From the Desk of Neil deMause: Oakland Cries All the Way to the Bank

The following contribution comes from Neil deMause, co-author of  Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money into Private Profit (Nebraska, 2008). Neil deMause is a native New Yorker who is a regular contributor to Vice Sports, the Village Voice, Extra!, City Limits, and other publications. He runs the stadium-watch website fieldofschemes.com, where this piece was originally published. 

Well, the NFL went and did it: In a 31-1 vote (Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was the one objector), the league owners yesterday approved the relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, to play in a proposed $1.9 billion stadium that will be funded with the help of $750 million in state subsidies.

This is the third NFL franchise relocation announced in the last year and change, all three involving teams that had relocation at least once before (following the Cleveland-to-Los Angeles-to-St. Louis-to-Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles-to-San Diego-to-Los Angeles Chargers). And reaction was fast and furious and in all directions at once:

  • The Raiders will remain in Oakland for at least the next two and possibly three seasons while their new Vegas stadium is being built, since UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium was deemed even more unacceptable for NFL purposes than a stadium in a city where fans will likely only show up to burn the owner in effigy. Or not show up at all: Famed Raider fan Dr. Death has already announced that he’s ditching both his Raiders gear and his Raiders season tickets, declaring, “That dysfunction, that ineptitude? That problem is no longer mine. Las Vegas, have fun with that.”
  • To have any hope of earning back that $750 million, Nevada will have to draw a stupendous number of new tourists who would come to Vegas just to see the Raiders and then stay for several days, which already looked awfully dubious. Stanford economist Roger Noll chimed in last week that there’s zero evidence for the Raiders’ economic projections, calling the stadium plan “a catenation of optimistic assumptions” for which “the probability that it could happen isn’t zero, but it is pretty close to zero. … Why would they believe a half a million who would never visit Vegas would suddenly show up because there is a football stadium?”
  • If fans don’t show up — and more to the point, if the hike in hotel taxes to pay for the stadium drives down the number of other visitors even slightly — “the money comes out of schools and buses,” notes Slate’s Henry Grabar, since part of the hotel tax currently goes to fund Nevada education and public transit programs.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross write that the Raiders’ stay in Oakland was doomed by the city’s desire to keep the A’s, though really, more to the point is that Oakland officials didn’t want to cough up the hundreds of millions of dollars in stadium funds that Raiders owner Mark Davis was demanding (and so far A’s owner Lew Wolff has not).
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Kimberly Veklerov noted in an article before the vote that Oakland could end up coming out ahead financially from the Raiders’ departure, since the Coliseum Authority currently spends about $1 million more on stadium staffing and conversion of the seating bowl from baseball to football than it receives from Raiders parking, concessions, and rent.

If there’s any sense in any of this — aside from the allure of that $750 million — it’s that the Raiders will now be closer to the Southern California fan base that Davis’s father Al abandoned when he moved the team back to Oakland in 1995. Why, Las Vegas is only a four-hour drive from Los Angeles, so surely half a million people a year will make that trip, then spend the whole weekend gambling, and it won’t take away from any other trips they would have made to Vegas anyway, and oh just never mind, there is no sense in any of this other than that sweet, sweet stadium-subsidy lucre. Enjoy your Raiders (starting in 2019 or so), Las Vegas — they’re your problem now.