The Raiders like to talk about their Oakland roots. But let’s face it, those roots were nothing that a $750 million check couldn’t sever.
Mark Davis’ team is on the move again. The Raiders, those jaunty travelers, took off for Los Angeles in 1982 and made a triumphant return to Oakland in 1995. Now, thanks to a landslide vote by NFL owners at their annual meeting in Phoenix, they will be jetting to Las Vegas sometime between now and 2020, when a new domed stadium there will be ready for action.
Eyes aglow at the thought of divvying up the Raiders’ relocation fee (expected to be about $350 million), hearts aflutter as they weighed the precedent set by the state of Nevada in pledging to hand Davis and his team $750 million in public financing, 31 of the 32 league’s owners voted YES. (The Miami Dolphins were the only dissenters.) Then they all winked at one another, knowing it one day could be any of them seeking a similar blessing.
Here in the Bay Area, Raiders fans are understandably mournful. That includes Santa Rosa, where the team trained from 1963 to 1984.
When I was idolizing Reggie Jackson and Ken Stabler in the 1970s, they called Oakland the City of Champions. The Swingin’ A’s won titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974. The Warriors got theirs in 1975, the Raiders after the 1976 season. Now the Warriors, having finally reached the apex of the NBA, are on their way to San Francisco, and the Raiders are shopping for warm-weather clothes and sunscreen. The A’s might have gone already if it weren’t for MLB’s foot dragging. What a shame.
No loss wounds Oakland’s spirit like the Raiders. Al Davis built a brand that matched the hard-edged city in which it thrived, right down to the no-frills color scheme and the leering pirate logo. Oakland fans loved their football team so much that many of them stayed loyal even when Davis didn’t. They kept their garages decked out in Raiders motifs; some flew to Los Angeles for the occasional game.
Those fans welcomed the Raiders back with open arms in 1995, and most of them stuck with the team through the humiliating seasons of Norv Turner and Art Shell and Lane Kiffin. Al’s son, Mark Davis, will reward them with the backsides of moving vans, just as the Raiders are becoming Super Bowl contenders.
After Monday’s vote, Mark Davis took to the podium to deliver a brief statement. He wore a mob boss’ pinstriped suit and a Dickensian orphan’s bowl haircut.
“I know that there’s gonna be disappointment, and maybe some anger,” Davis said. “And I just hope that in the future as we play in Oakland this year, that they understand that it wasn’t the players, it wasn’t the coaches that made this decision. But it was me that made it, and if they have anybody to talk to about it, it should be me.”
It was an admirable declaration. And a correct one. This was Davis’ decision, and he must absorb any outrage levied by Bay Area sports fans.
Over the past few months, as it became increasingly apparent that the Las Vegas deal was going down, some observers started blaming the city of Oakland and Alameda County for the team’s departure. Others were blaming the state of Nevada for “stealing” the Raiders.
Neither makes a lot of sense.
Yes, the Nevada Legislature approved $750 million in taxpayer money, the largest subsidy ever for an American sports venue.
They justified it largely by noting that it would come from hotel occupancy taxes. In other words, the tourists would be (further) fleeced, not the citizenry.
As if that $750 million couldn’t have just as easily be spent on things like public schools and job training.
It’s a sucker’s bet, but the people of Nevada were mostly compliant. If they want to subsidize Mark Davis and his developer friends, well, good luck to all of them.
Oakland/Alameda never had a chance against that massive public gift.
We’ve got a lot going for us in coastal California. We don’t feel the need to bankroll pro sports teams. In Oakland, where school spending is expected to exceed revenue by more than $30 million this year, it would be criminal. Mayor Libby Schaaf, the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors all know this. To a large degree, their hands were tied.
In Phoenix, Davis said: “Before the vote for Los Angeles (relocation), Oakland had an opportunity to come in and make a presentation to the league. And they came in with a five-page piece of paper that had nothing to do with anything. And they claimed that they would wait for us to lose the vote and then come back and they’d have all the leverage.”
Well, sort of. But it’s not like the Davises ever truly committed to the Bay Area. Al had a chance to share Levi’s Stadium with the 49ers when it was still in the planning stage, but declined. After his father’s death in 2011, Mark almost certainly could have lured a deep-pocketed partner if he had agreed to sell a significant fraction of the team.
As it was, the city and county did make some effort. The morning of the vote, Schaaf sent a letter to the NFL owners reminding them that local government had teamed with former player Ronnie Lott and Fortress Investment Group on a proposal for a $1.3 billion football stadium next to the current Coliseum in Oakland. Under this plan, the city/county would convey the land, to be compensated in the future through development around the stadium.
Davis might have been able to make this plan work. But it withered in the shadow of Nevada’s $750 million public pledge. The NFL does not walk away from money.
None of this makes Mark Davis an ogre. Few business owners would be eager to sell part of their company. But it does make him solely responsible for this move — not Nevada, not Oakland or NFL fans.
True, the Raiders aren’t going anywhere yet. They have one-year options to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018. They will certainly stick around this year. The 2018 and 2019 seasons are less clear.
Let’s say they’re in Oakland in 2018. With this rapidly improving team, it’s not hard to picture quarterback Derek Carr leading the Raiders to a Super Bowl triumph in February 2019. Now imagine the parade. It starts downtown on streets hardened by so many civic protests over the years.
It winds around the south end of Lake Merritt and continues southeast. The fans lining the streets, once packed dense, begin to thin out.
And the parade just keeps going, floats motoring slowly through the great Central Valley and over Sierra peaks, across Death Valley — the wonders of California. It’s headed to Las Vegas, the Raiders’ new home, but no one is cheering along the way.
Sports columnist Phil Barber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Skinny_Post.