For some time, it was more illusion than real, though even David Copperfield might struggle to conceal the wondrous facility that will be Allegiant Stadium.
The sports landscape in Las Vegas will change permanently in 2020 with the arrival of the Raiders to their new home, a $2 billion structure of 65,000 seats and all the lavish amenities found in new and instantly recognizable NFL stadiums.
“To all the players and coaches and fans who have ever worn the silver and black, this is our Field of Dreams,” said Raiders owner Mark Davis. “I said that at the ground-breaking and believe it even more now. It’s a public-private partnership working the way it is supposed to.
“I go by there and say, ‘Hey, that nail isn’t straight in this drywall.’ And then I take a step back and wonder why I’m focusing on that and not admiring the magnitude of it all.”
The tax subsidy of $750 million that was approved by the legislature made it impossible for NFL owners to ever really glance away from Las Vegas. And soon, their 31-1 vote in March of 2017 that approved relocation will now have the Raiders living, practicing and playing here.
And it’s not just that.
UNLV football and new head coach Marcus Arroyo will also be calling Allegiant Stadium home beginning in 2020. A new and vastly improved version of the Las Vegas Bowl will feature teams from the Big 10, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference on a rotating basis. And the Pac-12 football championship game moves here.
“It’s going to open doors and bring the types of events to our town that we have never had the ability to stage given the lack of such a facility,” said John Saccenti, executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl. “We’ve always been a town that could go out and get most any event we wanted, except for the really big ones. Now, there won’t be an event around the world we can’t get or at least try to get.
“If games for the Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena have told us anything in and around Toshiba Plaza and The Park, it’s that half the people are actually going to a game and the other half are just there to party and have fun and celebrate and be part of something. It’s a common bond the community has developed. I see that exact thing happening with the stadium, whether it be for the Raiders or UNLV or a bowl game or countless other events.”
More than football
It happens every day and in every American city with professional and college sports. People gather at stadiums such as Allegiant to cheer their favorite team or boo the opponent, watch games, sample food, bask in the climate of it all.
But while the entertainment value of such a place can be reasonably calculated through specific event-day revenues, economists have for decades insisted stadiums don’t generate significant amounts of other local revenue..
Hosting NFL and local college games alone won’t come close to generating enough revenue to justify the cost of the stadium. So the Raiders hired Los Angeles-based AEG, the world’s largest sports and live entertainment company, to run Allegiant Stadium.
The hope is that the venue will host at least 46 events annually.
It’s a pretty ambitious number to reach.
The thinking is, however, that given AEG’s relationship with other stadiums across the globe and its affiliation with other AEG subsidiaries, booking non-football events such as concerts and other special tours won’t be overly taxing.
“In terms of dollars and cents, a (stadium) just doesn’t do much to move the needle,” said Michael Leeds, professor of Economics of Sports, Labor Economics and Applied Microeconomics at Temple University. “One metric that seems to be affected by a new stadium is housing values. So in that way it makes a community more desirable to live in, much like beaches or parks or museums.
“There is an old ‘New Yorker’ cartoon of a general in a bunker saying to his soldiers, ‘Let’s not waste our nuclear weapons blowing up a city that doesn’t have a sports franchise.’ It reinforces the idea that cities without sports teams and stadiums aren’t as worthy as those with them.”
Leeds said a new stadium “can be a rallying point for a community and its university. It gives a city a focal point that it might not otherwise have. It doesn’t even have to be a successful sports franchise, although that helps.”
Pro sports teams and the stadiums they inhabit are rarely considered good business. Yet new ones like Allegiant continue to be raised amid all the hopes and dreams of what they might eventually do for a community.
Nothing unites a city like its sports franchises, whether that means drowning in each other’s sorrows through losing seasons or throwing a parade following a championship run. Strangers at the bar can become best friends over the course of one game.
“From everyone I talk to in Las Vegas, there is no question (opening) this stadium is the most exciting time in the city’s existence,” Davis said. “Our goal is not for it to be just a marvel for Las Vegas and Nevada, but something for the entire world to be proud of.”
It’s true that such benefits are more intangible than not. But there is also no clear reason why a city shouldn’t celebrate the arrival of an NFL team and stadium such as Allegiant.
“The stadium is going to impact Las Vegas in several different ways,” said UNLV athletic director Desiree-Reed Francois. “First, it’s going to bring an energy and dynamic atmosphere to a city that thrives on those things. Just look out on the Vegas landscape — the stadium has already changed it, physically and emotionally.
“Vegas has always been the entertainment capital of the world, but now we really are becoming the sports capital as well. This stadium will bring new levels of enthusiasm and galvanize the community. It’s going to be very impactful for Las Vegas.”
It’s no longer an illusion. It’s real.
Allegiant Stadium is set for completion July 31.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.