The result of Monday’s overwhelming vote to allow the Raiders to relocate to Las Vegas was not a surprise. But NFL’s the move to embrace the gambling capital of the world made one thing clear: This is not your father’s NFL anymore
PHOENIX — In the year’s second franchise move valuing facilities over fans, NFL owners voted overwhelmingly Monday to approve a move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas for the 2020 season.
“OAK-land RAI-ders” chants from desperately hopeful fans serenaded owners around the posh Arizona Biltmore complex, but to no avail. The vote was 31-1, with Miami owner Stephen Ross the only negative voter. He was reportedly concerned about the drop in market size from sixth (the Oakland/San Francisco market) to 40th (Las Vegas). But in the end, an avalanche of owners felt the fact that more than half of the $1.7-billion stadium would be publicly funded was too big an advantage to pass up.
But this isn’t going to be easy. They won’t be the “Las Vegas Raiders” until they leave Oakland. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the team would remain the Oakland Raiders for at least two more years, while the new stadium is being built just off the Strip in Las Vegas. And the Raiders, as of today, do not have a scheduled home for 2019 and may be forced to play in Vegas’s 35,500-seat Sam Boyd Stadium, home of UNLV (and currently not suited for NFL games) while the new place is being finished.
“I have mixed feelings, obviously,’’ said owner Mark Davis, appearing subdued, minutes after the announcement at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. “I love Oakland. I love the fans in Oakland.” But … “My father always said, ‘The greatness of the Raiders is in its future,’ and the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is a significant step toward achieving that greatness.”
There were so many surreal aspects of this decision. One: In 1982, Al Davis moved the Raiders south to Los Angeles after 22 seasons in Oakland. Now his son, a former Raiders water boy at training camp, moves the Raiders south to Las Vegas after 22 years (and a second act) in Oakland. Two: A generation ago, the NFL was rock-solid that there would never be a franchise in Las Vegas, where legalized sports betting reigns. There are 76 casinos in the city. And not a single question was put to Goodell or three NFL representatives, or to Davis, about gambling on Monday. Three: Every hardline, traditional football family—the Rooneys (Pittsburgh), the Maras (Giants), the Fords (Detroit), the McCaskeys (Chicago)—voted for the move to Las Vegas. Strange days indeed.
And it was odd to see Davis—rejected in a bid to move the Raiders to the Los Angeles suburbs last year—emerge from the NFL’s game of musical-stadium chairs with a better venue, one that they will have to themselves instead of sharing it with the Chargers. It was odder still to hear him say, “We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”
But how will the Bay Area treat the lame ducks? Which brought up the Alternative Fact of the Day, from Davis: “I wouldn’t use the term, ‘lame duck.’ We’re still the Oakland Raiders.”
Look up “lame duck,’’ and it won’t be so surprising if the illustration now is the Raiders logo.
The players will have to deal with the wake of this decision. On Monday, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was already trying. He issued a fence-sitting statement that a face-of-the-franchise player, in this situation, had to say. In part: “I am overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t know how we should feel. I feel the pain of our fans in Oakland. I also see the joy on the faces of our new fans in Las Vegas … While I am from California and would have loved to play in Oakland my whole career, I understand the business side of the NFL.’’
Because Mark Davis chose not to take on a partner in his ownership of the Raiders, he had to be beholden to public money to get a new stadium. The Oakland Coliseum is the worst existing stadium in the NFL, without any competition for the bottom spot. And without significant public money coming from Oakland (justifiably so), Davis went on the road to make the best deal he could find. He’ll get at least $750 million in public funding, plus a $600 million Bank of America loan and the standing offer of $500 million from the league. All of that should build the new stadium and leave Davis able to manage his rising team with enough money to spare—after, of course, paying the league’s franchise-relocation fee of about $350 million.
“We believe this will lead to a more stable franchise,’’ NFL Finance Committee chairman Bob McNair said. “We regret the Oakland fans will be disappointed, but we were unable to find a viable plan there.’’ Said commissioner Roger Goodell: “Our goal is to have 32 stable franchises … There has been a stadium situation in Oakland that needed to be addressed … and this has been an issue for well over a decade.’’
Now for the gambling aspect. It’s clear that a cadre of owners with heft in the league—Dallas’ Jerry Jones and New England’s Robert Kraft among them—aren’t bothered by gambling now because it’s so prevalent in our society. Last week, I asked Goodell why the league was not deterred by the prevalence of legalized and sports gambling in Las Vegas anymore.
“… I think also you have to realize the changes that are evolving in society on gambling,’’ Goodell said. “Second: I think Las Vegas has evolved as a city. It's not just a singular industry. While it is still dominated by that [the gambling industry], there is a lot of entertainment going there, including political conventions. Our leaders in government are all going there. It is really an entertainment city now, much more broadly than it would have been thought of even a decade ago, much less two or three decades ago. In our analysis, we've been able to look at Vegas and it is actually one of the fastest growing cities in the country.’’
It’s now an NFL city. This is not your father’s NFL anymore.
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