The Oakland Raiders played their last game in Oakland yesterday, for real this time, and fans celebrated by booing their quarterback, throwing nachos, and running onto the field. This still is far from the worst last-home-game scene of all time — the second departure of the Washington Senators that had to be forfeited when fans ran onto the field and stole first remains unbeaten (you can listen to the radio broadcast here) — but it’s still pretty impressive, and a good sign that Oakland fans aren’t about to welcome the Las Vegas Raiders with open arms.
And what about Las Vegas fans? The New York Times sent the estimable Ken Belson to Vegas to report on how the team is doing at building a fan base, and found:
- a couple who opened a sports bar and hope that “we’ll definitely draw more people when the Raiders come to town because they can only fit 65,000 people in the stadium and a lot of locals can’t afford tickets”
- a police officer from southern California who bought season tickets and is happy that Las Vegas is only a three-and-a-half-hour drive when Oakland was six hours
- a former season ticket holder in Oakland who is angry about the team leaving
- Jim Nagourney, who said team claims that a ton of fans would arrive each week from out of town was “ginned up to create an illusion of a public benefit”
- an analyst for the Las Vegas Stadium Authority who says fans will too come from out of town, but provides no source for his projections
- a helicopter-tour operator who is excited to sell helicopter tours to visiting fans
- a couple more California ex-pats currently living in Vegas who plan to attend Raiders games, one of whom took out a loan to help afford seat license fees
And it all up, and that … really tells us nothing about what Belson’s central question seems to be, which is whether the arrival of the Raiders will really draw tons of out-of-town fans who’ll fill up the city’s hotels and take helicopter rides and otherwise spend money that will come close to justifying the state’s $750 million expense on a Raiders stadium. Admittedly, it’s hard to figure this out from hanging around in Vegas, because out-of-towners by definition aren’t in Vegas (except for that guy three and a half hours away, who happened to be in town for a concert), but still it’s a disappointingly Belsonesque performance by the Times.
If I’d been assigning an article on the Raiders’ future in Las Vegas, I actually would have sent a reporter to a Los Angeles Rams or Chargers game, which as the most recent example of teams trying to build a new fan base in a new city are probably the best analogue for the Raiders’ move. All evidence there seems to be that they’re doing a better job of drawing fans of out-of-town teams — yesterday’s Chargers game was full of Minnesota Vikings fans, as has become standard at Chargers games in L.A. — than drawing actual out-of-town fans, as there are plenty of fans of other teams living in L.A. both because L.A. draws a lot of new arrivals and because L.A. didn’t have a home team to root for the last 20 years.
Vegas isn’t the size of L.A., but it does meet the other criteria, so will the Raiders just end up playing before a bunch of locals with allegiances to other teams? Roger Noll has said yes, but it would be nice to get some at least anecdotal data by checking in to see where those Vikings fans at yesterday’s Chargers game actually traveled from. Or, you can just send your staff writer to Las Vegas to talk to helicopter company owners about their optimism. They’re both journalism, except for the one that really isn’t.