Las Vegas’ Odd Couple Of Big League Teams: Golden Knights and Raiders Show Clash Of Business Culture
By Alan Snel of LVSportsBiz.com
It’s hard to find a more major league sports Odd Couple in the same market than these two — the NHL Vegas Golden Knights and the NFL Las Vegas Raiders, the two sibling big league teams that call Las Vegas home.
VGK owner Bill Foley is a multi-faceted businessman who owns everything from California wineries and a title insurance company kingdom to nationwide restaurant chains and a Montana golf course community. Foley is a 1967 West Point graduate known for making money playing the stock market as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy overlooking the Hudson River north of New York City.
Raiders owner Mark Davis is a legacy NFL team owner, the son of former Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders owner-GM Al Davis. While Foley negotiated contracts with Boeing after West Point, Davis is a Chico State graduate who helped develop the Raiders’ retail stores. He has a down-to-earth, jeans-style personality that contrasts with many of the NFL suit-and-tie team owners who literally made billions of dollars in other non-sports industries. Davis’ business is the Raiders — and only the Raiders. On the other hand, Foley’s business portfolio is diverse.
Golden Knights majority owner Bill Foley
Raiders owner Mark Davis
Those contrasting styles set the tone for both teams’ business approaches, with the Golden Knights and Raiders also playing in sports leagues with drastically different business models.
Foley is a bottom-line numbers guy who constantly monitors the Golden Knights’ money flow and revenue percentage gains in a league that does not have a massive national TV rights contract. The Knights are keen on monetizing and business partnering, even using a deal with Las Vegas Channel 3 to recently announce the VGK’s new minor league team name and logo.
In contrast, Davis knows the NFL and its billion-dollar TV broadcast rights deals can easily financially sustain the Raiders with or without other beefy revenue streams. That said, the Raiders hit the jackpot with new corporate sponsors thanks to their new $1.97 billion stadium project in Las Vegas.
The cultural and even political differences between the Golden Knights and Raiders were plainly seen in recent statements released in response to the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
In some ways, that’s a function of the teams’ geographic roots. The Raiders are from Oakland in the Bay area, one of the country’s most politically left-leaning markets. The Raiders play in a sports league with a majority of black players. In November 2016, the Raiders invited former Olympian Tommie Smith, known for raising a fist alongside Olympic teammate John Carlos on the medal stand at the Mexico City Summer games in 1968 to support black rights, to light the Raiders’ Al Davis torch at the team’s Coliseum in Oakland. Mark Davis is a longtime friend of Smith.
While the Raiders moved from Oakland, the Golden Knights’ marketing mantra is #VegasBorn with the team created here in Nevada, traditionally a purple state that up until recently elected mostly Republican, right-leaning statewide officials. The Knights play in a league with mostly white players. The Golden Knights also traditionally shy away from political issues. The team was credited with helping the Las Vegas community heal after the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting resulted in 58 dead and more than 500 injured. But the Knights did not enter the political circle about gun violence or gun control debates.
Let’s look at last week’s team statements. In the Raiders’ statement about Floyd’s death, which has triggered both nationwide and worldwide protests, Davis put his name at the end of the release. The statement was also titled, “The Murder of George Floyd.” Here was the Davis statement:
This Davis statement contrasts with the Vegas Golden Knights’ release, which makes no mention of Floyd. It talks in general terms of condemning racism and uniting the community, but does not refer to the names of black Americans who have been killed while in police custody.
The Golden Knights’ recent release of their new minor league team logo design for the Henderson Silver Knights used the Raiders’ signature silver-and-black colors. That was the topic of a recent story on the Silver & Black Today web site, which is published by Scott Gulbransen of Las Vegas. The story, published June 2, included a sub-head that said in part, “The Henderson Silver Knights will launch this next season and their colors match those of the Las Vegas Raiders making some in the organization a bit unhappy.”
LVSportsBiz.com with be discussing the story with Gulbransen Tuesday at 1 p.m. on the LVSportsBiz Facebook page. Here’s a look at the Henderson Silver Knights logo and merchandise using the Raiders’ silver and black colors from the Silver Knights website. Using a silver color use for its minor league team seemed like a no-brainer for a parent team named, “Golden Knights,” playing a state known as the “Silver” state. Black is also a popular sports team color used in many logos and uniform designs. But then again, silver and black is also literally part of the Raiders’ brand and identity.
Here’s Foley discussing the new Henderson Silver Knights team, which will play first at the Orleans Arena while the city of Henderson rebuilds its Henderson Pavilioninto a 6,000-seat arena thanks to $42 million in public money approved by the Henderson City Council in a recent 4-1 vote. Foley looks like he’s at one of his wineries in this post on the Silver Knights’ new website.
LVSportsBiz.com Monday emailed the two teams’ PR heads, Will Kiss at the Raiders and Eric Tosi at the Knights, but we did not hear back.
The presidents of the two Las Vegas-based sports franchises also charted very different paths to their respective offices.
Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz has roots in Oklahoma. He’s a Tulsa native and 1989 Oklahoma State University graduate who began his sports marketing and business work where so many do — minor league baseball in the heartland of America for the Tulsa Drillers and Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa. Bubolz arrived at the Golden Knights offices in Summerlin after working 13 years in the Cleveland Cavaliers organization, including serving as president of business operations from 2013-2016.
VGK President Kerry Bubolz
Raiders President Marc Badain is a Queens, NY native who grew up in Rochester, NY about two hours east of Buffalo and earned his undergraduate degree at Emory University in Atlanta in 1992. Badain did an internship at Raiders training camp in Oxnard, California when the team was based in Los Angeles between his junior and senior years at Emory, helping coaching staff and football operations departments at training camp. Badain then moved to California to work full time for the Raiders after his 1992 Emory graduation. Badain has worked for the Raiders ever since and is a finance guy.
Raiders President Marc Badain
Naturally, the Golden Knights and Raiders play nice publicly. Before the coronavirus pandemic grounded pro sports in March, Bubolz and Badain bumped into each other all the time at community speaking engagements and luncheons.
In an LVSportsBiz.com story last year, Bubolz welcomed the Raiders to Las Vegas because he believed the NFL coming to this market would provide the Golden Knights with more corporate partnership possibilities thanks to the NFL corporate sponsors.
But the fact is the two franchises are old and new. The Raiders won NFL championships in 1976, 1980 and 1983, but have had a dismal overall record since 2002 when the NFL expanded with the Houston Texans and realigned into eight divisions of four teams each. The Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final a mere two years ago after their debut in 2017. The Raiders are also based in suburban Henderson, while the Golden Knights are headquartered in suburban Summerlin.
But the one common denominator between the two franchises is the remarkable brand loyalty of their fan bases. The Raiders have a nationwide following and expect more than 40 percent of fans attending games at new Allegiant Stadium to be coming from outside the Las Vegas market. Many new season ticket holders come from the Southern California market. In fact, it’s common for Raiders fans from the Los Angeles area to drive to Las Vegas to see the new stadium for photo opps and then drive home later that day or the following day. Just like this guy.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights fans have formed an emotional connection with their franchise like few others across the professional sports landscape. VGK games function as NHL competition, Strip entertainment and community meeting place, with even Davis showing up to watch the Knights in action.
Perhaps the Raiders thought the Golden Knights were delivering a message with the silver-and-black color scheme of the new Henderson Silver Knights. But the fact is both franchises are tied by one other pursuit in their common Las Vegas home. They both like the color of green as both look at Las Vegas as a lucrative market.
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