SIN CITY RAIDERS – BY THE NUMBERS
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Statistics Las Vegas is the 30th most populous incorporated city in the United States of America. There are currently 32 NFL franchises.
NFL teams are not assigned based on population alone, as cities such as El Paso, Austin and Columbus – all of which out-populate Las Vegas – will tell you. Yet we know population is a significant factor here. Of the ten most populous cities in the United States nine currently have an NFL Franchise.
San Jose (number 10) doesn’t technically have an NFL team but bolsters Bay Area fan bases – particularly the 49ers – in a big way. And don’t tell us that New York City doesn’t have an NFL team. They have two of them and it feels like some smart guy in Manhattan hatched a plan years ago to leave all of the post-game refuse in New Jersey on a drunken lark. Interestingly, drunken larks result in a lot of things becoming reality in between these two big oceans where this sport is played.
And the population thing works both ways as cities with fewer residents than Las Vegas – for example Miami, Pittsburgh and Buffalo (coming in at 44, 62 and 73, respectively per Census Bureau statistics) – have worked their way into NFL existence. Green Bay comes in at an astonishing 272nd on the Census Bureau’s list, with a whopping 104,000 residents, for those of you who were wondering. An interesting thing to take into account here is that Spokane, Washington is twice the size of Green Bay, Wisconsin. There is an Arena Football team in Spokane along with two bridges, seven stoplights and at least a couple of dozen ethnic-type guys there. Yet people forego church and Green Bay religiously fills up an 80,000-seat stadium to capacity eight Sundays per year.
As resident populations go, Las Vegas (583,000) is a very real candidate, sitting just below and above places like Baltimore and Kansas City (26 and 37) on the population depth chart. And according to the population spectrum of NFL franchises, the number of residents in NFL cities can range anywhere from upwards of 8 million all the way down to about 100,000. Per our Census Bureau report Oakland, the current home of the Raiders, has a population of 390,000.
To guard against oversimplification, there are important proximity factors to account for when we talk about what makes for a viable franchise. Oakland is neighbored by San Francisco, adding a cool 800,000 people with every right in the world to up and go to a Raiders game if they feel like it, no matter what family members or psychiatrists might have to say about them. Scottsdale (population over 200,000) drops an extra Spokane on top of the million-plus in Phoenix. Fort Worth adds three-quarters of a million to the nearly 2 million people who live in Dallas.
So what of Vegas when it comes to the proximity thing? You can leave Los Angeles (population 3.8 million) in the morning and eat lunch in the Belagio at noon. You have at least six major carriers to choose from if you want to fly non-stop from JFK or LaGuardia into McCarren. There are even direct flights from Spokane, Washington into Las Vegas. It’s true. 16-percent of the visitors to Las Vegas are international travelers so people are coming from all over. These sorts of things mingle to produce insane numbers but the question is whether or not they produce fans that attend football games. This brings about questions such as, “Would there be more Pittsburgh Steelers fans or Raiders fans at a home game in Las Vegas?” For the movers and shakers it may not matter. And this brings us to our next number.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) reported that 42 million people visited Las Vegas in 2015. 7 individuals visited Kansas City last year and absolutely no one went to Detroit even once, according to our estimates at Lane Violation.
The number is staggering. In a recent New York Times article, it was reported that 54 million people visited New York City in 2015. New York always wins but for a city (Las Vegas) with 7-million-plus fewer residents it is mind-boggling to think of the implications of adding an event as big as an NFL Sunday to the various temptations already drawing so many people to this city.
While there is no science or statistics behind this, it strains credulity to imagine that Las Vegas would fail to become THE PILGRAMIGE for rabid fans across Football, USA. Picture more green on the strip when the Packers come to town than on, say, St. Patrick’s Day. And how many more regional-ish type fans would follow their team there? Think Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos and find me a more sure-fire way to bring people from each of these cities to Vegas than having their beloved NFL team bash heads with the Raiders in Sin City.
The problem with a professional sports franchise in Las Vegas is not that people would gamble on that franchise. People already go to any of Las Vegas’s dozens of sports books and bet on every sports team in existence. Whether the Raiders are in Oakland or Las Vegas or in Billings, Montana people will gamble on the Raiders in every single Las Vegas sportsbook on every single Sunday of the NFL season. Sportsbooks in Nevada took in an absurd $132 million in bets on Super Bowl 50 alone. This was one game.
So what’s the problem with playing eight games a year on The Strip next door to The Tropicana?
The problem is simply that planting a major sports franchise in the gambling capital of the United States of America is a bad look. It’s just a suspicious-sounding thing to say. That’s it. And if any sort of statistical anomaly arose on any given Sunday in Las Vegas then we’re talking Kardashian-level rumors and gossip and tabloidish stuff that NFL owners may or may not believe will help their bottom line.
