Las Vegas Raiders Owner Mark Davis got his stadium (Allegiant Stadium) revenge against L.A. Rams Owner Stan Kronke and L.A. Chargers Owner Dean Spanos with the initial ticket sales data released this week and after the announcement of the 2020 NFL Schedule, and fans were able to snatch up the chance to go to pro football games. According to reports, tickets for the Las Vegas Raiders games at Allegiant Stadium have been, by far, the most in demand in the NFL. Yep, even over tickets for the $10 billion football palace that is So-Fi Stadium. So, why do I say Mark Davis got his revenge?
This scene from the January 12th 2016 NFL Special Meeting in Houston. The day that Mr. Kronke won his prize of the LA Market over Mark Davis and wound up taking Spanos and the Chargers – bound for Carson had his Carmen Policy-led partnership with Davis won the competition – with him. The result was an obviously fuming Davis, who clearly didn’t want to return to Oakland, and so said they would “find a home”, rather than say they would build in Oakland:
Mark Davis Gets His Revenge With League – Leading NFL 2020 Season Secondary Ticket Market Sales
The Raiders have topped both The Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams in initial sales and rule the NFL for the first time since the 1970s. According to TicketNews.com, the sales ranking looks like this:
1. Las Vegas Raiders
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. Los Angeles Rams
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. Los Angeles Chargers
8. Denver Broncos
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
10. San Francisco 49ers
If the league had its way, the ticket sales order would have looked something like this:
1. Los Angeles Rams
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Los Angeles Chargers
5. Las Vegas Raiders
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. New Orleans Saints
8. Denver Broncos
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
10. San Francisco 49ers
Thus reflecting the much-needed popularity required to help Kronke pay for his most expensive stadium ever built. But, it’s quite clear those numbers aren’t going to materialize for the Rams and Chargers, ever.
Meanwhile, Mark Davis, once the focus of a biting yet informative Yahoo.com piece that’s become the specialty of my long-time friend and now NFL Network Senior Writer Mike Silver entitled “Raiders owner Mark Davis is in over his head” in 2012, finally proved that he did know what he was doing and that his father Al Davis made the right call in giving him the keys to his NFL kingdom upon his passing on October 8th 2011.
To not call this outcome nothing less than sweet revenge on Davis’ part is to admit you don’t know the way all of this started, and how we got to last week’s turn of ticket sales events.
The Raiders Relocation Revenge Story Has Lessons For NFL And Sports Business Observers, Good And Bad
This story is one that’s still unfolding, many layered, and contains a number of intertwined stories-within-stories. To know them is to appreciate the sports business history of and look forward to what the future might bring for the Raiders, the NFL, sports, and America, as well as to understand what levers have to be turned to iNFLuence those instititions given the economic impact of The Pandemic.
First, the Raiders, and not the Chargers, should have joined the Rams in Los Angeles, especially if that stadium was expected to reach a level of demand which met its expensive design. Mark Davis knew the Raiders were a better fit, and so did Raider Nation. Heck, so did anyone who even accidentally stumbled on an NFL game pitting the visiting Oakland Raiders against the San Diego Chargers, or even when the Bolts were at StubHub Stadium (What I called the “Oakland Raider Nation’s So-Cal Vacation Home”.)
But Davis knew he had a Plan B, and that was launched by Las Vegas Sands Founder Sheldon Adelson, who was pinged by his employee, Raider Legend Napoleon Kaufmann in 2014.
Mark Davis slow-rolled his gambling-focused Las Vegas plan, because there were a ton of uncertainties. First, Davis wanted to be in the LA Region. Second, at the time, it was a certainty the NFL would reject Las Vegas as a home because of gambling. Meanwhile, in late 2015, I revealed the story that Oakland Raiders President Marc Badain was working on the organization’s own Coliseum City Stadium Plan, and in the wake of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf giving the personal boot to an effort led by would-be real estate developer Floyd Kephart. A man who was well on his way to tricking some in the Oakland City Council into giving him a giant subsidy that he planned to turn into partial ownership of the Raiders. (And which, I believe led to a secret effort by the Raiders to advance two stadium designs created by MEIS Architects out of New York City, and seen by the City of Oakland’s Claudia Cappio and the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority’s Scott McKibben in the fall of 2016.)
Second, what fell into place was the league not giving Davis what he wanted, which led to Sheldon Adelson inviting him to Las Vegas to visit possible locations for a stadium home, and that led to Davis’ first appearance (March 28th 2016) at the Southern Nevada Tourism and Infrastructure Committee (SNTIC) meetings, with David Beckham and representatives of Las Vegas Sands. All of that took place as the Raiders were negotiating, and then signed, a new lease at the Oakland Coliseum. That was February 11th of 2016 – one month after the NFL rejected Mark Davis. Here’s that press conference:
Then, with the City of Oakland clearly under the impression that Davis wanted to build a new stadium in Oakland, even to the point of having then-Oakland Chief Administrative Officer Claudia Cappio working with then-Raiders Oakland Stadium point person Larry MacNeil (who has went invisible since ) Mark focused on the SNTIC and Las Vegas.
(And in doing do Davis left a trail of actions that, together, form an excellent breach-of-contract lawsuit against the Raiders, and very much like what happened to St. Louis against Kronke, the Rams, and the NFL. See my 2017 talk with St. Louis Post – Dispatch sports reporter Jim Thomas with a click here.).
The rest is a complex, fun-to-recount, history marked by the work of what I have long regarded as one of the most effective economic development executives in America, Steven Hill. Hill, now the dual boss of the Las Vegas Stadium Authority and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau, was now former Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval’s economic development point-person, and head of the SNTIC.
