After several years of speculation and soap opera-like actions and reactions, it now looks like the Raiders are definitely coming to Las Vegas. There’s been much speculation on the impact this will have on the NFL, and on the Raiders themselves. But what about the impact on Las Vegas: its economy, its culture and, perhaps most importantly, the city’s sporting dynamic?
Owner Mark Davis has been trying to move the Oakland Raiders to Vegas for several years now, and it looks like the team will begin playing home games at the new Las Vegas Stadium from the 2020 season on. It’s not the first major relocation for the franchise: the Raiders moved to Los Angeles between 1982 and 94, but then moved back to Oakland after being unable to secure either a new LA stadium or a proposed move to Sacramento.
The Raiders’ lease on the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium expired in 2013, meaning the club was free to look for a new home. It’s used a series of one-year extensions to buy time while looking at a variety of options. Moves to San Antonio or back to LA were among those considered, but Davis started seriously looking at Las Vegas in 2015. In 2016 he announced publicly that he intended to bring the franchise to Vegas and pledged $500m towards the construction of a new stadium.
The project has had a troubled history since then, with several initial backers withdrawing their support. The NFL officially approved the move in 2017 however, and work began on the new stadium in earnest at the end of that year. A new headquarters and practice facility near Henderson Executive Airport are also underway.
A new beginning
In sporting terms the key point is that Vegas has never before hosted an NFL franchise, and indeed has never really had a successful football team in any league, despite several attempts. The arrival of the Raiders is in this sense long overdue. The fact that a major metropolis like Las Vegas has been blocked from having a serious football franchise of its own is a travesty that is finally being put right.
For the Raiders, Vegas represents an untapped market. Along with the NHL’s Golden Knights, they’ll be the first major sports franchise to set up home in the entertainment capital of the world. Whereas in Oakland the Raiders had to share the Bay Area with the San Francisco 49ers, in Vegas they’ll have a major territory all to themselves.
Las Vegas is also a hub for sports betting, a thorny issue for the NFL but an activity that is nevertheless becoming increasingly popular nationwide thanks to online sites like BetStars based out of New Jersey. It’s also long been possible to bet on the outcome of NFL games in Las Vegas casinos. The arrival of the Raiders won’t change this but having a local team to root for will add interest to this already popular pastime.
Inspiration and support
Having a major league sporting franchise in the immediate area will also give a shot in the arm to local amateur sports teams, community projects and high school football. The arrangement struck between the City of Las Vegas and the Raiders management includes a commitment by the latter to community work. This will make a huge difference to local schools and community groups in a city that has never before had the benefit of an NFL team.
Advantages that other metropolitan areas take for granted, such as school visits from professional players, club-hosted charity events, sponsorship of scholarships, outreach projects and donations of sporting equipment will all begin to be felt in the Las Vegas area. There is no doubt that the Raiders will meet and exceed expectations in these areas, as they strive to make new friends in the city and to leave behind the controversy and cynicism that has dogged the move to date.
Young kids will be inspired to greater achievements and will feel that their efforts are being acknowledged. Raiders’ talent scouts will also become more active in the region, and the arrival of the franchise will overall bring a much-needed new sense of structure to the city’s sporting community. The passion exemplified by the players, and the sense that hard work and following your dream is a route to success, is also eminently transferable to other sporting fields as well as the arts, science and most any discipline you care to name.
Along with bringing in more jobs and business opportunities, the arrival of the Raiders in Las Vegas could be the beginning of a whole new era for sports in the city. This is something to be welcomed with open arms.