Will Raiders fans' loyalty extend to Las Vegas?

Oakland Raiders fans cheer before the first half of an AFC wild-card game between the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)


Even at a resort filled with billionaires, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his blue blazer were extra recognizable on Monday. But over the weekend, along the Pacific Ocean shore, Kraft was more incognito.

In Los Angeles for a friend’s birthday party, Kraft headed to the Santa Monica strand to walk to Venice Beach. He did so, he said, anonymously.

“There were about 10 people with Raider shirts on. I quizzed them. They didn’t know me from Adam,” he said of his stroll. “I said, ‘How do you feel?’ and only one of the 10 cared about the team moving.

“Wherever they go, it can be vibrant.”

This, presumably, wasn’t the evidence owners called upon in voting to approve the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas.

“In the end, we’re in a very competitive league, and you can’t compete at the highest level if you don’t have a first-rate stadium,” Kraft said. “And, I think that’s what, really, this is all about.”

The Raiders are the third NFL team to announce a move in the past two seasons. And their fan base’s strength might have served as a point for arguing against keeping the team in Oakland.

Kraft, who took ownership of the Patriots in 1994, said the Raiders were the visitors the first time his team sold out a home game under his stewardship.

“We were playing them, and I realized, ‘What a strong fan base,’” Kraft said. “They have a unique fan base that is very loyal to them, will travel with them.”

That was evident early Monday while NFL owners huddled in a ballroom before voting.

Outside, along a bridge and service road at the Arizona Biltmore, a small contingent of Raiders fans gathered.

“Whether it’s yes or no, we’re supporting our team,” said Raul Jaramillo, who grew up in East Los Angeles. “I’m for Vegas, but if they stay in Oakland, we stay in Oakland. I’m a Raider fan for life.”

Jaramillo was one of four transplanted Los Angeles residents living in Arizona among the seven Raiders fans who showed up in jerseys and team gear and held banners professing their love of Raider Nation. Arturo Alas, who grew up in Inglewood; San Fernando native Julio Armas; and Diana Lopez, who grew up in East LA, also were part of the group.

“We’ve been through a few moves already,” Alas said. “That’s why we use the term Raider Nation. We’re everywhere.”

Jaramillo said a Raiders move to Las Vegas would result in a shorter trip to see their team. He also said fans from Los Angeles would attend games.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We try to travel as much as we can. We’re worldwide.”

Still, Raiders owner Mark Davis was bracing for blowback.

“I have mixed feelings, obviously,” he said. “I love Oakland. I love the fans in Oakland. And I know that there’s going to be disappointment and maybe some anger.

“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 coaches that made this decision. That it was me that made it and if they have anybody to talk to about it, it should be me and I will in the coming days try and to explain to them what went in to making this difficult decision.”

Kraft, who had his own thoughts about relocating before opening his own stadium in 2002, said the choice was clear for the Raiders.

“The Raiders have been, since I’ve come in, have been at the bottom of the league in terms of revenue,” he said.

“I think it’s been difficult for them to do everything they want to do for their football operations. I think they’ve worked very hard to try to make things work up there and it hasn’t worked out. Now, they have an opportunity to be a very solid, vibrant team.”

Kraft said Las Vegas, which would be one of the NFL’s smallest markets, is the perfect place to house an NFL team such as the Raiders.

“I think Las Vegas as a destination for visiting teams will be very strong. I think every visiting team market … that’s something they’ll have to work with, to try and sell out as best as they can so they can control the home-team crowd,” he said. “But I think it’ll be a wonderful venue and a wonderful market — unique.

“It’s one of the only small markets that could be in that category.”