Inside Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, a Star Wars-y Monument to a Football Legend

Travel Features Allegiant Stadium
Inside Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, a Star Wars-y Monument to a Football Legend

Everything about the Las Vegas skyline is weird. Not just the replicas of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, or the fact that it’s literally in the middle of the desert, or the surreal new MSG Sphere that’s been a near-constant meme on social media over the last few weeks, but everything. That includes Allegiant Stadium, the football cathedral that opened three years ago next week, and which is often compared to a Roomba—because it does, in fact, look like a giant Roomba. If you didn’t already know that Las Vegas was a cartoon city built on fun and escapism, one look at that skyline would clue you in. 

The home of the Las Vegas Raiders, Allegiant will also be the site of the Super Bowl this weekend, so millions of viewers around the globe will be introduced to that giant Roomba on Sunday. (Could it also become the place where Taylor and Travis get engaged?!?!?!) The Super Bowl might be the biggest event on TV, but TV probably won’t do justice to the quirks, peculiarities, and stunning design of this building. During a recent tour of Allegiant I saw up close how this imposing stadium is a massive monument not just to a storied franchise but largely to the man who oversaw that team’s failures and successes for decades, and whose son owns the team and moved it to Las Vegas from Oakland.

No man is more synonymous with an NFL team than Al Davis. He first coached the Raiders in 1963, taking over at the start of its fourth season. He became a part owner in 1966, the principal owner in 1972, and today his family retains majority ownership, with his son Mark Davis in charge. During the Davis family’s 60 year relationship with the Raiders, the team has moved from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland again, before resettling in Las Vegas before the start of the 2020 season. Allegiant opened on Al Davis Way that summer, after three years of construction that cost just under $2 billion. The Raiders covered about 60% of that, with the Las Vegas Stadium Authority contributing $750 million raised through hotel taxes.

The first thing you’re likely to notice when you enter Allegiant is a giant torch that houses an eternal flame in honor of Al Davis. This 85-foot-tall, 3D-printed torch is also the first thing your guide talks about when you take an official stadium tour. It’s the start of a tour that’s about the memory of Al Davis as much as it is the team or the stadium, and it made me wish that I, too, could get three quarters of a billion dollars from a major city in order to build a monument to my father in the middle of the desert. 

After that monolithic torch, the most striking thing about Allegiant is its design aesthetic, which can best be described as Darth Vaderesque. Remember how unsubtle Ted Lasso was when it made Rupert’s West Ham offices look like the Death Star? Allegiant could’ve been the inspiration for that. Inside its ink-black exterior you’ll find the kind of stark minimalism that typifies the Empire and its suffocating brand of strict orderliness. Mark Davis’ owner’s suite especially aspires to that antiseptic crispness; with its sleek, all-white furnishing it reminded me of Disney’s infamously expensive (and soon-to-close-forever) Star Wars hotel. It’s definitely luxurious, and probably a fantastic place for a party (as long as you don’t have to clean up afterward), but it doesn’t exactly scream football night in America. It does sum up the outer space design sense found throughout Allegiant, though.

Despite that otherworldly note, Allegiant doesn’t want you to forget where you are. Throughout the building you’ll find paintings and other artworks that reference not just Raiders history but Las Vegas, as well. Much of it is kitschy in a way that feels too much even for Vegas, like twin paintings of Elvis as a Raiders quarterback and Marilyn Monroe as a cheerleader. But there are also tasteful tributes to legendary Raiders of the past, including John Madden, Willie Brown, Marcus Allen, Ken Stabler, and many more. Interspersed with these paintings are works dedicated to Vegas history, depicting famous casinos and entertainers indelibly linked to the city. Everyone has a QR code that will take you to a digital version of the work with information about both its subject and its artist. If you arrive early enough before game time, it’s worth it to walk around the whole stadium and see as many of these as you can. (Some of the best are found at the skybox levels, though, and thus off limits to most guests.)

Honestly, even if you aren’t interested in those paintings, you should still make a point of exploring as much of Allegiant as you can—or taking one of the tours that are offered regularly. It’s a genuinely overwhelming building, not just in size but in its impressive design. A stadium like this needs to fulfill so many masters, from the teams that play in it, to the broadcasters that televise those games, while, above all, remaining functional as a safe and efficient event space for tens of thousands of people. It also needs its own unique personality and style, and occasionally even has to serve as a memorial to its owner’s dad. Manica, the architecture firm that designed it, has a long history with stadiums of this size, but with Allegiant they might have outdone themselves. It’s a beautiful space for any football game, especially a Super Bowl.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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