Las Vegas isn’t ready to host the NFL Super Bowl Game, folks. Sit down, and I’ll tell you why. (And this is a love-letter to Vegas, not hate mail. But this is a tough-love-letter. Ok?)
The Oakland Raiders are preparing to become the Las Vegas Raiders, and by many accounts, Las Vegas is kind of excited. There seems to be more interest in having the NFL Super Bowl Game in Las Vegas, than the Raiders team, itself. On that subject, there’s been a ton of misinformation distributed, of late.
Here’s the truth.
The Las Vegas Review Journal issued a report that must have been deliberately written to be incorrect just to be click bait: the report that Las Vegas is “in the conversation” to host the Super Bowl in 2022 and 2023, is wrong, and fake news, and completely ignores what went down at the NFL Spring League Meeting in Atlanta, this year.
If you subscribe to Zennie62 on YouTube or bookmark Zennie62.com or Oakland News Now, or just read, you’d know that at the NFL Spring League Meeting in Atlanta the league owners selected Los Angeles to be the 2022 Super Bowl Host City, then Arizona for 2023, and then New Orleans for 2024. No Las Vegas.
That decision flew in the face of the NFL policy of giving a city a Super Bowl within a two-to-three year window after it built and opened a new stadium for an NFL team. By that, the Oakland / Las Vegas Raiders should be in line for a Super Bowl game in 2022 since it is supposed to open in 2020, right? But it didn’t happen.
And when I interviewed NFL Senior Vice President Peter O’Reilly about the Las Vegas NFL Draft I mentioned the Super Bowl issue, he told me the subject never came up as they were talking about an NFL Draft in Las Vegas. That was a shock to me.
See, I know the NFL has this new way of picking Super Bowl host cities, eliminating the competition format that called for a bidding committee, and gifts to the NFL Owners, not to mention moments like Miami / South Florida winning the right to host the 2020 Super Bowl.
But, the fact is Las Vegas may not even get the 2025 Super Bowl, and there’s a reason for this – there are some basics still at play. How do I know this?
Well, from 1999 to 2001, I created from scratch and then headed the Oakland-Alameda County Sports Commission and the Super Bowl XXXIX Bidding Committtee within it. To make a long story short, then Oakland City Administrator Robert Bobb asked me to take on the project. Here’s our Bid Book…
I first corrected some bid question issues, wrote a 300-page response document, put together a 45-person group which included such Bay Area sports business legends as Sports Agent Leigh Steinberg, and hired GMO / Hill Holliday (which is now Hill Holliday) to work on the Super Bowl / Oakland Bid Book. My scope group included long time Cal-Berkeley friend and now NFL Network Analyst Michael Silver and famed local basketball columnist Monte Poole.
No one gave Oakland, or me, a chance to do anything; we thumbed our nose at the World, and went from one of 11 cities to one of three finalists for the right to host the 2005 Super Bowl, losing to Jacksonville on the third ballot.
So, after doing everything from designing the Super Bowl land use plan for the San Francisco Bay Area region to trying to get hotel general managers to commit to ‘reasonable’ prices on a 13-page contract, not to mention having attended nine Super Bowl Games, I think I learned some things that apply to Las Vegas – and not in a good way.
Here they are.
First, off, Las Vegas is a wonderful place. So much so that the first Sunday in February for the game is one where the stock of over 110,000 hotel rooms is already not readily available. The question is (one not addressed by the Review Journal because it didn’t know to ask) how many rooms does the NFL need? The answer is 24,000 top-quality hotel rooms; 17,000 of them for the “NFL Family” and within one hour’s drive of Las Vegas Stadium.
Second, the League wants at least 900,000 square feet free and clear for the NFL Experience. It wants access to at least 3,000 seats of arena space and for such things as the very awesome NFL Gospel Music Show, and the NFL Annual Awards Show, called “NFL Heroes.”
Third, the NFL needs about two million square feet in ballroom space for the NFL Commissioner’s Party, and other NFL-related events. And the NFL wants all of that for free – in other words, you pay for it via money raised through your host committee, not the league.
(And before you say “The NFL can just use Las Vegas Stadium!” forget that idea. The League’s desire is to use that field space only for the Super Bowl. For example, in the Oakland Super Bowl case, we had Oracle Arena next door to Oakland Coliseum Stadium as the site for many NFL events, including the Commissioner’s Party. Moreover, there’s days of preparation and practice that go into setting up the giant room for America’s most watched single-day sports event.)
