Mark Davis met with Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson about a plan to build a billion-dollar Las Vegas domed stadium off the Strip for the UNLV football team and potentially the Raiders, but the lure of Los Angeles and the lack of an NFL-level facility in Vegas may impact any deal.
Adelson, the billionaire investor who turned the COMDEX trade show into a worldwide casino empire, is pitching the new stadium on 42 acres near the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, at Koval and Tropicana. It’s no secret UNLV wants a new stadium closer to campus, but previous attempts at a new stadium never received state approval and funding. A new stadium could also bring the NFL to town. Andy Abboud, Las Vegas Sands’ senior vice president of government relations and community development, says a new stadium would boost local tourism and benefit UNLV:
“We are moving forward with the stadium concept with or without an NFL team,” Abboud said Thursday. “We see a lot more opportunities — conference championships, bowl games, NFL exhibition football, boxing, soccer, neutral site games, and music festivals. There is an entire segment out there.”
The project, so far only a concept, involves Los Angeles-based Majestic Realty Co. and UNLV, which bought 42 vacant acres along Tropicana Avenue east of Koval Lane earlier this month. UNLV wants to move its football program from the aging Sam Boyd Stadium in the east valley to a new facility closer to campus. A donation through the UNLV Foundation covered the $50 million site purchase.
“There are any number of ways that land could be used,” UNLV President Len Jessup said. “It has good potential as a stadium site. But we’ve said all along that we’d look at any opportunity. If we can get a stadium built at little or no cost to the university, we’re interested in it.”
The UNLV football program would certainly receive a boost from a new stadium, but most of the chatter has been about the Raiders possibly moving to Las Vegas. Sharing football facilities isn’t totally unknown in the college football and NFL worlds: Temple is a football tenant at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles; Pitt plays at Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers; and the University of Miami Hurricanes play out of Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. Also, the Arizona Cardinals played out of Sun Devil Stadium before the University of Phoenix Stadium opened.
That potential brought Davis to town to talk with Adelson and tour the potential site. The discussions were private, but there was a photo op:
— Las Vegas Sands (@LasVegasSands) January 29, 2016
There are plenty of obstacles to the Raiders moving to Vegas. First, the funding model still isn’t set; Adelson may be a billionaire, but he’s not proposing to build the stadium. Instead, he’s proposing to divert hotel taxes from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to stadium construction. This is hardball Vegas politics at its best: it takes money away from the LVCVA at a time when it is looking at yet another round of convention-center expansion — an expansion that could pose even more competition to Adelson’s Sands Expo and Convention Center. But any move to divert funding away from LVCVA would certainly raise a huge uproar.
Second, it’s not clear whether the NFL would approve a move to Vegas. In a word, gambling. Of the four major sports league, the NFL is the most sensitive about any association with gambling.
Third: the lure of Los Angeles. With the San Diego Chargers ownership announcing that the team would stay at Qualcomm Stadium for 2016 while keeping open the potential of a Los Angeles move for 2017, Davis’s options are basically frozen. As you’ll recall, the Raiders were given the option of moving to Los Angeles if the Chargers passed, but the Chargers were given a year to make a decision. The Chargers’ move means Davis would need to wait a year to move the Raiders. Given the huge Raider fanbase still remaining during the team’s previous residency at the Los Angeles Coliseum, an LA move would be much better for the Raiders than a Vegas move.
Fourth: the total lack of a suitable temporary facility for a relocated Raiders team. The UNLV football team plays out of Sam Boyd Stadium on the edge of town; it’s small, it’s extremely challenged when it comes to generating revenues, and it doesn’t really inspire a lot of passion amongst locals. It is also the only facility in the Las Vegas market suitable for the Raiders, and columnist Ron Kantowski warns that its condition needs to be factored in should the Raiders move to Vegas.
Still, it should be fascinating to watch the Vegas stadium develop. It doesn’t sound like Adelson and other proponents are pinning their hopes on a Raiders move in pushing a stadium plan. And we’re guessing the plan will grow: 65,000 seats is actually kinda small when you’re pushing for big events. Just ask Jerry Jones.