Las Vegas being Las Vegas, and the NFL being the NFL, Thursday’s marriage of a forever self-promoting football draft with a backdrop of ostentatious, over-the-top absurdity was going to be, well …
“It was going to be a celebration of everything Vegas is about,” said Chris Baldizan, a senior vice president with MGM Resorts International who sits on the board of Las Vegas Events. “Everything that you could imagine.”
It was going to be glorious. Simply — and completely unnecessarily — glorious.
The 2020 NFL draft will not originate from Las Vegas, of course. The coronavirus pandemic has caused not just its cancellation, but a stay-at-home order in Nevada that extends through the end of the month.
No red carpet with the Bellagio fountains in the background. No fans partying on a blocked-off Las Vegas Boulevard. No draft selections taking a boat to the main stage by Caesars Palace, with spectators watching from the spin of the giant High Roller ferris wheel.
No NFL Experience for fans. No bars along the Strip with team themes.
No sportsbooks steps away offering +900 that Tua Tagovailoa will be the second overall selection or whether Clemson or Ohio State will have more first-round picks (Tigers -271) or the over/under of 4.5 on how many linebackers are taken Thursday. (You can still place that bet in certain states on the BetMGM app, of course.)
No 200,000 to 300,000 visitors for the three-day event.
Instead, the coronavirus has turned it into a nationally televised virtual experience, lots of Zoom sessions and isolation shots of general managers, coaches, draft picks and, of course, Roger Goodell. Maybe he’ll bring along a booing track. He should, if only for the sense of normalcy it can provide (and chance to try some self-deprecating humor).
This draft will be something to see, just nothing that anyone would have dreamed up for an event that each year gets more and more outrageous. Instead, it’s almost a return to the draft’s roots inside a drab ballroom in midtown Manhattan.
Left behind … Vegas.
And not just the Vegas that you know, but a Strip of shuttered casinos, darkened lights and nearly no traffic — pedestrian or vehicular. It’s a ghost town out of a wild Hollywood script, a vision that no one thought could occur.
On one of the biggest nights in a city built for big nights … nothing.
“It’s very surreal,” said Baldizan, who has lived there since enrolling at UNLV in 1990. “It is all for the right reasons, Nevada has done the right thing here, but it is just terrible because so many people are laid off.
“It would have been such a great night,” Baldizan continued, of a draft night that was set to sprawl up and down the Strip, with live entertainment raging deep into the night on various stages. “It was all about the fans. The fans are what drive the NFL, just like the guests are what drive Las Vegas.”
In many ways, it was a dress rehearsal for the arrival from Oakland of the Raiders, who are scheduled to begin play in September at Allegiant Stadium, on the South Strip, and essentially next door to the Luxor Hotel and Mandalay Bay.
The NFL, the nation’s biggest sports entertainment property, had finally come to Las Vegas, the nation’s biggest party city.
And then it all got delayed.
“This decision reflects our foremost priority — the health and safety of all fans and citizens,” Goodell said in a statement canceling the event.
The NFL vowed to hold it in Las Vegas soon, perhaps 2022. Cleveland is set for 2021 and Kansas City for 2023.
It can’t come a moment too soon (once everything is safe) for a city that is reeling. The governments in Nevada and Las Vegas, in conjunction with local business and casino industries, are trying to plot out how an eventual return to normalcy happens at a global destination without a vaccine.
According to an analysis report to investors by Las Vegas-based Union Gaming’s John DeCree, and first reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, that could include a host of once-unthinkable casino concepts.
To assure social distancing, every other slot machine may be darkened. Table games would have player capacity cut significantly, while minimum bets are increased to assure profitability (maybe $50 a hand for blackjack). The Strip’s famed all-you-can-eat buffets and hot nightclubs are no-gos, for now at least.
And how does a casino, which in normal times never allows someone to gamble while wearing a mask, deal with a world where covering your face is a good thing?
Baldizan is hoping the NFL season goes off as planned, not just turning locals into Raiders fans, but bringing existing supporters in from around the country, particularly California. Meanwhile, crowds from the cities of visiting teams make Las Vegas the ultimate NFL road trip.
“We are going to be prepared,” Baldizan said of the eventual start of football. “We are ready to provide amazing hospitality and a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Vegas always delivers. Or at least it will again at some point.
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