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Goodell talks Mexico, but not Vegas

SAN FRANCISCO — Roger Goodell has always owned a pretty loose definition of integrity when it comes to an NFL team ever moving to Las Vegas, on one hand standing behind the idea that his league should exhibit a blunt refusal to be compromised by sports gaming and on the other gladly accepting the massive levels of money and sponsorship and popularity it produces.

One those faces is made public.

The other exists in the profitable shadows of an annual windfall for himself and 32 owners.

Goodell on Friday held his state of the league address in advance of Super Bowl 50 between Carolina and Denver at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, and at no point over a 45-minute session was the commissioner presented a question about the potential for Las Vegas to house an NFL franchise, even though a domed stadium project has been proposed and Raiders owner Mark Davis recently met with community leaders and toured the site.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying or sore arms held aloft, but none of the Las Vegas media members present, and none from the Bay Area who cover the Raiders, were called upon.

I’m not suggesting the NFL has certain reporters/spies/plants at Goodell’s address to ask specific questions, but it’s getting to the point at this gathering each year that you half expect someone to identify themselves as Mata Hari and inquire about plans for a regular-season game in Germany.

It was good to see the gentleman reporter from Mexico be called upon for the 10th straight year to ask about the NFL possibly returning to his country, even though a matchup between the Raiders and Texans in Mexico City on Nov. 21 had previously been announced.

There was the chap from Great Britain predictably inquiring about more games in Wembley Stadium and the kid’s reporter wanting to know if Goodell believed she could one day play in the NFL.

There were questions about the league’s popularity among Latino fans and its technological advances and even a few on deflated balls and Tom Brady.

I’m telling you, this stuff is clockwork.

But others afterward spoke on the elephant-sized slot machine in the room, including an NFL vice president who has been in charge of relocation as the Rams moved to the Los Angeles and the Chargers continue to decide if they will follow and the Raiders seemingly float aimlessly through an existence of uncertainty.

“The league doesn’t have any formal view or position for or against any market that I’m aware of,” Eric Grubman said. “Certain things have to be in place, which is enough commercial opportunity for a team to make it and the ability to put a stadium deal together, whether it’s public or private or a combination. You have to have the right building blocks for a team to relocate — a market deemed acceptable, a place to play temporarily, a permanent stadium plan that has been approved.

“(Las Vegas) is an interesting and growing market. It has had some interesting cycles, as you know. Some booms and busts. It’s obviously a very commercial market. But beyond the sports gaming, you have to look at what would happen after the brick and mortar of a stadium is finished and after the first tickets are sold.

“What is the demand going to be like, the sponsorship commitment? What would be the business community support? What do people spend their entertainment dollars on and where do they spend their entertainment time? You have to look into a crystal ball and make a judgment, not at inception but 10-20 years out.”

All are good questions and more legitimate than the NFL’s archaic views on gaming and its belief the brand would eventually be eternally tarnished should Las Vegas land a team. Issues about the NFL and Las Vegas shouldn’t surround sports betting as much as whether the city could support a franchise long-term.

But none of it — Goodell’s standard lines about gambling, an NFL vice president’s crystal ball, noncommittal statements from owners — means anything if a stadium doesn’t become reality.

Given recent news that developers would seek $780 million in public financing for a $1.2 billion stadium proposed by the Las Vegas Sands Corp., and the obvious challenges and hurdles and levels of communal pushback that invariably come with such a starting point, the NFL and Las Vegas in many ways seem as far away as ever.

But the Raiders want a new home, and there is no question Davis is intrigued by Las Vegas, even though he wouldn’t specifically address the matter Friday.

David really responded this way: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

The only thing crazier was the reporter who then asked me to repeat the comment because it sounded so original and clever, at which point I had to inform him not to get any wacky ideas about making T-shirts and mugs, that it has been done a few times.

“I do believe if it ever came to a (vote by owners on Las Vegas), it would be an open, fair process,” said Clark Hunt, Chairman and CEO of the Kansas City Chiefs. “I think sports gambling would be an issue for some owners, but otherwise I think it would be the exact same process we go through or any city looking to attract an NFL team.”

I’m not so sure — OK, so I don’t believe that for a second — and would have liked to ask Goodell his thoughts.

That opportunity never came, but I sure am happy our reporter friend from Mexico is finally getting a game to cover.

He has 364 days to think of a different question when called upon.

The Review-Journal is owned by a limited liability company controlled by the Adelson family, majority owners of Las Vegas Sands.

— Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com 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. On Twitter: @edgraney

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