On Monday, at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix, 31 of the league’s 32 owners voted to let the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was the lone dissenter.
Why did Ross vote no?
In a statement to the press, Ross appeared to say he didn’t like how many NFL teams have been relocating recently (the Rams and Chargers are both moving to L.A.): “We as owners and as a league owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted.”
And Ross’s reply to a press question at the owners meeting conveyed the same sentiment—that Raiders owner Mark Davis didn’t make enough of an effort to stay in Oakland: “I think when you own a team, you’re a steward of that team and you have obligations to the community. I think you don’t move a team if you’ve really exhausted all of the possibilities, and I don’t believe they did.”
But many have theorized that Las Vegas and the obvious ties to gambling—something the NFL has long admonished and distanced itself from—may have played a part. As Frank Schwab at Yahoo Sports writes, “The NFL has treated Las Vegas like it was the plague for many years.” Only one week ago, at a Fordham University sports law forum in New York, NFL chief litigation officer Anastasia Danias reiterated the stance: “The NFL’s view is that it’s not legal in most states. And we are all for following the law… We are focused on the integrity of our game.” Is it possible Ross had gambling concerns?
A spokesperson for the Dolphins tells Yahoo Finance plainly: “His concerns weren’t gambling-related.”
But even so, you’d be forgiven for suspecting his vote had additional motives. Here’s why.
Dolphins have no daily fantasy involvement
Just one year ago the Dolphins were one of the 29 NFL teams that had entered into marketing partnerships with either DraftKings or FanDuel. But Yahoo Finance has learned that the Dolphins’ deal with DraftKings expired at the end of last NFL season (the 2015-2016 season, not the season that just ended in February) and was not renewed.
The Dolphins do not currently have any daily fantasy sports partner, the team tells Yahoo Finance.
Back in October 2015, when New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched a legal battle against DraftKings and FanDuel, the Dolphins were the first team to indicate, through a statement, that the it would “consider all of our options, including termination, if their business model is deemed to be unlawful.” But it was not subsequently reported that the team did not renew its deal.
There are additional teams that did not renew their deals with DraftKings when they expired: the Falcons, Raiders, Steelers, and Titans. As for FanDuel, the Rams did not renew its FanDuel deal when they announced their move to LA.
The rise of daily fantasy sports is widely cited as one of the biggest factors spurring the momentum of legalized sports betting. If Stephen Ross is no fan of DFS, it’s possible that contributed to his rejection of having an NFL team in Las Vegas.
And another answer Ross gave to the press at the owners meeting was illuminating. Ross was asked if he has any “concerns about the league doing business” in Las Vegas. He answered, “I think there will be some challenges… Just like playing in Miami—the challenges with the players—I think you’ll have to have a lot of discipline in making sure that things don’t get out of hand.” He’s likely referring to partying at clubs, since Miami is a party city—but it’s certainly possible he’s also talking about the risk of NFL players potentially gambling at casinos.
Ross was turned down when he wanted $400 million for stadium renovations
In 2013, Ross and the Dolphins sought $400 million in public funding for renovations to Sun Life Stadium (now renamed Hard Rock Stadium).
As the sports blog Deadspin points out, Ross used many of the common arguments NFL teams use when seeking public funds, arguments that the Raiders used successfully in their effort to get public funding for a new stadium Las Vegas. Deadspin summarizes them: “It’ll draw Super Bowls and big events, it’ll create jobs, it’ll invigorate the local economy, the tax burden will fall upon tourists and not residents.”
But Ross was turned down. NESN wrote that it was because “Miami is still reeling from its funding of the Marlins’ new ballpark, which failed to attract significant attendance increases.” A year later, Ross subsequently invested $400 million of his own money for the renovations. (And a Miami Herald op-ed this week praises Ross for keeping the team in Miami rather than trying to move it to LA, which he could have done.)
In comments to the press on Monday, Ross appeared to admonish not just Davis for leaving Oakland, but also the teams that have moved to LA (without naming them). And he framed those moves in contrast to his staying in Miami in 2013: “Los Angeles was open… But I reflected and said, ‘What is my position? And what’s important to the city?’ I believe in cities and I believe the Dolphins are an important, integral part of the city… And life’s not all about money.”
So: you have an owner who did not re-up his team’s DFS deal, when 27 teams do have such deals, and who couldn’t get $400 million in public funding but just watched Mark Davis procure nearly double that amount. Might either of these have contributed to Ross’s vote?
For now, the team is saying no.