Four prime-time TV matchups and visits from NFL luminaries such as Drew Brees and Tom Brady are on the Las Vegas Raiders' inaugural home schedule, which was announced May 7. How, and even whether, the season plays out is a far different matter amid the pandemic.
The NFL and the Raiders are moving forward as if the games will take place at the new indoor, 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, just off the Las Vegas Strip. The Raiders are scheduled to host Brees' New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football" on Sept. 21 to kick off the home schedule.
The Raiders will then host the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 4; Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 25, a Sunday night matchup; the Denver Broncos on Nov. 15; the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in a Sunday night game on Nov. 22; the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 13; the Los Angeles Chargers in a Thursday night clash on Dec. 17; and the Miami Dolphins on either Dec. 26 or Dec. 27.
Preseason games with the Arizona Cardinals (Aug. 27) and the Los Angeles Rams (Sept. 3) are also on tap.
Of course, the schedule and attendance are subject to change. There could be games with fans, games with far fewer or no fans and no games at all, with every permutation in between. Still, the release of the schedule provides hope.
Following the mass shooting on the Strip on Oct. 1, 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights' at the new T-Mobile Arena made an unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Finals in what was their inaugural season. That proved to be a tonic for the city, a way to rebound both as a community and tourist destination. Can the Raiders at Allegiant Stadium be part of another rebound from a crisis no one could see coming?
The Golden Knights "were a metaphor for Las Vegas' resilience in the face of that tragedy," said Robert Lang, professor of public policy in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in an interview May 11. "The best case here would be if the Raiders have a successful season, if the stadium gets increasingly filled, if it represents the kind of hope of restoring some sense of normalcy to the city and adding pride to the city to have an NFL franchise."
Lang, a fierce advocate for the stadium for more than a decade, said "that would all be an enormous boost, psychologically and in terms of business, because a lot of our business is psychological. It's about people's confidence to come here and their willingness to spend tourist dollars in our city. If they're not confident or they lack the resources to do so, then it's a much longer and deeper recession and a harder recovery for Las Vegas."
The Raiders confirmed in January that they had sold all personal seat licenses, which give holders the right to buy season tickets. Individual game tickets have also been sold out, according to the Athletic website.
On the secondary ticket market, the Raiders are by far the most in-demand tickets in the NFL, with an average price of $1,098, according to TicketIQ.com. The next highest average prices are the Denver Broncos ($774) and Dallas Cowboys ($648). Five of the 10 most expensive NFL contests this season on the secondary ticket market are Raiders events, with the game against the Saints the most expensive at an average price of $2,268.
It's difficult to imagine today 65,000 fans packed into the stadium as soon as September because of the Covid-19 crisis. It's not as difficult to imagine a game being played before empty seats in what would amount to a large television studio, accompanied by aerial views of a nearly barren Las Vegas Strip nearby.
The optics would be a setback, a sign that the city is not yet ready for tourists, Lang said.
"You know, if you build it, they'll come. What if you open it and they don't come?" Lang said. "There are things that would prevent you from coming. One, you're poorer than you were at the start of this. Two, you're afraid for your health. We don't know if you threw the Strip wide open, what its numbers would be."
Although they still need permission from the state, a few Strip resorts such as Wynn Las Vegas and Treasure Island Hotel & Casino are planning to open in time for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Lang is most curious to see the occupancy rates when they begin to reopen.
"Anything above 50%, it's a miracle," Lang said. Larger resort operations with multiple properties "can restrain their reentry into the marketplace by holding back certain properties and opening others and staging it and testing demand. Rather than having a whole suite of barely occupied hotels, they can actually create decent occupancy numbers out of the hotels they choose to open."
Lang, who also serves as the executive director of both the Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West at UNLV, said momentum can still build toward the fall.
"If you see decent numbers, it's probably a good signal that as the summer gets on, you might have an OK Fourth of July, and then you might be able to really open that stadium and have a really great weekend for the first game and christen the stadium with style and with a full house," Lang said. "And hopefully, we'll have the situation under control sufficiently at that point to do just that. I don't know anybody who's not rooting for it."