The stench of the greed—even for a league that cherishes money over almost anything—is staggering. Like getting used to a smog-filled city and then being hit with the pungent smell of someone who hadn’t showered for several days.
Pigs rolling in an ocean of mud aren’t this fat and happy. Money, money, money. This is the NFL’s motto. The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas proves this. Yes, it is one of many things that illustrate this point, but this is the exclamation point. Just sin, baby.
There is nothing more mercenary, and merciless, than a sports league bolting three cities in the span of 14 months—St. Louis, San Diego and now Oakland. The NFL is allowed to make money. All of us should be. But the league needs to stop pretending it’s about anything more than that. There’s no question now that this is the NFL’s sole purpose: making cash.
It’s no longer about putting on good football games. Or player health and safety. Or the fans. (Certainly not the fans.) It’s cash. The NFL is about as cartel as it gets, yet instead of pushing cigarettes, or alcohol or firearms, it pushes men beating the crap out of each other. I love the sport, and always will, but football has become less about football and more about moneyball. No, not that moneyball, football’s moneyball.
The NFL’s move to Vegas is one of the more significant examples of football compromising itself for cash in ways it never did before, on levels it never did before, in manners it likely never will in the future.
It’s easy to forget how for so long the NFL shunned Las Vegas. It’s a city in which the NFL always said it would never step foot. I distinctly remember former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue at an owners’ meeting, smirking at me after I had asked if the NFL would ever play in Vegas. He looked at me as if to say, “Are you an idiot?”
Barely one year ago, Roger Goodell said he opposed legalized sports betting. Then, at the Houston owners’ meetings in October, the commissioner said: “We remain very much opposed to gambling on sports. … We want to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the game.”
Well, obviously, the cure to gambling on sports is moving to Las Vegas!
The majority of owners strongly wanted this, according to several team officials with whom I texted in the hours after the vote, and the 31-1 vote in favor of the move offers proof. Only the Dolphins voted against.
Team executives expressed surprise this day had come. For people who have been in the league for a long time, or covered it a long time, almost none thought a team would ever play in Las Vegas.
Remember, this is the same league that prevented Tony Romo from holding his fantasy football gathering in Vegas because the event was at a casino property.
“Players and NFL personnel may not participate in promotional activities or other appearances at or in connection with events that are held at or sponsored by casinos,” an NFL spokesman told Fox Sports at the time.
That was almost two years ago.
More important for the future, the execs wondered if the move to Vegas will be worth it in a football sense. Vegas will test NFL players and league employees like never before, two of the executives said. The city is set up to entice you to gamble, said a scout, and our players and personnel are only human.
In some ways, this attitude is antiquated. Players can gamble by using their phones or a laptop. NFLers who live in the New York area can drive an hour to Atlantic City and place a wager. There are casinos near NFL locations all over the U.S. And there’s the addiction that has hooked almost all of us: fantasy football. In other words, if you want to gamble, you don’t have to go to Las Vegas.
Still, the executives believe Vegas is different. It’s gambling on steroids. The city is engineered to get people to spend wildly or engage in other various forms of debauchery. It can turn the most pious man into a smoldering pool of goo who’s crying for his mommy while wearing nothing but his underwear.
Playing football in Vegas will test the Raiders who will be living there, and the teams that will be visiting there, like no other place could.
The NFL did this for money, without a doubt. But there’s a deeper level to the greed, as one team exec noted. Las Vegas was one of the last markets where the NFL could exert its influence and make a money grab, so that’s what the league did.
Viable markets for the NFL are drying up rapidly, to the point where there are few, and maybe now none, left. At least none where the NFL could get $750 million in public funding, as it is getting with its Vegas deal.
We cannot go to Vegas because the casinos are a naughty place where…hey, there’s a big pile of money over there. Scratch what we just said.
So the NFL compromised its long-held stance on gambling, and made a run for the cash. And in the process, the league sold its soul.