The Raiders filed paperwork with the NFL on Thursday to relocate to Las Vegas which means that the final step is the formal approval of 24 of 32 owners to clear the path to the desert for this wayward franchise. The team has called Oakland home at two different points in their history from 1960 to 1982 and then again from 1995 to the present.
The Raiders have been seeking a new stadium facility to replace the aging Coliseum, which is basically falling apart at this point. The discussions with Oakland officials have been going nowhere for years regarding a new facility, largely because Oakland is still paying off loans for the expansion of the Coliseum which was done in the mid-1990s.
The Raiders attempted to join the Chargers in a joint bid for a new stadium in the suburbs of Los Angeles, but the final proposal was voted down by the league owners in favor of the Rams proposal for the Inglewood stadium development project.
The Las Vegas option for the Raiders came about shortly after the team saw the Los Angeles pathway dry up. The resort city voted aggressively to approve $750 million in public funds (raised through an increase in the hotel tax) towards the development of a 65,000 seat domed stadium. This measure represents the largest amount of public financing approved for a sports stadium in American history.
The Raiders owner, Mark Davis, has been committed to moving the franchise to Las Vegas once the project was given the green light by the Governor of Nevada. The potential for a new stadium with new revenue streams to help grow the Raiders brand just was too enticing for Davis to pass up.
The way this relocation (if it is made official in the March league meetings) has gone is a tale of two cities with two different approaches to the situation. Oakland has been reluctant to use any public money for a stadium, while Las Vegas allocated the most public financing ever.
Oakland has other issues though with the school system in need of upgrades, public safety spending needed, and other necessary infrastructure projects. The city attempted to “save” the Raiders by entering into an agreement to have former Raiders Ronnie Lott and Rodney Peete develop concepts for a new stadium on the Coliseum site.
The issue with that process though has been two-fold: the financing for the construction of the stadium has been unclear, and the Raiders have been left out of the discussions about the potential development of a facility that they are supposed to operate within. It goes without saying that the situation is pretty messy and might have been engineered by officials in Oakland as an effort to play to the public that they at least attempted to keep the team.
Furthermore, there are residents in Oakland that feel strongly that the new stadium should be financed privately and that Davis and his wealthy partners should have moved forward a plan to build a facility on their own. Those same residents feel that the public funds available should be used on other necessary services and improvements to schools and other areas.
There are still others who will blame either Davis for being greedy or the Oakland civic leaders for being too shortsighted if the Raiders end up leaving the city. That is what fascinates me about these situations, the viewpoints are usually so varied about the same fundamental issue.
The Vegas deal looks like a win-win scenario for both the city and the team. The NFL league office is not thrilled about losing a team in a top TV market like the Oakland/Bay Area for a team in Las Vegas which is a much smaller metro area and media market. The factor to offset that is the only other major league team in Las Vegas right now is the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights who begin play as an expansion team next season. The other factor is the national appeal and following that the Raiders have which will follow the franchise wherever it calls home.
The officials in Las Vegas along with the casino hotel owners were very committed to making this proposal work because they saw a unique opportunity to get a franchise through relocation to their city. I have written previously that this proposal was a hit with those same groups because the NFL season runs in the autumn months which are traditionally the slowest point of the tourism cycle for Las Vegas. The relocation of the Raiders would fill hotel rooms when the demand is usually low and create opportunities for fans to travel for long weekends to see their team play the Raiders in Las Vegas.
The relocation papers have been filed and it is difficult to see a scenario where Oakland retains the Raiders at this point. The NFL owners would be setting a potentially bad precedent for their own self-interest if they voted down the proposal for a stadium with the most public financing ever allocated, in a time where many cities are not willing to put forth public funds for stadiums at all.
I always feel badly for the fans in Oakland who will lose the Raiders in this situation, and some of them may remember losing them in the early 1980s when they first relocated to Los Angeles. It could have all been avoided if Oakland had been more flexible in their approach and if greed did not dominate the motivations of the people involved on both sides.
In the end we will never know if a privately funded stadium would have worked in Oakland or not. The Raiders will most likely be playing in a new domed palatial facility off the Vegas Strip in a couple of years, while Oakland will be paying for an empty Coliseum with mountains of unfilled seats and memories of a team that was once their own.