David Goldman / Associated Press
Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020 | 2 a.m.
For many years, the NFL only mentioned its championship game in conjunction with Las Vegas when controversy struck.
The league’s longtime licensing rule banning the words “Super Bowl” in promotional materials has significantly impacted Las Vegas, where watch parties are ubiquitous. The NFL has threatened litigation when properties have veered away from more general terms like “big game.”
And in 2003, the league infamously rejected a commercial submitted by the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority to be aired during Super Bowl 37.
“I wouldn’t travel back in time; I’d travel ahead in time. I know it’s crazy, but I like to look ahead. … I had actually never watched a Super Bowl until two years ago, Patriots versus Eagles. I’m sorry, I just don’t watch football.”
–Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, when asked which Super Bowl he’d choose to travel back in time and play in
Now, however, with the league embracing gambling (having announced a partnership with Caesars Entertainment at the start of 2019), with the 2020 NFL Draft set to take place on the Strip in April and with the Raiders ready to begin play here next season, the NFL/Vegas schism is clearly closing. The ultimate symbol of that mended relationship should come before long, when the NFL brings the Super Bowl to Las Vegas.
That possibility has been whispered about since the Raiders began expressing interest in relocating here back in 2016. Those whispers have now become roars, with even NFL’s highest-ranking employee acknowledging the likelihood of Las Vegas going from Super Bowl blacklist to Super Bowl host.
“You have the infrastructure, and I think you’re Super Bowl ready,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said January 17 at the Wynn. “You now have Allegiant Stadium that I think is going to be a world-class stadium, so you have everything here. Now it’s just a matter of working with leadership to understand how you want to execute all of that—how do you want to take the Super Bowl and make it bigger and better?”
It’s a perfect fit on paper—arguably the most anticipated event of the year taking place in a city famous for staging over-the-top celebrations.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few questions that need to be addressed first, however. Here are some of the most pressing.
When could it happen?
You might want to start browsing hotel rooms for the last week of January 2025.
Super Bowl 59, expected to take place on February 2, 2025, is the next NFL championship game without an announced location. If there were betting odds, Las Vegas would be the favorite to secure the assignment.
“Do you think he uses emojis?”
–49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, when asked about texting conversations with former coach Bill Belichick
Allegiant Stadium will have been open for nearly five years and already endured a longer wait to host the Super Bowl than most new NFL venues have. Eight other NFL stadiums have opened since 2006, and they’ve all hosted a Super Bowl within their first four years. That includes LA’s SoFi Stadium, which like Allegiant Stadium is set to open next year and has already been given the nod for the 2022 Super Bowl.
If 2025 doesn’t work out, Las Vegas might also be in the running for 2026 and 2027. Atlanta, which hosted the game last year, and Miami, this year’s site, have formally requested another shot at the game between 2025 and 2027, with the understanding that Las Vegas might take precedence, according to a recent report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The NFL operates its Super Bowl site selection with significant secrecy, especially after changing the format in 2018. Cities used to submit competitive bids, with NFL owners voting for a winner, but the presentations became so elaborate, the league opted to streamline the process. The league now selects one city with which it negotiates terms each year. The owners either approve the resulting bid or decline and move on to another candidate.
The topic gets discussed annually at the NFL’s spring meetings, with potential host cities typically given three to six years’ notice. With the 2020 meetings scheduled for March 29-April 1 in Palm Beach, Florida, Las Vegas could conceivably lock down a Super Bowl date two months from now.
Is Vegas ready for it?
It’s important to note, the Super Bowl represents far more than a game. It’s a weeklong event, packed with media conferences, business meetings, corporate parties and concerts.
The NFL recently specified its three-to-six-year host site notice window because of the grand scale of the undertaking. Las Vegans don’t seem to think that much lead time will be necessary here.
“I can’t think of my favorite JLo movie right now. I’m sorry, JLo, I still love you. Don’t tell her. Delete all content.”
–49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, after unsuccessfully trying to name his favorite Jennifer Lopez movie
“From a purely technical standpoint, Las Vegas is ready, willing and able as soon as the time is right for the Super Bowl,” says Jeremy Aguero, a principal analyst at Applied Analysis consulting and a local sports-industry expert.
In 2014, a document detailing the NFL’s requirements for its Super Bowl host cities leaked, sending shock waves through some potential sites. A couple years later, with Las Vegas on the verge of landing the Raiders, one Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) official looked over the conditions and declared them “not a problem” locally.
The guidelines included a minimum of 25,000 hotel rooms within an hour of the stadium and an 850,000-square-foot convention space solely for the NFL Experience, the league’s roving interactive theme park. Las Vegas boasts 149,000 hotel rooms and more than 11 million square feet of convention space, according to Aguero.
“I think [Tyreek Hill] should do a floss. That’s all I ever seen him do, the floss. What am I going to do if I score a touchdown? I don’t know, it’s just whatever comes to me when I’m on the dancefloor.”
–Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, on his team’s Super Bowl end zone celebration plans
Entertainment venues are another key piece of the puzzle, and an area where some cities fall short. Three years ago in Houston, a city with nearly four times Las Vegas’ population, deserted warehouses had to be converted into party spaces for ancillary corporate events. Nothing of the sort would be necessary here.
“We have so much space, and by 2025, who knows what [else] we’ll have?” says 19-year event industry veteran Sarah Paige-Brander, senior operations manager at destination management company Hosts Las Vegas. “We have the concert venues, the festival fields, the parking lots, the convention space. We have anything and everything. There’s no shortage.”
“[Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo] is the best-looking guy on the team. I mean, by far. Wow.”
