Raiders leave Oakland under rain of nachos, wonder who’ll come see them in Vegas

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.


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26 comments on “Raiders leave Oakland under rain of nachos, wonder who’ll come see them in Vegas

    1. Hmm, that word “fans” would have been an important one, wouldn’t it? (Fixed, thanks.)

      Though it would have been suitably ironic if the Raiders had marked their final game in Oakland by grudgingly finally running onto the field to play football.

  1. I actually think the Raiders lucked out with Las Vegas. They are not Kroenke building a $5b Stadium, nor are they the Chargers that are “The Other Team” to the Rams in that Stadium. (Not to mention, almost no one in LA cares about the Chargers, and they will have to pay a whole lot of money to the NFL for moving (not to mention the Rams if they cannot sell Season Tickets)). I would not be the least bit surprised if the Chargers end up back in San Diego, St Louis or ANYWHERE but LA.

    1. They don’t have to pay any extra money to the Rams if they can’t sell season tickets. Lease agreement has no penalty for that.

    2. Chargers are virtually guaranteed to move someplace that gives them a stadium. It might not be until the next owner after Spanos but it’s proven fact that a stadium adds a tremendous amount of value to a franchise so it’s a foregone conclusion they’ll move. Literally, their only shot at staying in LA would be if the next owner was rich enough to do what Kroenke did with the Rams and build his own stadium. But without a fan base, why would anybody go through that hassle and expense when they could just move to a city who would hand them a stadium?

      Not even a joke to say that when the Spanos clan decides to sell “turnkey, ready to move” will be the first line in the ad. It’s the perfect franchise to relocate: No complications from tons of angry fans who are feeling abandoned, no legal hangups from a publicly-financed stadium that they’ve been using, etc. You could buy the Chargers and just start loading up the trucks the minute you had a new city lined up.

      1. “it’s proven fact that a stadium adds a tremendous amount of value to a franchise”

        I’d like to see the math on this.

  2. Couldn’t they just look at the zip codes for where the season ticket holders live? I mean they should be able to tell if they are from LA or Vegas can’t they?

      1. Especially in the era where most teams are doing away with paper tickets and going all electronic. They should also be able to tell us where the people actually attending the games are coming from

  3. In other news:

  4. On this topic, I say good riddance. I’ll be glad to not have Raider games overriding nationally carried games in the Bay Area tv market.

    1. I mean, they still forced the Raiders on us in Sac after they moved to L.A. Pretty sure you’ll be stuck with them on TV well, forever.

  5. Nice way to go out, but Vegas will suck for the die hard Raider fans…I am guessing those Vegas transplants will never be able to match the intensity that they brought every game in Oakland. You are trying to replace decades of loyalty and success in Oakland going back to the Stabler years, with a so called “fan base” in Vegas comprised of transplants from other areas. Gone are the die hards of the Black Hole replaced by drunk ex-frat boys who show up at the game hungover from gambling their savings away from the previous night. Or the “so called” Raider fan-girl who can’t even name one player from their last SB appearance. You might as well assign the word generic to the new fan base in Las Vegas.
    My prediction is that unless the Raiders win and sustain some degree of success, half the stadium will be filled with the visiting teams die hards (especially when playing AFC west rivals like Denver, and KC).
    This will be the unfortunate legacy of Goddell and Davis; creating the ultimate generic, no city NFL team.

    1. If they do draw 60k + paying fans every game, though, does that matter? I agree with what you are saying, but for much of the last ten years they did not sell out the coliseum (tarped sections on Mt. Davis) except via artificial means.

      Also, WAYNE NEWTON….

  6. It looks like a non-neglible amount of Vikings fans actually drove/bused up from San Diego:

    There’s also a huge amount of ex-Charger fans in the area hatewatching the Chargers and/or enjoying the schadenfreude over the horribly botched relocation effort, while actively rooting for Chargers opponents. It wouldn’t shock me to see some of them actually showing up to games in opposing teams’ gear.

    1. Yeah, that. Wouldn’t it be more fun if they showed up in mid 90s era Chargers gear (or Fouts/Winslow merchandise) and cheered when the other team scored???

      I wonder if this will change when they move to the new stadium and tickets are, at least in theory, more expensive?

  7. I have no love for public financing of stadiums, and I’m not saying Las Vegas will make back the entire huge investment, but the Raiders in Vegas will be a huge for away fans. It is an easy destination to schedule a game weekend with buddies- unlike LA there are no rental car needs and plenty of hotels. Plus, nightclubs and gambling. It will prove a better destination for the Pac-12 final than the current place in suburban San Francisco.

