Fallout from the Raiders-to-Vegas Decision
Five points on the Raiders’ relocation, plus thoughts on why Colin Kaepernick remains in limbo and why future NFL game broadcasts may be closer to two hours than three
The third and final shoe dropped from the L.A. relocation saga that played out in the NFL in the past couple of years. Following the Rams and Chargers heeding the siren song of Los Angeles, the Raiders were awarded the keys to Las Vegas in a decision that speaks to everything I write about in this space. To wit …
1. The business of football wins again. The moment Nevada committed an eye-popping $750 million of public money to financing a Las Vegas stadium was the moment the Las Vegas Raiders happened: The NFL was not going to walk away from that deal. Indeed, I am told Mark Davis gained stature and credibility in league circles for making (or being given) this deal. Public money at this level is astounding; I am not sure we will ever again see this kind of public financing given to an NFL owner. As for the gambling issue? A $750 million stadium subsidy can alter a lot of morality.
2. More on the NFL’s continued anti-gambling stance. Commissioner Roger Goodell curiously praised Nevada’s gambling regulations as the NFL—along with the NHL, NBA, MLB and NCAA—opposes similar regulations in New Jersey (allowing for legalized gambling in a case that may reach the United States Supreme Court). I am sure the New Jersey attorneys flagged these comments. The NFL’s mixed messages on gambling continue. Indeed, it was less than two years ago that the league prevented Tony Romo and other players from appearing at a fantasy football convention because it was located adjacent to a casino. At that time I wrote about hypocrisy and heard from senior NFL executives that their position on gambling was “evolving.” I would say so.
3. My sense is that there will be little, if any, dropoff in attendance as long as the still-Oakland Raiders—divorced from Oakland but not yet moved out—continue to perform well on the field. Fans, never part of the equation in franchise relocations, are like owners in the business sense about their team. They compartmentalize well.
4. With the new stadium not opening until after the next three seasons, we are still a player career-span away from having a team in Las Vegas. Appropriate for this conversation, I would put the over/under on current Raiders on the 2020 opening day roster in Vegas at, say, 14.
5. With three NFL relocations over the past 15 months, I think things will settle for the foreseeable future. L.A. served as owners’ leverage in negotiations with home markets for 20 years, and now Vegas is also filled. What is the next city for owners to use as a perceived threat with their local politicians? Not St. Louis, San Diego or Oakland, with owners well aware of previous issues in those locales. Toronto? The Bills discontinued playing there. London? I have predicted a home schedule there by 2025—eight games a season played in three stadiums—but not a home team. For owners seeking a leverage play to gain a large stadium subsidy, courtship from other markets may be lacking.
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Colin Kaepernick was the most talked about player in the NFL during the first half of the 2016 NFL season (while barely playing), both praised (by some) and scorned (by more). Now a free agent, Kaepernick is now the object of opinion from all—even the president weighed in, claiming NFL owners fear a Trump tweet storm should they employ Kaepernick. My view lies between the extremes (as always). Is Kaepernick being blackballed? No. Are teams evaluating him in purely football terms? No. My sense is that like others, he others is on the receiving end of what I call “attention discrimination.”
I have witnessed this NFL reality many times when it comes to backup players: If there is a choice between an anonymous “football guy” and a similarly talented player who will attract more attention—for whatever reason—the team will almost always choose the former. Indeed, I have heard various versions of this comment: “We’ll tolerate extra attention if the guy is special, but for a down-the-line guy, it’s not worth it.”
Players like Kaepernick, Adrian Peterson, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler will now only be signed as backups, whether they will admit to that or not. And their signing would bring more attention than any current backup on the team. If they were unique talents now, that would not be an issue. Are they “as good” as some recently signed second- and third-stringers at their position? Sure, but signing Kaepernick, Peterson et. al. would more problematic, though no general manager would ever admit it. If queried why a player like Kaepernick would not interest them, every football executive would say the same thing: They like the quarterbacks they have, they’re looking to the draft, “football reasons,” etc. Absent a smoking gun email or text to the contrary, these teams have cover.
Personally, as someone proudly never identified as a “football guy”—I have many outside interests and am happier in my multiples roles around, but not in, the NFL—I find Kaepernick refreshing and intellectually curious, someone who is putting his time and money into bigger issues than football. That, however, does not play well behind the NFL curtain.
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The Three-Hour Broadcast Barrier
Beyond the Raiders’ relocation, what I found the most interesting from the league’s annual meetings was the head-scratching admission from Goodell about the “commercialization” of the broadcast product, as if he were just noticing these inordinate stoppages in play for the first time.
Goodell noted that changes—fewer commercial breaks (good), although with more commercials in each (bad); centralized replay (thank God) and play clocks after touchdowns and extra points—should reduce the average broadcast from about 3:07 to about 3:02. While that’s a good first step, it seems a temporary band-aid. Soccer manages to have continuous action while satisfying advertisers; the NFL does not need to go there, but there has to be a more workable model.
I am hosting a Symposium this week entitled “Sports, Media & Millennials” featuring media members (Peter King and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd among them) and executives—from ESPN, Barstool, Sports Illustrated and NBC—discussing the changing landscape of sports content delivery (registration here). This is happening in all sports (and entertainment), but football is especially vulnerable with a 200-minute product for 11 minutes of action.
As consumer habits change, shorter time blocks make sense; what’s more, ratings will eventually show that consumers demand it. I predict in the next 10 years the broadcast length of NFL games will be closer to two hours than three.
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Finally, a couple notes on potential collective bargaining issues ahead. First, the complaints linger from coaches about lack of offseason work. Well, CBA negotiations were between owners and players; coaches were not consulted. Had they been, owners would have told them something like this: “We can get the deal we want by giving players a reduced offseason. Get used to it!”
I have suggested a dual system where younger players—three years or less in the NFL— have more offseason activities than older players. That, of course, will be the subject of future negotiations. Speaking of which...
Jerry Jones reportedly spoke to fellow owners about eliminating marijuana testing and relaxing inquiries into player conduct. First, this has been a personal priority the “conduct commissioner.” More importantly, Jones knows that the NFL will extract something important from the players to give this up. Jones’s comments appear to be an opening salvo for owners to get even more from the players than they already have. CBA posturing for 2021 has already begun.
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