Could visiting fans taking over Rams and Chargers home games be good news for Las Vegas? (Yeah, no, probably not)

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:

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.”

But also!

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.


11 comments on “Could visiting fans taking over Rams and Chargers home games be good news for Las Vegas? (Yeah, no, probably not)

  1. The Chargers have significantly lowered their expected PSL projections, which implies many additional single seat games available for purchase, thus more visiting team fans. Also means less $ for Kroenke as PSL $ are to go towards stadium construction budget.

  2. That she Chronicle article notes that the Raiders have sold most of their PSLs to locals, which makes one wonder how half of attendees are going to be from out of town.

  3. I have always thought that expectations of traveling fans are crazy just for the logistics of it. There are only so many people that airplanes can carry. A 737 MAX can hold maybe 230 people. There are only 14 direct flights per week from Pittsburgh to LA. So if 100% of the week’s capacity of those flights were going to the game, that is still only 3,220. Yes, there will be people who fly through connections, but realistically how many more people could it be?

    It is quite unrealistic to think traveling fans would make up anywhere close to 100% capacity of a flight since every other week of the year there is enough demand to make those flights are economically viable for the airlines without the NFL.

    • As Las Vegas is a destination for tourists/gamblers/kitsch seekers in its own right, I can accept that the Raiders will perhaps draw more visiting fans in LV than any other home location for them might.

      Even if 20% of the scheduled flights and a few charters from Pittsburgh are taken up exclusively with fans going to watch their team in sin city, I’d say your numbers are near the max level for Steelers fans travelling from Pittsburgh to LV. Let’s say it’s more like 2,000 tops.

      Now the difficult part is (as noted in the article), how many of those would have gone to LV anyway that year, and just chose this week because the Steelers are in town?

      Also tricky… how many Steelers fans from the rest of the US (or the world) will travel to LV that weekend too?

      Those are harder numbers to estimate… but even for a good road draw, I’m struggling to see how more than 5,000 in total will come in to watch their team play the Raiders.

      The numbers in LA are far larger… but then, there’s a lot more to do in Los Angeles than there is in LV. And rather than 2m resident, the LA basin holds 10-14m people depending on how wide you want to cast the net. Although any given stadium location is going to be “too far” for at least half that number.

      People have on occasion used the Golden Knights as a benchmark for how the Raiders will do. NHL hockey in LV started brilliantly and is still working really well right now. The honeymoon is still on however. Lets see how the average attendance looks in year 5 or 6 when the team has it’s share of bad contracts and disinterested players… and is no longer the new game in town.

  4. One of the big reasons for the amount of 49ers fans in the Colosseum stands is for year after the Rams left the Los Angeles area the 49ers were the the team that the networks had to show in the in the LA market.
    That meant for almost 20 years football fans saw more 49ers games then Rams games so to have people switch over their loyalty in just three seasons is asking a little bit too much, only by winning can the Rams become the dominant professional football team in town.
    As for the Chargers, as long as the Spanos Family owns them, then no one is going to root for them in the LA area.

    • So are you suggesting a lot of the 49ers fans are actually SoCal locals? That would make a kind of sense, but I’m curious if there’s data to back that up.

      • Sorry I don’t have the study but I remember a survey a couple of years before the Rams moved back to Los Angeles that had the 49ers as the most popular team in the LA market, the cause for it would be that the 49ers was the mandated NFC team to be shown in the LA market.

      • I can’t divulge specifics, but I may work for a software company that has been used for significant market research for a particular retailer. And in the studies that I saw, the 49ers and Raiders are the most popular teams in the Los Angeles area by a significant margin in more than one metric. The Cowboys were actually not that far behind the Rams. We can debate the reasons why, but the internal data used to drive marketing campaigns confirms what has been colloquially known for awhile: SoCal is an extremely divided sports market.

  5. Nevada just needs to get the Washington Generals to relocate to Vegas and get accepted in the NBA™. Surely an 0 and 82 team would draw plenty of out of town, traveling fans……………….unless they became the lovable losers with a hardcore fan base.