The Pac-12 could benefit massively from Las Vegas taking the Raiders from Oakland and gaining a $1.9 billion stadium.
Multiple sources from the league and its member schools have told SB Nation that the NFL enhancement of the Vegas market can only benefit the Pac-12 in several ways, from rebranding their struggling football championship game to drawing better games to Vegas.
1. Las Vegas is a way better championship game destination than the San Jose suburbs.
With no deal yet in place, Las Vegas is now the de facto No. 1 target for the Pac-12 Championship when the facility opens in 2020, per multiple sources. In March, Commissioner Larry Scott told the Oregonian the league would consider the new Raiders stadium.
The league’s current agreement with Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara ends after 2017. Empty seats in the suburban facility have frustrated the league since the game transitioned away from on-campus sites in 2014, but it understands why: it’s expensive and unappealing for fans to book a trip to the Bay Area on short notice in December.
“Our fan base would respond to Vegas in a much more positive manner than Santa Clara,” a Pac-12 senior athletic director told SB Nation. “That’s the one market in our footprint that specializes in hospitality, like a New Orleans or Florida city. Grabbing a flight and a hotel would be cheaper, and there’s a draw to Vegas. Our fans can turn it into a weekend trip. That’s how you sell it to them.”
That doesn’t mean the Pac-12 won’t take a long look at the new Rams/Chargers facility in Los Angeles (announced to open in 2019), but Vegas seems ready-made to create the kind of annual neutral-site event the SEC and Big Ten have built in Atlanta and Indianapolis, respectively.
“Vegas makes the distance between schools in the league much smaller because of the high volume of flights. From a culture standpoint, we could develop a sold-out energy like some of the other leagues. We have the fans for that, but we haven’t found a way to represent it,” one source told SB Nation.
This has already succeeded once. The league moved its men’s basketball tournament from L.A. to Vegas in 2013 after lackluster crowds prompted Scott to seek a new environment. The league reported over 86,000 attended the 2017 tournament at Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, home of the NHL expansion Golden Knights.
2. A Vegas upgrade boosts one of the Pac-12’s bowl games ...
Chances are the postseason Las Vegas Bowl will increase its appeal, payout (currently at $1.3 million a team), Pac-12 selection status (it picks sixth), and potentially its other conference tie-in (currently the mid-major Mountain West) thanks to the Raiders’ stadium.
3. ... and you can expect Vegas and the Raiders to court big college season-openers.
Major, regular season games could land in Las Vegas and draw Power 5 programs from across the nation.
The current sites for Labor Day mega games sit primarily in the SEC/Big 12 footprint — Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Orlando — and teams from those region have enjoyed the majority of the exposure.
USC opened 2016 in Arlington, Texas at Cowboys Stadium vs. Alabama, following Oregon (2011). Washington will play Auburn at 2018’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta. Vegas could allow for the Pac-12 to annually pair one of its teams with a Power 5 opponent much closer to home.
“My first call would be to Jim Delany,” an athletic director in charge of scheduling at one Pac-12 school told SB Nation. “Vegas is nowhere near SEC territory, and that’s been one of his big hang-ups about neutral-site games. Get the Big Ten on board and pair the leagues against each other every Labor Day.”
4. Don’t forget about BYU, one of Vegas’ favorite teams!
The Cougars are a Las Vegas Bowl staple. Before the Raiders announced their relocation, BYU and Arizona were already on the books for a 2021 game at UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium. That game is now going to the new facility, and in the opinion of some, it could be the start of a regular feature for the school.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if BYU uses the Raiders’ stadium to set up an annual game,” a Pac 12 A.D. told SB Nation. “Their fan base travels extremely well to that city, and a game in a brand new NFL stadium could be the difference between grabbing a Power 5 or another Mountain West team [as an opponent].”
5. Does all this hype mean UNLV becomes a Pac-12 expansion candidate?
Probably not. The Rebels will occupy the new stadium with the Raiders and could see big gains in recruiting, exposure, scheduling, and revenue. But they’re a long way off from Power 5 candidacy in terms of budget and prestige.
“If Scott was entertaining expansion options right now, my guess is that he’d be looking at candidates who would expand the league’s reach,” one source said. “Vegas is already a natural Pac-12 market, which is why the title game works so well there.”