It is very NHL to be pioneers in opening up Las Vegas to pro sports, and then to become second-class citizens in their own market before a puck is dropped. But that’s what happened this week when the NFL approved the Raiders’ relocation to Vegas, where they figure to be the hottest ticket in town. Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley was magnanimous in a statement released by the NHL on Monday, but a little less guarded in his later comments on a local radio show:
“I felt like there were a lot better ways to spend $750 million than bringing the Raiders to Las Vegas,” said Foley. “We could spend it on police, firefighters and teachers and have them all be the best in the country. But I guess we’re going to spend it on the Raiders. … If I had complete control of the situation, I would not have opted to have the Raiders come here. But I didn’t, so I welcome them.”
Foley’s just voicing what literally everyone who doesn’t work for the NFL has been saying: Las Vegas, like all American cities, has real and pressing problems that could be addressed with increased funding, instead of giving that public money to a private business in order to make it more profitable. For example, just last year Clark County schools increased class sizes in order to save $14 million.
(I can’t believe I still have to note this, but apparently I do: While the Raiders’ stadium is being paid for by an increase in hotel taxes, and will therefore be paid for mostly by visitors and not residents, tax money is fungible. Those funds could go to anything, if there were the political will for it. And local laws don’t require a referendum, either.)
The expansion Golden Knights, on the other hand, will begin play this fall in a brand-new arena that was entirely privately funded (a 50/50 venture between MGM and AEG), and if just because of capacity and climate, an indoor 20,000-seat arena is going to host many more events, sports and otherwise, than a football stadium. It’s more useful, and it didn’t cost taxpayers a penny.
So you can’t really blame Foley if he sounds a little bitter, both for the competition and for the fact that Mark Davis will own and profit from his venue, while the Golden Knights will be mere tenants in theirs. The Knights will have a three-year head start for the hearts of Las Vegas, and Foley couldn’t resist taking a shot at the Raiders, who he thinks will be more tourist attraction than true local team.
“I honestly believe when the Raiders play here more than half the stadium will be rooting for the other team,” Foley said.