Big O Tires

A's newfound leverage has limits and Libby Schaaf can take a punch

A's newfound leverage has limits and Libby Schaaf can take a punch

John Fisher has shown admirable restraint so far as he contemplates life without the Oakland Raiders in his craw. For one, he hasn’t jumped up and down on Libby Schaaf’s desk and demand that the Oakland mayor take care of the only team she ever has to worry about ever again.

Then again, that might just be prudence on his part. In her present frame of mind, she might take such an opportunity to punch him about 35 times directly in the throat.

Schaaf’s strategy to keep the National Football League from steamrolling her worked, though it came with far more irritation at the end of the process than she thought. She learned face-first that dealing with the NFL means being attacked on all fronts, including the demonstrably false fronts tossed up at the end. She may have thought foolishly that the NFL could be somehow persuaded to see Oakland's rationale for keeping the team, but found out just how well the NFL does dismissive. Frankly, she looked Monday like she’d just had a marathon run over her.

This is not an attempt at sympathy, mind you. She’s a politician in a major American city, and she knew the job was dangerous when took it.

But now that the A’s are the last turkey in the shop, it would be good for Fisher and his new public face, Dave Kaval, to take great care not to push the city too hard. Their leverage has limits, and Schaaf, having punched the NFL to a draw by refusing to budge from his original stadium proposal, knows she can take a punch.

Also, she knows that the A’s don’t have the options the Raiders had. In short, her first offer is likely to be damned close to her last offer, because she just showed that she can do that.

In other words, the A’s have only that leverage the mayor will allow them, and will have to be happy that for the first time ever, they have no impediments between them and a new stadium save their own abilities to achieve them.

You see, the A’s new stadium has been painted as a privately financed operation, and even though there is actually no such thing (the Giants got city money for infrastructure and security when they built PacSBC&TT Park, and never forget that), that’s what it has to remain.

Oakland is trying to guide the A’s toward the Howard Terminal site with all its come-hither stares, but would tolerate Brooklyn Basin or the Coliseum. The A’s want something that allows them to cash in on the land around the stadium (shops, eateries, drinkeries, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, etc.). That much is easily done.

After that, though, Fisher and Kaval need to understand that as one of the few mayors in the nation who gave and held to a take-it-or-leave-it proposal the NFL hated at the start, middle and end, Schaaf has some steel in her spine, and now has the experience to wield it. They push too hard at their peril.

Not because they can be forced from the city, but because they could be left in the Coliseum well beyond their four-year revenue sharing window. At that point, any losses are real-money losses, and any profits come at the expense of the product.

In short, the stadium is the A’s project alone, and though Fisher and Kaval know that and have said all the right things in mind, the temptation to poke the wasp hive of public money may be too much to decline. The smart move is to accept that they are the last team standing, Oaklandically speaking, but not to assume too much beyond that.

The A’s should view this opportunity as theirs and theirs alone. They should also view as an opportunity with limits, because the undertold story about the Raiders’ move is that Schaaf lost almost no approval rating points during the process. She made it clear that the city’s commitment to the Raiders was finite and its interest in letting the NFL turn the Coliseum into the Oklahoma Land Rush was a non-starter, and she stuck to her guns with the only cost being her exasperation level late in the process. Frankly, she might have been better off announcing on Day One that any NFL official entering the city limits would be summarily jailed, jail the first one and then dare them to send any more.

That would have been the pure Oakland play.

As for the A’s, their pure Oakland play is to own the town with their deeds. A stadium built on their own dime that people want to see, and a team with talent and attitude that makes the stadium worth having.

Raiders to Vegas: So much disingenuous, silly or just plain idiotic rhetoric

Raiders to Vegas: So much disingenuous, silly or just plain idiotic rhetoric

The torrential nonsense that was emitted with the announcement of the NFL owners’ vote on the fate of the Mark Davis Raiders was as embarrassing as it was predictable. It’s as though everyone involved and watching had forgotten what this was about from the start, and became a chase for rabbits that didn’t exist.

But that’s what you get when the National Football League and politics commingle – a cavalcade of lies, half-truths, shaded half-facts and nitwit hysteria that . . . well, that explains everything we need to know about what passes for entertainment in America in 2017.

So let’s do a random tour on everything that was said Monday, so that we can see that nobody cornered the market in disingenuous, silly or just plain idiotic.

[RATTO: Raiders fans got remarkably little bang for their bucks, or for their hearts]

- Mark Davis, thanking Sheldon Adelson for his “vision.” What he meant to do was thank Adelson for shaking down three quarters of a billion dollars from the State of Nevada. Adelson didn’t thank him back for finding out that his power play to get a potentially controlling chunk of the franchise was dead on arrival in the league offices after he’d gotten the money committed, and that he’d been used, no doubt the way he’s used plenty of others.

- Roger Goodell: “We’re all disappointed for Oakland and their fans.” No he isn’t. He’s mad that they elected someone who wouldn’t cave in to the league the way those good citizens in other cities and states do. 

- City councilman Larry Reid, in full snittery, said he not only would never wear any form of Raider gear again (and who cares?) but would talk to the Oakland city attorney about forcing the Raiders out of their two years of lease options and make them play in Santa Clara. Fine, except that any lawyer will tell him that would probably die in court for 2017 and 2018, and would be at best a coin flip to 2019, and not only that, the 49ers don’t want the Raiders any more than the Raiders have wanted them. Dead issue, Lar’. Political posturing. Don’t bring it up again.

