Keith Strudler: Just Move Baby!
The definition of the word “raider” is someone who takes something by force. Or, someone who plunders or pillages. But that definition, the Raiders is the perfect name for the football team the city of Las Vegas forcefully took from Oakland, where the team has spent the vast majority of its 57 years. The soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders will move to Sin City no earlier than 2018, and perhaps as late as 2020, when the city completes its new domed stadium. Which means they’ll be something of a lame duck in the Bay Area for the next year or two. Talk about awkward. It’s like firing someone right before you start a cross-country drive together.
This isn’t really a new story, since team owner Mark Davis has been looking towards this potential move for some time. It’s pretty much like anyone that’s considering moving. You just have to wait for the right house at the right price. Davis found just that property. And wouldn’t you know it, the city of Las Vegas is covering $750 million of the $2 billion price tag of their new facility. That’s something the city of Oakland would not do, although at the last minute they did propose a slightly less expensive new facility, for which they’d cover some $350 million. By that point, it was simple math, and Oakland Raiders became the Las Vegas Raiders, or at least they will whenever they finally get there.
The other number that mattered yesterday was 31. Meaning 31 of the 32 NFL owners approved the Raiders’ move, seven more than the requisite 24. Miami owner Stephen Ross was the only “no,” saying he thought teams should do everything possible to make it work wherever you are. He’s like the marriage counselor that tells couples to stick it out for the kids. For everyone else, divorce is the norm, especially when your new partner seems to have a lot more to offer. Of course, it’s not ironic to remind everyone that in the desert town of Las Vegas, the grass isn’t always greener.
Make no mistake, this will not be a civil divorce. These aren’t celebrities counsciously uncoupling, and Oakland isn’t Gwyneth Paltrow. Raiders fans – the Oakland kind – are a salty bunch, and I imagine they’ll turn that venom towards their own. So if the Raiders are imagining anything next season to resemble an actual home game, they’ll be in for a surprise. I imagine it more like the town halls members of Congress are hosting in their districts.
We’ve learned a fair amount about the NFL from this decision, probably more than from two teams announcing moves to Los Angeles this past year. Moving to LA is like getting in Yale Law School. If you can figure out how to make it work, you just do it. Vegas, on the other hand, is far more third tier than top 10. It’s a transient, middle-class town that’s driven by tourism and entertainment, not banks and corporations, the kinds of institutions that create the right fiscal environment for pro sports. There aren’t going to be a bunch of Fortune 500 companies lining up for luxury suites, and the average resident is going to be hard pressed to afford a game ticket. Las Vegas will largely present the Raiders just as it does Chris Angel or Cirque to Soleil, or even any of the five star restaurants in hotels on the Strip – or perhaps even the less family oriented fare well associated with the city. It’s just another tourist attraction, something you can plan a weekend around one of eight times a year. This team may play in Vegas, but it’s no more an actual resident than Celine Dion.
This also reaffirms the narrative that the NFL is a made for TV property. As long as you’ve got cameras and a good Internet stream, you can do it from anywhere. It’s like jobs and education. Virtual is reality. So the Raiders, and more importantly the NFL as an aggregate, are more interested in the massive TV and web audience than their live one, who to some degree are simply part of the show. Which is why 31 NFL owners couldn’t care less where the Raiders play, as long as NBC and ESPN can get there. If Mark Davis wants to make a few extra dollars off the tax payers of Las Vegas in the process – or really all of us paying hotel taxes when we visit – then so be it.
And lastly, to all those Oakland based fans who might be heartbroken to lose your team – the same team you lost for over a decade from 82 to 94 – there’s some good news. First, you’ve still got ‘em for at least another season. Second, you can always watch them on television, just like the rest of us. There’s less traffic that way. And last, remember, this is the Raiders we’re talking about. With a name like that, there’s always a chance of stealing them back.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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