You Can Hate Publicly Funded Stadiums and Still Like The Raiders’ Move to Vegas

The league vote is in and, with a 31-1 vote, the Raiders will be leaving Oakland for Las Vegas sometime in the next few years. The move shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Mark Davis was angling to relocate to Los Angeles when the Rams’ move became official. Nevertheless, fans in Oakland are furious, and columnists that write about sports and public policy are blasting the move for a variety of reasons.

I count myself as a staunch critic of publicly funded stadiums. Professional sports team owners are among the wealthiest individuals in the country (if not the world), and the value that their arenas bring to communities is questionable at best. Certainly they provide residents something to do in the form of sporting events, concerts, and trade shows; and they can encourage the rise of other entertainment and hospitality facilities around them.

But those same facilities can easily exist without a stadium that doesn’t operate most days of the calendar year. Stadium proponents regularly cite the jobs created, but ask yourself if you’d like to support your family as a concession stand worker, janitor, or fan attendant. No disrespect to those who do such jobs, but taxpayer funds on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars should woo employers that create many high paying jobs and yield state income taxes that can make a real difference.

Defenders of the public funding cite that a hotel tax will place the burden on tourists and raise the requisite funds, but critics such as Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani rightly point out that nobody has been interested in raising taxes to improve Clark County’s woeful educational system, or hire the first new firefighter in years, or an improved public transportation system, according to comments in The Chicago Tribune. The stadium numbers referenced above don’t include the $900 million in related roadway improvements, either.

But the people of Nevada elected the legislators and governor that have decided that the public interest is best served by providing substantial financial support to Davis (worth an estimated $500 million) and his partner Sheldon Adelson (worth an estimated $31 billion). In the interest of full discloser, the Raiders will kick in $500 million, and Adelson $650 million.

I have to hand it to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, the lone “No” vote for the Raiders relocation, for also publicly criticizing the move. In his comments, he said teams owed it to their communities to make an effort to be loyal and that there are greater needs facing countries than stadiums. Ross has asked for public money, but still put $500 million of his own money into his stadium’s renovations when they were denied.

But don’t feel too bad for Raiders fans just yet. After all, the team has consistently ranked in the basement for average fan attendance. Dead last in 2012 and 2013. Second to last in 2014 and 2015. Back to last place in 2016, despite making the playoffs. Yes, that’s right, they were actually good, and people still didn’t show up. It’s for this reason that the Raiders played a home game in Mexico City against the Texans in 2016, and why they’ll play the Patriots there in 2017.

Perhaps the low attendance is because of the reputation for violence that plagues the stadium and Raiders fans, both at home and on the road. Whether fair or not, it has grown from some amount of truth. The Washington Post compiled statistics for fan arrests at team stadiums between 2011 and 2015. The Raiders came in near the top at 17.8 per game. The league average in 2015 was 6.8. The risk of an altercation isn’t worth it, especially when one takes into account the stupid costumes the fans wear.

Vegas represents a reasonable gamble. Critics rightly point out that Las Vegas has lots of transient residents, but the Oakland fans aren’t showing up anyway. America’s betting capital seems like a natural home for football, which has shown signs of warming to gambling through partnerships with daily fantasy football organizations. It represents an opportunity for visiting fans to see their team play the Raiders in a different city without the likelihood of getting punched, kicked or stabbed. It puts a team in the 40th largest television market in the country, and just feels like a better fit than Portland, Oregon or Salt Lake City, Utah.

This is a move that could benefit a large number of people. NFL fans will have the spectacle of a team in a new city, Nevadans will have a football team to call their own, and Americans can witness the massive investment of public funds in a private stadium and judge the results for themselves so that they are better informed when their own local sports team owners come asking for their hard-earned money.

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