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Long-awaited NFL/Vegas partnership could produce most grandiose Super Bowl yet

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Las Vegas and the Super Bowl are like two lovers who’d been eyeing each other for decades, with just enough tension between them to keep them apart. 

Until now that is. 

And the release of that tension is the source of the energy that is everywhere this Super Bowl week. 

After years of being shunned and ignored by the NFL, this week the league has put its arms around Vegas and squeezed hard. 

When asked if there had been challenges to the NFL’s embrace of Las Vegas with the arrival of the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020 and now the Super Bowl, commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday said “I can’t think of a single negative thing about it.”

Which is a heckova turnabout for a league that, not all that long ago, wouldn’t allow the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to buy an advertisement in the Super Bowl program, lest that somehow imply the NFL as an endorser of gambling. 

And since sports wagering was illegal everywhere but Nevada, the NFL and Las Vegas ignored one another, while marching forward as win-win partners, with never so much as a wink in each other’s direction.

All of that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on sports betting in 2018, removing any reason for the NFL and other sports leagues to remain on the sidelines.

If there’s a shock factor in any of this, it’s in how fast it’s all happened. That in an instant, all that public resistance to association with gambling, which had been a staple of every NFL commissioner's platform, vanished.

Of course, being in a long-distance relationship had worked pretty well for Las Vegas and the NFL for a long time.

The rise in popularity of the NFL during the 1960s and 70s made it far-and-away the most popular sport for wagering, dwarfing amounts wagered on other major league sports. People would come to Las Vegas to bet on the NFL and the NFL would reap the benefit of people betting legally in Las Vegas and illegally everywhere else. 

Never had two separate entities shared so much mutual interest. And that includes a love for all things grandiose.

No entity in sports does grandiose like the NFL, from its palatial modern stadiums draped in luxury high-end amenities, to it’s annual April draft which has been turned into a travelling circus attended by tens of thousands, to its pinnacle event, the Super Bowl, with all the extravaganza of parties attended by celebrities and the ultra rich. 

So what happens when you surround grandiose with grandiose? Well, you get the Las Vegas Super Bowl.
 
As for making money, it should surprise no one that capitalism at its finest is alive and well during this Super Bowl week.

Among hotel rooms, restaurants and other entertainment options, there are virtually no bargains to be had. Souvenir shops have been seen to be advertising hoodies for as much as $30 apiece and T-shirts for $80. As for going to the game, ticket reseller Stubhub has said the game is tracking to be the most expensive game to attend of all time, with the re-sale market tracking at an average price of $8,600 per ticket. 

That’s what happens when demand outdoes supply, as appears to be the case everywhere you look in Las Vegas this week.

All of this is, of course, good for the NFL, whose popularity appears to no know bounds. 

Goodell, who held his annual address to the league on Monday and, for the first time, made it an invite-only affair for media, casually deflected each of the questions directed his way about football and gambling, calmly noting that the changes to their relationship had come from the Supreme Court and not the NFL itself. 

And while the Super Bowl is never in need of a boost to put it over the top, this year it has one in the anticipated arrival of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce's girlfriend and perhaps the world’s most popular entertainer: Taylor Swift. 

That she should drop down on the eve of the very first Las Vegas Super Bowl feels almost like destiny, a perfect storm of entertainment, drama and superstardom that feels primed to draw Super Bowl viewership to new heights.

There’s also a football game happening, somewhere underneath all this glitz and glam.

But as the NFL well knows and is proving once again this week Vegas, one never subtracts from the other.