By Jason Keidel
Is the third time a charm?
After two whiffs at trying to procure financing for a new stadium, the Oakland Raiders have finally found a bank willing to fork over the cash for a new crib.
In Las Vegas.
Has the NFL ever experienced such mass migration? Has a gaggle of billionaires ever been more eager to leave the places that made them national names?
Would anyone know Dean Spanos had his father Alex not bought the Chargers? Had anyone heard of Stan Kroenke before he bought the Rams? The elites, the top one percent of the top one percent, surely knew their names. But until they became NFL owners, they largely were folks who flew in Learjets looking down at the world while the rest of us lived in it.
The Chargers will play in a soccer stadium. The Rams play in a half-empty L.A. Coliseum, which is almost as old as the Roman Coliseum. Now the Raiders want to flee California for the Vegas Strip.
If there’s an argument for the Raiders fleeing to Las Vegas, maybe it’s the fact that California now has four pro football teams, while half the United States doesn’t have one. East Rutherford, New Jersey, has two teams, but Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas have none.
Plus, there’s a slightly romantic and historical sense that Vegas deserves a team. Since cynics would assert that Las Vegas is the unofficial capital of the NFL anyway, with billions bet on games every year, it just feels right to have an NFL club there.
And there’s the Raiders’ prerogative as the vagabonds of the NFL, having already moved twice since 1982. The tete-a-tete between Al Davis and Pete Rozelle mushroomed into a football iteration of the Hatfields and McCoys. It was personal, and the two men seemed to spend as much time dealing in courtrooms as draft rooms. But both men are gone from football, and from the world.
Sure, superficially, there’s a charm to it. A town literally coined Sin City, proud for living on the fringes of the law, hosting a team renowned for flouting the rules. The self-styled pirates keeping their restless reputation. But while there seems to be a certain spiritual symmetry to it, the Raiders belong in Oakland.
More often than not, the advocates to keep a team in its ancestral home are a low-level consortium of fans and politicians, rarely known beyond county line. But not in this case, and the face of the Oakland movement is as unlikely as he is famous.
Ronnie Lott, who grew his name and game for that other Bay Area team, is the unlikely billboard to keep the Raiders in Oakland. According to the Mercury News, Lott recently spoke on behalf of Fortress Investment Group in New York, which boasts $72 billion in assets, more than enough to drop a proposed $1.3 billion for a new home in their old home.
We all know the NFL is a business. But the men who own the clubs need not remind us every year. They all want to line their pockets with luxury suite cash, which Lott’s group is sure to provide. And unlike owner Mark Davis, who’s had several investors promise then pull out of their nine-figure pledges, there’s only one group buying and building the edifice on Oakland.
The Las Vegas thing has been spotty from the jump. Beyond jittery investors, Davis needs a wide confluence of revenue streams to make Nevada work, from seat licenses to a Las Vegas hotel room tax to $650 million from Bank of America to $500 million from the NFL itself. In theory it all pours $1.9 billion into the pot for a sliding-roof stadium in the desert.
Just not the Raiders. NFL owners could vote as soon as this month, during their meetings in Phoenix between March 26-29. To approve the move, they need 75 percent to say yay (24 out of 32). Here’s one vote for nay, not that I actually have a say.
This is not a rejection or repudiation of a team in Las Vegas. The world has graduated from the obsolete idea that the Mafia would run any pro club in Las Vegas, or that any army of gamblers would somehow make millionaires plunge into a point-shaving scandal. Athletes are too rich to recapture the spirit of CCNY or Boston College or any epoch that remains fertile for documentarians.
And how about the fans? The NFL is always belching bromides about the fan, the ones who spend the money and paint their faces and fuel it all. You know, the ones who gave up their Sundays for the sport? Raiders fans are among the most loyal, vocal and vociferous in the nation. The Raiders mantra is “Just Win, Baby.” Maybe they should hear the growing chorus from their customers.
Don’t Move, Baby.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.
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