As of now, Las Vegas has zero chance of freeing up that many rooms. It’s just not happening. Other regions would kill to have such a giant rise in hotel room demand, but for Las Vegas, it only translates to the one thing the NFL dearly wants to avoid: hotel price gouging on a massive, unprecedented scale.
And Las Vegas giving up that much space for free? The NFL asking Vegas casinos to pony up between $40 million and $50 million in money as it sits by and watches and reaps the benefits? That’s about as likely as snow falling in Southern Nevada in July.
As it is, for the Super Bowl to be done in a way that can work in Las Vegas, would call for a special sports resort. Ideally, Las Vegas Stadium should come with a 10,000 hotel room complex and two million-square feet of ballroom space. In other words, a facility appropriately named “NFL Super Bowl City”. The Oakland Raiders should get Salesforce Transit Center builder Maria Ayerdi Kaplan to develop it.
Las Vegas Needs NFL Super Bowl City If It’s To Efficiently Host The Super Bowl Game
NFL Super Bowl City should have been, and perhaps still could be, included in the development plans for the area around Las Vegas Stadium. I know the Oakland Raiders don’t consider themselves to be in the hotel business (and I’m not going to use this space to give them an financing plan that I know works, because they’re not going to pay attention to because it came from me). But the bottom line is, the Raiders should partner with hotel brands like Las Vegas Sands Corporation and MGM Resorts International if the organization expects to realize the full value of being a Las Vegas NFL team.
All I will say is, without something like NFL Super Bowl City, you can dream about hosting the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, but the harsh reality of planning for it will turn the stomach of both the League and Clark County and Nevada economic development, land use, and transportation planners. If you think trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is hard, just give time to planning the Super Bowl for Las Vegas without a new resort development.
And let’s get back to that hotel price gouging problem.
Jacked up prices have already caused tourists to avoid Las Vegas. Just read Scott Roeben’s great blog “Vital Vegas”, because he documents the many ways Sin City nickels and dimes visitors, from causing one to use an Uber to go to banking stores because they’re not on The Strip, to the hotel resort fees that are as high as a daily room rate at some properties.
That, and many other examples, point to a Las Vegas that takes the money of patrons – a key reason for the decline in visitor rates over the last year. And into this, the NFL expects Las Vegas to offer in-expensive hotel prices for a Super Bowl.
I did write that.
Did I mention that the NFL expects hotel general managers to commit to giant room blocks at affordable prices? Ever wonder why the league tries to secure such deals? It’s because in 1996, Arizona hosted the Super Bowl for the first time, and the hotel prices were driven to levels far outside acceptable for the kind of family-friendly event the League wants the Super Bowl to be.
So, the NFL started this process of having hotel general managers fill out room block contracts. I can tell you from personal experience, that effort really was like pulling teeth, and for two reasons. First, the hotel general managers feel they’re going to get the Super Bowl, and thus the hotel room demand, anyway, so why should they really sign anything in the way of price controls? Second, if they do indeed sign the room block / price controls document, they give up higher price margins that they believe another hotelier will then command.
Finally, if they don’t sign the document, and the region doesn’t get the Super Bowl because of their behavior, then no one can take advantage of their position. And after all that, they’ll blame you for not landing the Super Bowl for them.
I can tell you, you have to pull all kinds of tricks to get hotel general managers to fill out that 13-page agreement. Oh, and I forgot to tell you, many hotel people hate the sheer length of the document, too. Dealing with that agreement was a thankless job in the Oakland Super Bowl Bid context. In Las Vegas, I can see the experience being much worse. Especially, when the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee gets hotel room contracts back that have more red-lines than the New York Subway system.
And speaking of the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee, which, along with the Raiders, will have control over a set of Super Bowl Tickets with a collective value of millions, who sits on that board will turn into a blood sport. Every ticket broker in Las Vegas will angle for some way to be on the Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee Board of Directors.
The only way to keep ticket brokers off of it, is to establish as written policy that they can’t be on it. After that, they’ll throw money at the one group of people you couldn’t keep off of it in any way: casino executives. Between casino execs and ticket brokers, the market value for Super Bowl Las Vegas tickets will be the highest, ever.
That problem of price gouging will mark a Las Vegas Super Bowl, if the NFL, indeed, elects to have it in Sin City. I’ve only just started to list the large number of problems and issues a Super Bowl in Las Vegas comes with. The only way around what would be a giant sized problem, at least from the hotel and venue availability perspective, is to build an NFL Super Bowl City.
Absent that, forget it.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media