Too cool for school

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(Stadium image from EarthCam feed on UNLVRebels.com)

One of the great things about having an NFL stadium is UNLV will be able to play its football games there too.

Unless the NFL says it can’t.

The Review-Journal reported last week that two already-scheduled UNLV football games will not be played at Mid-Air Engine Failure Field, er, Allegiant Stadium, in September, because the Raiders say so.

“We may need it for concerts and other events,” proclaimed Marc Badain, who is the Raiders team president and also evidently the boss of you.

As you may remember, a new place for UNLV to lose about half its football games was part of the sales pitch when the Nevada Legislature rammed through the biggest public subsidy for a football field in the history of subsidies or football fields.

Now that an NFL team executive has effectively said “eh, we don’t think so,” what is hapless UNLV to do?

“Even if we are unable to play these two games at Allegiant Stadium, we look forward to continuing a positive and productive working relationship with the Raiders,” UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois told the RJ.

In other words, UNLV officials have responded to Badain’s edict from on high by politely acknowledging yet again the traditional respect and regard Nevada movers, shakers and power wielders have traditionally demonstrated when it comes to education and educational institutions, which is to say not much.

In defense of our aforementioned movers, shakers and deal makers, seriously, how much education does one need to fill a temp job selling hot dogs and Bud Lights to people at a football field? Or cleaning up their mess after the game?

Those, after all, are the exciting jobs of the future that get created by sports stadiums.

As it happens, tenuous part-time employment in low-paying jobs with little or no benefits are already endemic throughout Southern Nevada. Boosters promise the stadium will transform our economy, but for our workforce, especially the working poor, the result won’t be something different, but more of the same.

The biggest impact, jobs-wise, of the stadium is happening now, during the construction phase, and that job creation hasn’t come anywhere near projections.

There are about 1.1 million people in Southern Nevada’s workforce. In the unlikely event that all the stadium so-called “permanent” job projections come true, that would translate into area workforce growth of maybe one-half of one percent — about as many jobs as the state adds in a typical month already.

One view of the football field’s economic impact can be gleaned from a 2017 survey of economists, in which 83 percent agreed that “Providing state and local subsidies to build stadiums for professional sports teams is likely to cost the relevant taxpayers more than any local economic benefits that are generated.”

Yes, the ship has sailed. The time for objective, clear-headed analysis of stadium economics was in 2016, when stadium proponents, including UNLV, didn’t have time for objective, clear-headed analysis of stadium economics. They were in a rush to give $750 million to a professional sports monopoly that didn’t need it.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t stadium-related issues and questions still in need of ironing out, particularly with respect to jobs created as a result of the project. And since those jobs are, well, what they are, those issues and questions are the same ones confronting a lot of working Nevadans.

Where are people going to live affordably? How are they going to get to work? Who will watch their children while they’re working? How irregular and uncertain will their work schedules be? What kind of workforce protections will they have in a state where an employer can fire someone “at will” without giving a reason? What steps will be taken to provide an increasingly precarious workforce with transferable health, retirement and, yes, vacation benefits?

Elected officials, and the industry leaders who tell them what to do, did whatever it took to snag an NFL team, at whatever the cost. Imagine what Steve Sisolak, Jim Murren & Friends could accomplish if they were even half as eager to face any of those questions as they were to pony up three-quarters of a billion dollars to subsidize an NFL team.

Meanwhile, football, even UNLV football, is a show. And shows, as they say, must go on, even if not at one of the world’s most lavish monuments to misplaced public priorities, aka Allegiant Stadium. 

The last event at Sam Boyd Stadium, some dirt bike motocross thing, is scheduled for April, and the university’s agreement for using Mid-Air Engine Failure Field reportedly says no events at Sam Boyd after June 30.

Presumably that’s a portion of the agreement the Clark County Stadium Authority, and the NFL for which it stands, will be happy to reconsider once superior world-class entertainment events are scheduled at the Raiders stadium for those two Saturdays in September. (What kind of events? We don’t know — while UNLV has set its schedule, Badain, the Raider president and aforementioned boss of you, has not. But everything about the NFL’s newest stadium project sort of screams Trump rally, no?)

And next year? The Raiders may want to save a couple Saturdays not just this September, but all the Septembers for as long as the Raiders are in Las Vegas (however many Septembers that might be) for events that are more profitable than UNLV football. 

So does that mean Sam Boyd has to be maintained to host two college football games a year in perpetuity? And if so, who will pay for that? 

Not the Raiders. One of the NFL’s core values is never, ever spend money on something if the public will pay for it instead.

To be clear, UNLV still gets to play all its conference home games at the stadium. That part of the stadium agreement, at least, is reportedly iron-clad — or as iron-clad as the jillion other things Southern Nevadans have been promised since the Raiders found a new mark, er, home.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson has been writing about Nevada policy and politics for more than 20 years. He was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and wrote the then-groundbreaking Las Vegas Gleaner, which among other things was the only independent political blog from Nevada that was credentialed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He spent a few years as a senior energy and environmental policy analyst for Public Citizen, and has occasionally worked as a consultant on mining, taxation, education and other issues for Nevada labor and public interest organizations. His freelance work has been published in outlets ranging from the Guardian to Desert Companion to In These Times to the Oil & Gas Journal. For several years he also taught U.S. History courses at UNLV. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and then assistant managing editor at the Casper Star-Tribune, Wyoming’s largest newspaper.