–49ers left tackle Joe Staley, on his most attractive teammate
Beyond the spaces themselves, the value of the local events industry infrastructure can’t be overstated. At many host sites, corporations must outsource such necessities as furniture rental or stage design to companies outside the city. In that regard, having the Super Bowl in Las Vegas could be a cost-cutting measure, with most everything required already here.
“We have one client who comes to the city every year and does over 30 events in one night, so we can handle it,” says Lauren Tieru, a senior account executive at Hosts Las Vegas. “This would be a different type of event because it’s not necessarily one company hosting; it would be much more diverse, but we’re not scared. We’re ready.”
How ready? Aguero has spoken at conferences and meetings about the possibility of Las Vegas hosting the Super Bowl, and he always shares the same anecdote: Minneapolis’ 2018 Super Bowl drew 175,000 visitors that the weekend. On the same dates, Las Vegas had more than 300,000 visitors in town.
Las Vegas hotel occupancy rates normally rise above 95% during Super Bowl weekend, with last year’s economic impact estimated at $426 million, not including gambling. Could it really get much bigger?
Aguero, who estimates that—factoring in gambling—a Super Bowl in Las Vegas could bring $1 billion to the area, says, “Something [Las Vegas Sands Senior Vice President] Andy Abboud said has always resonated with me: Becoming an NFL city and hosting a Super Bowl takes us to an entirely new level as a city—it’s like a quantum leap.”
How Vegas would it be?
Since the recent reveal of the plans for the upcoming NFL Draft in Las Vegas, pundits and fans have been just gushing over—or complaining about the garishness of—the undertaking, which will include a red-carpet stage in the middle of the Bellagio fountains. The Super Bowl would surely be even more over-the-top.
Goodell has emphasized the Super Bowl as a way to showcase the features and landmarks of its host city, and Las Vegas’ prevailing attitude has always been that if it can be dreamed up, it can be done.
A portion of the Strip will shut down for three days during the NFL Draft, a possible clue as to a Vegas Super Bowl game plan, which could find free concerts, tailgate parties or other fan experiences staged in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard.
One thing seems certain: Whatever happens will be visually striking. Billboards and street-lamp posters generally plaster the Super Bowl’s host city, but expect Las Vegas to go well beyond that. Allegiant Stadium will feature large, retractable windows facing the Strip, and the NFL and its sponsors will surely want to maximize that view.
“I can foresee all the branding on the marquees, the parking garages just being covered with banners and Super Bowl clings, or even the windows of the Luxor,” Tieru said. “There’s just so much real estate and so much you could do for marketing.”
Tieru and Paige-Brander envision an arm’s race among corporations, each trying to outdo the others with parties and theatricality. They cited the Vegas Golden Knights’ pregame show as a precursor, in terms of Cirque du Soleil-inspired style. In the same way NHL teams began emulating that VGK production, future Super Bowl cities might look back at Las Vegas’ event as the standard-bearer.
“Ask yourself these questions: Does the NFL do anything that isn’t spectacular? Does Las Vegas do anything that isn’t spectacular?” Aguero said. “You put those two things together and you have exceptional possibilities.”
What would it mean for the betting handle?
“Wash your hands and stay clean, because there’s a virus going on out there. Enjoy the Super Bowl.”
–49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, asked to make a coronavirus public service announcement
The modern era’s largest single increase in Super Bowl betting volume came in 2014, when Nevada’s sportsbooks took in $119.4 million in wagers, a 17.1 percent uptick from the year before. A Vegas Super Bowl would likely make an even greater impact.
“I can only imagine what it will be like if we were the host city,” says Jay Kornegay, executive vice president of operations at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. “Off the top of my head, it probably increases it by more than 20 percent, or even more like 30 percent just by hosting the game.”
Gambling might not be the primary revenue driver it once was in Las Vegas casinos, but Super Bowl weekend represents an exception. The point spread, over/under total and many proposition wagers remain focal points for both tourists and locals.
The record amount wagered in-state stands at $158,586,934 for the 2018 Super Bowl. It’s considered likely this year’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco will break that mark. If, as many also expect, sports betting volume continues to increase with nationwide expansion, the first Las Vegas Super Bowl could creep up around the $300 million threshold.
Could the Raiders crash the party?
Don’t laugh. Sure, the Raiders’ championship aspirations seem far from their current reality, considering the team has posted 16 losing records over the past 17 years. But things can change quickly in the NFL, arguably faster than in any other major sport. The 49ers hadn’t finished with a winning record since 2013 before this year’s breakthrough.
And the Raiders have something important working in their favor for a 2025-27 timeline: 11 picks in the top three rounds of the next three NFL Drafts, largely the result of a series of trades in coach Jon Gruden’s first year. If the team drafts well, those players could go with this past season’s strong rookies—a group that includes running back Josh Jacobs, safety Johnathan Abram and edge rushers Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby—to form a championship-level core.
“They’re such a great, fun group of guys to be around. I wore this for them. Tommy Bahama is great for big guys. I’m like a big grandfather. It’s comfortable.”
–Chiefs coach Andy Reid, on his tropical Chiefs shirt
The Raiders should also find it easier to attract free agents in Las Vegas, where they’ll have top-flight facilities—a Henderson headquarters and practice space in addition to Allegiant Stadium—to pair with the draw of Nevada’s lack of state income tax.
No team has ever played a Super Bowl in its home stadium, a statistical improbability almost sure to change sometime in the near future. The Raiders might have as strong a chance as any team, even more so if a recent NBC Sports report—indicating that the NFL could make Las Vegas and LA part of a regular Super Bowl rotation—proves true.
If so, a city once barred from mentioning the Super Bowl could become synonymous with it by the end of the decade.
This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.