The SNTIC, established in 2015, already had as part of its work laying the legislative groundwork for a “large events center” for UNLV that would be “NFL ready”, but Adelson securing a partnership with Davis and the Raiders dramatically altered what everyone connected with that effort believed was possible.
Dramatically, a focused effort that involved every power-player or would-be power-player or wanna-be power-player in Las Vegas and Nevada unfolded. And most remarkably, all of the power-players fell in line, with no toe stepping on the other one. In other words, no jealous politico emerged to successfully throw a wrench into the process.
Problems, like the racial divide between black and white contractors in Las Vegas, faded away under a new edict of cooperation. In all of my years in or associated with or blogging about economic development, I’ve never seen any private / public partnership work so well for a large scale project. Las Vegas power-players wanted the Raiders, and got them, even as Las Vegas residents gave a collective shrug.
And Oakland finally came up with a plan to retain the Raiders:
And then, the NFL, with the votes lined up by Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones, voted 31-to-1 to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas. I was there, and this is what happened:
That The Raiders Should Sell Out In Las Vegas Is Not A Surprise
No one should be surprised the Las Vegas Raiders are a ticket selling machine in Las Vegas, even during this Pandemic. Why? First, there’s the involvement of the giant Nevada Casino Industry, ready to buy the most expensive luxury suites and club seats, which they did. Second, ticket brokers around the country were eager to be resellers of those tickets. Third, the design of Las Vegas Allegiant Stadium, with its sleek black solid look that invites comparison to the Death Star in Star Wars, has made that building perhaps the most photographed one of its kind in America. All, of this, plus the matchups presented by the 2020 NFL Schedule, produced the Raiders dramatic ticket sales outcome. There’s just one problem, and its the Pandemic.
The Pandemic has threatened revenue that would be used for common government services for game day, like police security. It’s also harmed expected sponsorship revenues. Advertisers, skeptical of the NFL’s ability to stage games under a normal schedule, are not responding with the normal enthusiasm. There is an overarching fear that the NFL Season may not happen, and for a vast number of reasons all tied to the Pandemic. Most notably, the Federal Government’s lack of clarity in how much bailout money it will provide to both the NFL and Las Vegas, and other NFL cities, thus allowing all of the elements required to host an NFL Season to fall into place.
This, as it’s said many times a day, is an uncertain time. But let’s stop and admire one fact in all of this: Mark Davis won. Mr. Davis got it right. And while I don’t like the way he handled the Oakland situation, not telling the truth about his desire not to be in Oakland and laying the groundwork for lawsuits (which is why I lobbied to handle the League’s effort to be in LA rather than Eric Grubman), there’s no argument that Mark Davis’s business instincts were right on. Hopefully, it works out for him, because Las Vegas needs an economic shot in the arm, and as soon as possible.
Update: If The Oakland Raiders Built A New Stadium In Oakland, The Same Ticket Sales Result Would Occur
For those who may be under the impression the Oakland Raiders would not have performed as well as the Las Vegas Raiders in ticket sales if the organization remained in Oakland for a new stadium, that idea should be jettisoned.
First, as University of San Francisco Sports Economics Professor Dan Rascher said when he appeared on Zennie62 YouTube Live:
“One of the questions that was on the table was the viability of Oakland as an NFL market, and so one of the theories is that if the if the NFL didn’t restrict the number of teams in the market, you know, in the United States, as it does, and if the the the city can prove that that’s an anti-competitive, or or you know illegal violation of antitrust laws, then there would be more teams. And so then the question becomes where would those teams exist? And so I did an economic analysis based on other work that I had done in for NBA teams, Major League Soccer teams, Major League Soccer teams. And so I took all this data regarding the viability of different markets and applied it to open markets plotted the NFL markets, and then use that information to apply it to open markets – Oakland being an open market – now that the Raiders have moved (to Las Vegas), and lo and behold, the City of Oakland was ranked as the highest market that doesn’t have an NFL team.”
Second, the Raiders, even with a stadium regarded as “old”, had a season ticket waiting list of 20,000 fans in 2018.
Third, the Golden State Warriors effort in securing sponsors for its new arena in San Francisco, proved that the Bay Area could secure top-most dollar level sponsorships, even over that for the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara. The Warriors secured $2 billion in sponsorships and from Chase, United Airlines, Facebook, Google, and other tech companies – firms that, for the most part, are still doing well even during the Pandemic.
Fourth, a new stadium in Oakland at the Coliseum would have marked the first new-from-the-ground-up facility exclusively for the NFL in the history of Oakland and the East Bay. If Mark Davis used the same design that was taken from the Carson effort and applied to Las Vegas, it’s fair to assert “The Death Star” would have generated even more excitement in Oakland. A level of energy that would translate into the same ticket sales performance, and prove that Oakland is the true economic center of sports in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Raiders and the Warriors may have left Oakland, but that says nothing for its lofty economic and demographic potential for professional sports in the future.
Meanwhile, The NFL Has A Problem In Los Angeles
While the NFL has scored in Las Vegas, it can be argued that it scored less well in more expensive Los Angeles, and again, in the middle of the Pandemic. The relocation effort to LA started because now-former Microsoft Chairman Steve Balmer bought the L.A. Clippers for a record $2 billion in 2012; the NFL had no team in LA, and so was caught with its team value pants down. My personal thinking is the league collectively overstated the value of the LA Market, and believed it didn’t need the Raiders to make a splash in it.
Now, the same Federal Government Bailout that’s needed in Las Vegas, is also needed in Los Angeles. The question is, will the Trump Administration get its economic planning act together?