HOUSTON — An obvious truth is being ignored in the suddenly suspenseful Oakland Raiders-to-Las Vegas storyline.
Amazingly, the $750 million in public money already committed to a proposed 65,000-seat domed stadium in Las Vegas seems to have fallen to sidebar status.
It might be one reason NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell remained consistent on the issue at his annual Super Bowl news conference Wednesday, an opening act of sorts before the Patriots and Falcons meet Sunday at NRG Stadium.
“We haven’t made a determination about Las Vegas as an NFL market, that’s part of the relocation process,” Goodell said. “The Raiders submitted an application, it’s one that we’re considering carefully, but there’s a great deal more work to be done and there are several elements of that.”
Here’s one thing we absolutely know: NFL owners love public money.
It’s why Las Vegas remains a premier option for the Raiders and owner Mark Davis as a potential league relocation vote in March draws closer.
The NFL has built countless stadiums on the shoulders of taxpayers, and the $750 million in bonds that would be repaid by a Clark County hotel room tax increase is like nothing the league’s billionaires have ever seen.
And likely never will again.
You can agree with it. You still can be steamed about it. You can celebrate that it could lead to Las Vegas landing an NFL franchise. You can protest it by never purchasing a ticket or supporting the team should it eventually arrive.
You can exist on either side of the debate when it comes to the Nevada Legislature’s passage of the tax in October, because there were valid arguments to both.
But it’s not even a maybe on that $750 million. It’s the law.
And the law gives the Las Vegas Stadium Authority until April 2018 to secure stadium financing and a lease with an NFL tenant.
So while Davis searches for new investors to fill the financial void created by Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson’s withdrawal from the stadium deal Monday, understand that such a level of public money will keep owners extremely interested in Las Vegas as they continue to vet the market and all other points of a potential lease agreement.
“These things are all very complicated,” Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said after Goodell’s news conference. “They involve a lot of money and lot of people, but we’ll be looking at all that with Mark, and help him any way we can.”
Of course they will. In the past two decades, taxpayers have coughed up $7 billion to help build NFL stadiums, while 29 of the 31 stadiums have received public funds for construction or upgrades.
But then the economy tanked. And then years and years of mounting proof about how little the public receives for all the money it spends on stadiums finally was taken seriously. And then owners begrudgingly had to begin relying more on private funds to raise their gridiron palaces.
I know, I know. Poor them.
The Falcons will follow this appearance in Super Bowl LI by moving into new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta next season, of which only $200 million of public money (it’s all relative) was included in the $1.3 billion price tag. New structures in San Francisco and Minnesota relied heavily on money from the private sector, and the Rams are privately financing a $2 billion stadium in Inglewood, California.
Meaning, when you think about a law that will require three-quarters of a billion dollars in public funds for a stadium, you have to believe the NFL will remain interested until it appears Davis has exhausted all options in Las Vegas.
The league doesn’t want direct ties to casino folks in ownership of teams or stadiums. Goodell made that clear again Wednesday. It will always “maintain the integrity of our game by making sure there is a separation between sports and gambling and the NFL.”
As stories and rumors circulate about San Diego and other potential landing spots for the Raiders other than Las Vegas, as everyone waits for Davis to play his next card in terms of who he might entice to step forward financially and what they might demand for doing so, remember not to sleep on $750 million for a proposed $1.9 billion project that could prove to be much cheaper.
Somehow, a pretty important point for NFL owners is getting lost on the roller-coaster of opinion.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.