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Pac-12 football championship has struggled drawing fans

We differentiate again between want and need, the desire to possess something against the requirement of having it.

The Pac-12 announced Wednesday that its football championship game will move to the new Las Vegas stadium in 2020 and 2021.

There are factions of Southern Nevada who undoubtedly want this, but the town certainly doesn’t need it.

Those running the stadium fall on both sides.

It’s not to say either is wrong or that the game every now and then — especially if the deal is extended beyond its two-year trial — might produce some compelling matchups that directly affect the College Football Playoff in a given season.

Who knows. Lightning might strike and the Pac-12 could one century again soon have a team good enough to win it all.

The conference since 2014 has held its championship at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and make no mistake why it will gladly wave goodbye to the home of the 49ers following this year’s matchup: Nobody came.

The announced attendance figures have been even more laughable than usual for such things.

For this, Las Vegas and the new Raiders stadium is a much better option — actually, many places would be given the sparse gatherings generated in the Bay Area — but probably not to the level the conference hopes most years.

It’s all about timing.

Consider: The game will fall when the National Finals Rodeo owns this city in early December, meaning what at different times during the year could be an inexpensive trip will suddenly cost much more.

Take, for example, Boise State. It has played in the Las Vegas Bowl four times and had by far its worst travel numbers here in 2017, the only time the game overlapped with NFR.

Folks in Boise couldn’t find enough reasonable air and hotel prices to make the trip worth it, so they stayed home.

Which could, I assume, pose a similar problem for Pac-12 schools in Oregon and Washington state and Colorado.

Also, the annual Pac-12 matchup often isn’t known until a week before kickoff, as leaders in the North and South divisions sometimes fight things out until the final games of a regular season.

That’s a six-day turnaround, little-to-no time at all to convince thousands of fans to spend money for a championship game rather than saving it for whichever bowl their team eventually finds itself in.

Are you going to shell out even more cash if your school has a shot at the Rose Bowl or, perhaps, wherever a CFP semifinal is being staged?

Such has been an issue in San Francisco. There are others — a 5 p.m. local kickoff has definitely hurt the number of fans drawn, as has the game being staged on Friday night.

“Obviously, our main concern would be that we wouldn’t want a team that loses in the championship game to come back for our game three weeks later in the stadium,” said Las Vegas Bowl executive director John Saccenti, whose game in 2020 will begin a new format that includes a Pac-12 team against a rotating opponent from the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten. “We’re going to avoid that at all costs. A repeat team within three weeks wouldn’t be good for anyone.”

Fills needed date

I understand why the Raiders want this. When you build a $1.9 billion structure, $750 million of which is being funded by taxpayers, the need to fill a desired minimum of 46 dates per year becomes paramount.

They need such an event, and many more like it.

Here’s what the Pac-12 and Las Vegas should hope for most: That a team in the South division, say Utah or one of the Los Angeles or Arizona schools, is making national waves and fighting for a playoff berth and its fans don’t mind making the drive and spending even more money before a bowl trip.

Maybe it’s UCLA and Chip Kelly has the Bruins trending upwards.

Maybe it’s Southern California and the Trojans are, well, just back.

Could happen.

“I’ve had a chance to visit the stadium and see the plans,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told assembled media at the league’s football media day in Hollywood. “It’ll be convenient … It’s going to be a fantastic destination for fans to enjoy the best of Pac-12 football.”

It’s a destination, all right.

But whether enough fans will open their wallets to travel and exist among all those cowboys and bulls is a question yet to be answered.


Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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