In 2001, a ban that had for 40 years prohibited the state’s sportsbooks from making lines on Nevada sports teams was lifted. No one talks about the UNLV-Point-Shaving-Disaster-of-2002 and there hasn’t been any mention of the University-of-Nevada-at-Reno-Italian-Mafia-Referee-Killings-of-2003 either. That’s because those are not historical events. And those are not historical events because the under-the-table betting that was happening previously has been replaced largely by legal betting that is monitored by smart people who do math and who can catch point-shaving by tracking unusual betting cycles at legitimate, state-sanctioned sports books.
And really, how far away is the Meadowlands from Atlantic City? The answer is it doesn’t matter (Alright, it’s a two-hour drive). Outside of your fringe lunatic contingent who believes that the mobbish underbelly of Atlantic City is holding a 1920-s era Tommy-Gun with a 50-round cylindrical drum-chamber to Eli Manning’s head and insisting that he throw more interceptions than he otherwise would, who is claiming that geographic proximity to casinos matters? We have iphones now. What a bet requires when it comes to matters of the modern time-space continuum, as fantasy football types will tell you, is a simple swipe on that iphone or a keystroke on a laptop.
Forbes Magazine released a list in 2015, estimating the value of all 32 NFL franchises. Not surprisingly, the Dallas Cowboys came in at number one with an estimated value of $4 billion. There are then 29 more teams listed, including the lowly Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars. At 31st sit the Oakland Raiders, worth an estimated $1.4 billion. Sorry Buffalo (number 32 at $1.3 billion), New York wins again.
Something we noted about this list at Lane Violation:
The top ten teams on this list are in the cities of Dallas, Boston, Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco, New York again, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Green Bay. Although Green Bay is again an outlier, these places otherwise have a couple of things in common – large population bases and/or a significant amount of people visiting them. There are a lot of people in these cities and they spend a lot of money while there.
To confirm this, let’s look at the list of GDP by city according to the Bureau on Economic Statistics. 1 through 10 in order: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta.
This list looks a lot like the Forbes’ list where the most successful NFL franchises live.
The numbers get murky as we try to separate Oakland proper from San Francisco and the Bay Area on the whole, including San Jose. And they become even messier as we look at Las Vegas’s baffling GDP, which comes in at number 38 on the BES’s list. Las Vegas is an oddity in that it’s GDP is not grounded under the same subheadings that the bulk of the top 50 GDP-grossing cities are – Industry, Technology, Housing, etc… Where Vegas jumps off the economic map is with regard to Tourism and Entertainment, which makes up a considerable bulk of the GDP (over 20%) relative to other cities. The gist is to determine how this translates into football fandom and butts in seats.
What feels fair to say is that, “If-you-are-only-beating-Buffalo-for-the-love-of-God-and-Oakland-doesn’t-want-to-pay-for-a-stadium-then-Jesus-H-Christ…..” why not? How much of a disaster in a league with 32 teams could dropping a franchise into the vortex of a one-of-a-kind party-based, leisure-spending city with the 38th highest GDP be? The more relevant question might be much simpler. Would the NFL’s movers and shakers vote to allow it?
Per NFL regulation, three-quarters of NFL owners need to approve a move like this one, meaning the brass at 24 of the 32 teams’ headquarters would have to vote yes on Las Vegas. Funding shortfalls – which currently exist for arenas in both Oakland and Las Vegas – are important considerations and become quite boring to discuss. There are billionaires and cities averse to tax increases and legal legislative mandates to sort through and we at Lane Violation will leave that to the people with private jets and to the suits in Washington to sort through.
Suffice it to say that various media reports suggest the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell have been softening on the issue. Asked about the prospect of a move to Vegas recently by ESPN, Goodell stated:
“All of us have evolved a little bit on gambling.”
This sounds a lot like commissioner-speak for, “Show us the money and you’ll have your 24 votes.”
Lane Violation has confirmed that there are exactly zero major professional sports franchises in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Coincidentally, zero is the exact number of U.S. Citizens who approve of Oakland Raider’s owner Mike Davis’s haircut.
Las Vegas does, however, have a minor league baseball team in the New York Mets’ farm system. They are called the Las Vegas 51’s, a reference to nearby Area 51. They’re mascot is a grey alien named Cosmo and betting interest on this team is not exactly sky-rocketing into the upper-atmosphere. As far as we know Cosmo hasn’t been whacked by some gambling baron’s Sicilian underlings yet.
There are also zero NFL franchises that reside in London, where betting on sports is as common as sub-par brownish beers. The NFL has been playing games there for years and the talk of expansion has moved far beyond rumor of late. The British are known for being self-deprecating, being pale, drinking tea, saying sorry in a sarcastic tone and not really having any sort of national food to speak of. But they live on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and that’s just flat-out un-American. We at Lane Violation are willing to place illegal online bets at shady sportsbooks based in farflung island nations that they will continue to have a grand total of zero NFL franchises.
Should Las Vegas welcome the Silver and Black in the near future we’ll go ahead and change this final number to a 1 and we’ll shortly after be on a direct flight to McCarren, making THE PILGRAMIGE to root against the Raiders.