They played football again on Sunday — nobody seems to be getting on that idea of banning the sport for being hazardous to human health, nor even the idea of replacing human players with digital avatars — which included home games for both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. And, as has become commonplace for L.A.’s new teams, most locals seem not to have gotten the message that the sport is still being played:
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) October 13, 2019
Ok it might be 99-1 Steelers fans pic.twitter.com/H6HlBNjP1A
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) October 14, 2019
All of which is embarrassing news for the Rams and Chargers owners who moved their teams to L.A. on the premise that they’d sell lots of tickets in America’s second-biggest market, and slightly worrisome for when the two teams move into their new Inglewood stadium next year. But could it be good news for the Las Vegas Raiders, who are building their entire business model on selling tickets to tons of visiting fans?
That question was discussed Monday in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that asked, among other things, if projections by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee are correct that the Raiders’ presence will bring in tons of new visitors to Vegas:
An early study by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee forecast the stadium would generate $620 million in annual economic impact and bring in 450,000 visitors who otherwise would not have come to in Las Vegas. Officials said just under half of attendees at all stadium events are expected to be non-resident consumers, with about 23% in town specifically for that event.
Those projections, as they pertain to Raiders games, are a sticking point for Stanford economist Roger Noll.
“There is no NFL team in the country that has more than about 3 or 4% of tourists in the stands,” Noll said. “So it would have to be the case that this would be more than an order of magnitude increase.”
Stephen Miller, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, said while Las Vegas quickly adopted the [Golden] Knights, many out-of-town fans also go to games.
“They come specifically to attend the game,” Miller said, “and then they stick around and have fun in Las Vegas.”
I reached out to both economists for their sources on these stats, and while I’m still waiting on Miller, Noll got right back to me. He said that he’s gotten peeks at proprietary data from team surveys of fans and addresses of ticket buyers on the resale market, and what he’s seen supports his conclusion: Very few NFL fans travel for games. He also clarified that his 3-4% estimate is for fans traveling specifically in order to see football — if a Pittsburgh Steelers fan happens to be in L.A. (either for a trip or because they’ve relocated there, as people are known to do) and decides to take in a Steelers road game while in town, that’s not additional spending that can be credited to the presence of the NFL.
Noll does add that the number of visiting fans typically rises when the home team is terrible, and season ticket holders start dumping their tickets on the secondary market — “For example, when the 49ers were having bad years, empty seats at the last couple of home games were one-fourth to half of the total seats, and sometimes a quarter or so of attendance was fans of the other team.” Which brings up an interesting question: Would it be in Nevada’s best interest for the Raiders to suck, so that more seats will go to out-of-towners looking to cheer on their teams to stomp on the Raiders, who will then “stick around and have fun in Las Vegas”? Modern economic development strategy has gotten very, very weird.