Raiders fan Matt Gutierrez of Nevada carries a Raiders flag in front of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign.
The Raiders have one of the most loyal followings in sports. The Raiders are also nomads.
The NFL franchise has jilted the city of Oakland twice, Los Angeles once and now is bound for the bright lights of Las Vegas. While some doubt the arrival of the Silver and Black will be hailed in Vegas, the team on the move might have finally found an oasis of its own.
And when the Raiders do make it to Vegas, in two or three years, the team and league will find the new home to be a diverse one. Hispanics make up a sizable section of the city’s populace (more than 30 percent, according to the latest U.S. Census). Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population of Las Vegas — “The Meadows” in English — grew more than 63 percent.
In addition, the fabric of Las Vegas is atypical not only in the obvious aspect of the gaming industry, but also in the transient nature of the residents — many who live there arrived from other places. It’s almost unusual to encounter someone born and raised in Las Vegas.
“When relocations such as this occur, the biggest winners tend to be the league and the team’s owners,” said David M. Carter, USC professor of sports business and executive director of the Sports Business Institute. “Often, as the honeymoon period wears off over time, it becomes clear just how beneficial the deal was for the league and the team’s owners. It will take many years to determine with certainty the extent to which this is true in Las Vegas given the uniqueness of the market.”
Peter Guzman, president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, viewed the Raiders as something residents could rally around.
“I see this as a tremendous opportunity for uniting our community,” Guzman explained. “There’s no question that sports brings a community together.”
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for Las Vegas and the NFL,” Las Vegas real estate agent Steve Gonzalez said. “Las Vegas is being recognized as a city — there’s such diversity here.”
Gonzalez, who moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles more than two years ago, typifies a trend in which a large number of people have moved to southern Nevada from the L.A. area.
Some transplanted Angelenos are still loyal to the NFL team that was in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994. Some, like Gonzalez, also moved to Vegas before the recent return of the NFL to L.A., via the Rams last year and the Chargers this upcoming season.
“I’m totally embracing the Raiders,” said Gonzalez, pointing out how the NFL team is primed to play during the time Vegas normally slows down a bit from summer conventions. “The football season is filling the gap from August to February.”
Though residents of other cities might resent visitors’ flocking in and driving up prices for game-day tickets, those in Vegas are counting on it happening.
“People that follow the Raiders from other states, like California and Arizona, are going to come here,” Guzman said. “They’re going to tailgate, they’re probably going to extend their stay and, in my opinion, they’re going to add to our tourism sector.”
With about 125,000 hotel rooms, few cities are as well-equipped as Vegas to handle plenty of tourists.
Not everyone in the city is excited about the arrival of the Raiders.
“I’m a Broncos fan,” explained Ulysses Gomez, a Vegas MMA fighter and personal trainer.
With no NFL team in the area, some football fans have picked different teams to follow and expect to remain loyal to those even when the Raiders come to town.
“I was bummed out about it,” Gomez admitted, before conceding he felt in the minority about the Raiders news. “I’m the only person that doesn’t want them here. Everybody else is super-excited. A lot of people are from California, so they’re already Raiders fans.”
Even Gomez could find a bright side to the Raiders being in Vegas.
“The Broncos will visit once a year.”
Some cities have balked at providing owners — in many sports — with new, tax-funded stadiums. The state of Nevada is reportedly providing $750 million in public funds for the estimated $2 billion for the planned-domed stadium.
Gonzalez also viewed the benefits of a new stadium from the perspective of another sport much-beloved of many Hispanics in the area – soccer.
“There’s a lot of global soccer interest,” Gonzalez pointed out, mentioning top teams from Europe, Mexico and South America could now add a trip to a world-class stadium in Vegas to United States tours.
Las Vegas is already a destination city for boxing and UFC, other sports popular with many Latinos.
The stadium would also benefit one football team already in town — the Rebels of UNLV. Head coach Tony Sanchez has said he was looking forward to the potential for a partnership, since the university team will share the stadium with the Raiders.
“We’d be playing in one of the nicest stadiums in America, with our brand-new football complex there.”
The construction of the stadium itself will be a financial boost to Vegas, as well, Guzman believes.
“This just continues to add and raise the potential for tremendous economic development, both short term and long term,” Guzman said, mentioning that even if the main contractor for the stadium is from out of town, local companies will still take part. “We’re definitely going to be involved in the subcontracting of the building of the new stadium.”
“Over time, the public sector contribution tends not to look nearly as compelling as it may have from day one,” Carter observed. “Fans who believe they will be attending games are routinely rudely awakened by the reality that significant sticker shock accompanies their desire to buy tickets, including the need to acquire a personal seat license.”
Once the stadium is completed, while some cities might be wary of the famously boisterous Raider Nation, Vegas residents, who have seen all manner of visitors come by for thousands of different conventions and other events, appear unfazed.
“I’d call them passionate,” Gonzalez said. “They’re just a fantastic fan base. They’re really loyal to the brand, to the vision.”
Las Vegas also loves a winner, and under young quarterback Derek Carr, the team is on the rise on the field.
“The Raiders are a pretty good team,” Gomez conceded.
Even though everyone will have to wait a couple of years for the stadium to be built and for the Raiders to officially move to the city, Guzman does not expect enthusiasm to die down. He pointed out how well the brand-new Las Vegas NHL team, the Golden Knights, have sold season tickets (more than 15,000) and expects even better for the Raiders, especially among Hispanic fans.
“Hispanics embrace sports in general, and specifically with the fact that it’s the Raiders and so many people have moved here from L.A., it’s a no-brainer,” Guzman affirmed. “This thing will be a huge hit.”