    1. Absolutely. You’ll be able to impulse attend any game you want, as long as you’re willing to pay for secondary market tickets. Hell, The Raiders should just do a heel turn and embrace it.

  8. Vegas will get the best of both worlds. You’ll get fans of other teams coming to town to make a weekend of it. Spend gambling money on Saturday then go to the game on Sunday but as someone who grew up in the East bay and has been living in LA for the last 30 years, I can tell you that the Raider BRAND is strong and usually sets precedence over where the team plays.

    I was in middle school & high school in the bay area for the Raider’s first 7 years of their LA stint & I can tell you that there were just as many Raider fans as Niner fans. Not a lot of bitterness about the move.

    I moved to LA halfway through their LA stay. They moved back to Oakland in ’95 and I can tell you that it’s the same here. Nobody really cared that they moved but rather just kept slurping up silver & black gear.

    This makes the move to Vegas a no brainer in some ways. There’s obviously the $700 million you get from Nevada that you otherwise wouldn’t get in California but now you’re centralized from both the bay area fans and the LA fans. You can almost surmise that the stadium can be filled with no Vegas natives. 1/3rd from the bay, 1/3rd from LA and 1/3rd of fans from other teams.

    1. If this narrative is correct, the Raiders should have moved to St. Louis or Des Moines. They could have drawn all fans from all cities if they were central to everything.

      I am certain that “some” Raiders fans (from LA or Oakland) might take in the occasional game in Vegas. Perhaps a few will even buy season tickets. However, the notion that fully 2/3rds of their ticket buyers will be from those two cities on an ongoing basis is not credible. Vegas may well exceed the number of “out of towners” any other sports franchise averages, but it would need only to reach 12-15% of the 65,000 fan capacity to do that. (The Chargers crowd shots are interesting, but no-one can tell whether the fans sporting visiting team merch at Carson are all from out of town or just transplants now living in LA/SoCal).

      While Raiders gear is still popular in LA, I would point out that it was as popular for “non football” reasons as anything else in the 1980s & 90s. And that’s one reason the NFL did not want the Raiders moving back into the LA market.

  9. I’m sure the suits in the NFL cringed every time the Raiders and the Black Hole appeared on national TV. Attending a Raiders game in Oakland is a one of a kind experience. As a Raider fan attending games since 1968, I knew to mind my P’s and Q’s. Oakland Raider fans are blue-collar, tough and enthusiastic – at least the one’s that attended games at the Coliseum.

    The NFL wants women showing up in stiletto’s and men in blazers. They want the corporate look. They want the same white collar folks who sit courtside at NBA games (aka Chase Center in SF) sipping wine with their legs crossed, not a bunch of fans with faces painted and wearing costumes. Those days are over. And the NFL could not be happier.

    1. This is true of most sports leagues (at least the major ones). The days of pro sports being entertainment for the masses are long gone. They went out with the sub $20 tickets…

      The leagues would much rather be taking $100-300 per seat all in from a smaller number of well heeled fans than vacuuming up all the discretionary spending of minimum wage earners.

  10. Three years after Al Davis returned to Oakland he did an interview on KNBR for one hour about how he still had rights to the L.A. market. I find it amazing they stayed another two decades.

  11. Vegas will undoubtedly bring in a LOT of opposing teams’ fans. It’s the perfect weekend getaway spot. Cheap airfare, lots of stuff to do besides the game, etc.

    I’ll be interested to see how the locals take to them. It’s neat to get your own NFL team, no doubt, and the newness factor along with that new stadium will definitely bring people in for the short-term. However, they’re coming to town as losers with future success not looking terribly likely until after that crazy 10-year contract with Gruden is over. And Vegas seems to have really taken to the Golden Knights so they won’t be the only major league sport in town. I’ve also been reading some interesting comments on the parking situation at the new stadium. With most of the parking a couple miles away it doesn’t sound like an awesome tailgating experience so I wonder if they’ll be able to build the sort of dedicated fanbase they’re hoping for.

    1. The big question isn’t whether the Vegas Raiders will draw out-of-town fans, but whether they’ll draw out-of-town fans who wouldn’t have visited without football. If I like to go to Vegas once a year anyway but just move my trip to align with the NFL schedule, that’s not a net gain for Nevada.

      “Lots of out of towners go to Florida in March to watch spring training” seems like a no-brainer, too, but in years where spring training has been canceled, tourism numbers don’t noticeably decline.

  12. The league will probably just rig it so that they are successful. Like they did with the Rams last year to make sure their Los Angeles return worked. Or like the NHL did with the Golden Knights.

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