Those who love the idea of the Las Vegas Raiders are acting like a history professor getting locked overnight in a library: What could go wrong? Those who hate it are certain this project will be as successful as the Edsel, New Coke and the first two months of the Trump presidency.
Granted, the Oakland Raiders aren’t supposed to arrive until 2020, when 20/20 hindsight will tell us more about what was positive and negative about the Raiders’ desire to move, Las Vegas and Nevada leaders’ desire for the move, and the NFL’s decision to let them move. But we would be better off with 20/20 foresight—and it’s lacking.
The potential benefits of the Raiders’ move are considerable. Their presence could attract new and/or more visitors. Their stadium could bring other events and conventions to Southern Nevada. The money and jobs associated with additional tourism certainly wouldn’t hurt, right? And in an area that has struggled with creating a community, a major league sports franchise could unite Las Vegans in new and exciting ways. The unhappiness of Oakland residents with their team’s impending departure suggests what the Raiders mean to them—and could mean to us.
The problem is that it brings to mind the Holy Roller play. In 1978, the Raiders defeated the San Diego (soon to be, again, Los Angeles) Chargers when quarterback Ken Stabler, about to be sacked, intentionally fumbled, and other Raiders pushed the ball toward the end zone for a touchdown and victory. Bill King, the Raiders’ wonderful announcer (his Oakland A’s colleague, the former Rebels and Stars—now the ‘51s—broadcaster Ken Korach, published a terrific book about him, Holy Toledo), said, ”Nobody believes it! I don’t know if the Raiders believe it. It’s not real.”
Las Vegas is trying for a Holy Roller. Some of it may be real, but it strains credulity.
Putting a stadium just west of Interstate 15 and Mandalay Bay makes sense from the standpoint of people flocking to the Strip, much as Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman’s desire for a Downtown stadium would serve a similar purpose in her jurisdiction. But how will the streets and freeway handle those additional cars? Most of the eight regular-season home games will end somewhere around 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, when I-15 is already a virtual parking lot.
Granted, local officials could go to my beloved Dodger Stadium to see how it’s handled there, do the opposite and be assured that it was the right thing. But that seems unlikely, meaning Las Vegas will continue to imitate Los Angeles and clog its traffic arteries—except that you can also get to Dodger Stadium by train and bus.
Ah, but officials already plan a $150 million reworking of the interchange at Tropicana and the I-15, as well as new car pool lanes and exit ramps. Some Regional Transportation Commission board members suggest the Raiders should kick in. State officials say county fuel revenue indexing and state highway funds “might be paired.” Or they might not be. Nor is there a reference to increasing bus service or our desperate need for light-rail, and who might pay for those.
The Raiders’ move reflects long-standing state
and local priorities, and the real question is
why ours haven’t improved more.
Who might? If you were the Raiders, would you volunteer? Or even if you weren’t, what are the chances of Las Vegans supporting tax increases to pay for these projects? The room tax is already going up, and there’s only so much elastic in that rubber band. Las Vegans have already howled at the prospect of paying to park at Strip hotels, so they might not be expected to welcome the chance to pay more to help get in and out of the stadium.
UNLV’s football team is to move into the stadium, and head football coach Tony Sanchez is properly excited about the possibilities for recruiting and 65,000 screaming fans—unless the agreement UNLV has to reach with the Raiders makes those fans scream for a different reason.
Critics raise another point that might be expressed like this: If, say, Columbia University offered to open a branch campus at UNLV and send half of its Nobel and Pulitzer winners to teach here for the same price as the stadium, would the state raise taxes with private enterprise getting involved? The Raiders’ move reflects long-standing state and local priorities, and the real question is why ours haven’t improved more than they have.
The impending arrival of the Raiders—and the National Hockey League’s Golden Knights—suggest that Southern Nevada has grown enough to support major league sports teams. What remains to be seen is whether, in dealing with the issues that accompany them, we have grown up enough.
Michael Green is an associate professor of history at UNLV.