarkable. Praise the Lord for Dolphin’s owner Stephen Ross, the one dissenting vote amongst the owners. To put the cherry on top of the Roger Goodell bit, he put Mayor Schaaf into an ultimatum, telling her that they might keep the Raiders if they evicted the Oakland Athletics. Roger Goodell may have well just sent me a letter declaring war on me.
Round 2 of this rant is aimed at the NFL, and more importantly their owners. 31-1? Numerous signs point to a Las Vegas team making less money than an Oakland team, but it’s acceptable because the city basically gave them almost a billion dollars to do it. Las Vegas is ranked as the 40th largest television market in the U.S. by www.newsgeneration.com, with 15 markets ranked above it that don’t feature NFL teams. Additionally, top level markets have shown the ability to carry two franchises, such as New York City and Los Angeles. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose is the sixth largest market in the country. It stands to reason that they could support two franchises. While many might point to Oakland’s bottom-of-the-barrel attendance numbers, this is best attributed to the poor state of the Coliseum when compared to the flashy new Levi Stadium. A new stadium was a must, but leaving Oakland was not necessary to achieve that end. The costs would’ve been higher, but for a league that nets $14 billion annually, their wallets are fat enough. The move to Las Vegas adds unnecessary risk on the basis that the stadium would be cheaper. The “It’s just business” notion certainly applies, but sports franchises carry a much higher connection to their communities than traditional businesses do, and that connection, while certainly never a deal breaker, never even seemed to factor into the equation in this instance.
Additionally, It makes sense for the Raiders to be in Oakland, and frankly it made sense for them to be in L.A. during the time that they were. The community and the team reflected each other. “Just win, baby” and Las Vegas don’t go well together. When’s the last time you heard of someone going to Vegas and winning? Ocean’s Eleven wasn’t real (and neither was Ocean’s Thirteen). Yet the NFL owner’s don’t seem to care about that (except for Stephen Ross). Good thing Dallas has the JerryDome, otherwise America’s favorite team might be playing in a different country in 2025. “Now introducing, the Mexico City Cowboys/Gauchos”. It’s a shame, because sports has became inherent not only in American culture, but the culture of the cities who host franchises. To separate two institutions that are so connected like that is terrible for a city’s morale. Particularly when both the city and the franchise were on the rise.
Lastly, Las Vegas. I touched on this earlier, but Michael Powell really should’ve given Las Vegas more heat. This is a lesson in poor decision making. A city that is growing economically won’t pledge a dime of public funds, but a city that just shut down a school because it didn’t have any money can’t sign the $1 billion check fast enough all for an NFL Franchise. This is poor taste. I don’t mean to bring politics to CheckDown, but come on. $1 billion is enough for probably five new schools, and grants for those schools’ graduates to go to college, and then maybe one them invents something, and Las Vegas becomes a relatively economic city again. The fact of the matter is that Las Vegas’ economy revolves around people like Alan, Stu, Phil, and Doug from The Hangover: Adults who come to spend every available dime on hotel rooms, gambling, strippers, and very quickly nullified weddings. This is not the place for a sports franchise. Solid franchises are built on lasting communities with devoted fanbases and support from local business. A tourist town with a population of 600,000 that got absolutely crushed by the recession can’t support a team like an area with a population nearing 2.5 million that has a thriving business environment. Doesn’t it seem like the Bay Area folks know what they’re doing, and Las Vegas folks don’t? At the end of the day, the Raiders can just move back to Oakland, like they did in 1995. But for Vegas, they go down with the ship.
There are two franchises who benefit from this move. The San Francisco 49ers, because increased advertising competition means they can drive up prices, and the Oakland Athletics, because Mayor Schaaf will be promising them the moon to stay in Oakland, which may draw the worst ownership in history into actually committing. And as much as it feels weird to say as an A’s fan, I might just give that possibility up to have the Raiders back in Oakland, because the two franchises are too important to the city and its community to give up.