- Davis, saying his father would be proud of him for taking the team to “the entertainment capital of the world.” He would have been much prouder of the fact that his son showed a single-minded devotion to getting out of Oakland to the point of being embarrassed several times before he got what he wanted. The old man almost surely didn’t think the boy had it in him.  

- Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross, the only dissenting vote, saying “My position today was that we as owners and as a League owe it to fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted. I want to wish Mark Davis and the Raiders organization the best in Las Vegas.” Ross voted for the Rams’ move to Los Angeles a year earlier, and he couldn’t be less interested in “the best” for Davis or the Raiders.

- Everyone who mentioned how Oakland would never help Davis build a stadium. Oakland didn’t have a spare $750M, then or now, and neither did Davis, which is why other people scared up almost all the money for the Vegas project for him. Plus, it isn’t a city’s job to help a private company scare up financing, it’s the guy who runs the private company. Davis’ problem was that getting money costs money, and the only thing he had was the team, with which he didn’t want to part. 

[RELATED: Schaaf proud Oakland did not capitulate to Raiders' unreasonable demand]

- Schaaf: “I am glad we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction and that we did not capitulate to their unreasonable and unwarranted demand that we choose between our baseball and football franchises.” The first part is what she can proud of. The second is a red herring, a merely ancillary part of what the league actually wanted – control of the stadium and land surrounding it. Schaaf decided not to do business with people she didn’t trust and came to loathe, and the league decided not to do business with a city that didn’t have money and wouldn’t knuckle under to any and all extortionate demands. 

- Schaaf continually describing the Oakland plan as “viable,” when viability depends in considerable part on another party being interested in what your definition of “viable” is. Neither the team nor the league wanted any part of the “viable” plan because they defined “viable” as “give us everything you have, and we’ll work out the rest of your stuff later.” The plan was affordable, but it was never actually viable. 

- Schaaf saying (“Our fans) deserved better.” In the world of cutthroat money-hunting, nobody “deserves” anything. It’s what you can carve from the flesh of your opponent. Oakland didn’t own the Raiders and neither did their fans. When you call a team “we,” you really mean “they,” and let this be the reminder your parents should have provided for you 35 years ago. 

- A’s president Dave Kaval saying how disappointed the baseball team was to learn that the Raiders were leaving. A baldfaced lie, this. The A’s are absolutely giddy about the prospect, and have been waiting for it to happen for nearly a decade. If they could get the permits, they’d have a parade down Broadway tomorrow.

- The NFL moving three franchises in 15 months as some sort of horrifying development that will destroy the traditions that made the league powerful. Please. These guys had no problem with moving the Rams or the Raiders, and only objected to the Chargers leaving for L.A. because they’d done their good pal Dean Spanos a favor by giving him an option to move and were floored when he took them up on it. No good deed goes without a knife in the ribs, and all that -- especially after the Rams killed L.A.’s buzz for football in less than a year. The league goes where they think money is, and woe betide the team that is looking to relocate if the league every finds out there is money on the sun.

- Vegas as the massive vice farm that will lead players down a path of perdition, but nobody mentions that a player can get into trouble in new York or Chicago or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Boston or Indianapolis. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted, “Coaches are already discussing how they'll handle their travel when they're on the road in Las Vegas. Likely staying away from The Strip.” How far away? Laughlin? Henderson? Bisbee? El Paso? By that logic, coaches facing a road game in Miami ought to house their teams in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

- 49ers’ general manager John Lynch getting his swing at the piñata by saying Monday, “Raider fans, we're open for business. “Come and jump on our train.” Whispering in a graveyard is always a bad look, especially so soon after reminding us all that the Raider fan base is “too special” to ever feel comfortable tailgating at The Louvre . . . err, Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers no more want the Raiders than the Raiders want them, which is part of how this escalated even before Al Davis died.

- And finally, anyone who used the word “bittersweet” about any step in the process of taking a rich legacy’s property and taking it somewhere else. If you’re a player, you know the business requires accepting movement. If you’re a fan, you know the business requires understanding that your team is never actually yours. And if you are a media member, you got to spend a whole day passing on myths and nonsense and calling it wisdom . . . and that’s nice work if you stomach it.

Raiders fans got remarkably little bang for their bucks, or for their hearts

Raiders fans got remarkably little bang for their bucks, or for their hearts

The original Oakland Raiders, the ones who colonized the city for professional sports in 1960, lasted 7,964 days, and died at the hands of a jury in a Los Angeles courtroom.

The re-relocated Oakland Raiders, who fled L.A. and rebooted here in 1995, lasted 7,948 days, and died at the hands of the 32 National Football League owners in a Phoenix boardroom.

There, the similarities end, but not the feelings.

The 32 franchise owners voted Monday at the league meetings in the Arizona Biltmore to give Mark Davis the same thing his father Al fought for 35 years ago – the right to leave. The first time, Al left without the owners’ support; this time, Mark did it eagerly courting the owners’ support, and in a few cases, overt aid.

But whether this move will take any better than the others remains a point only time can reveal. After all, when you chase money, sometimes the money decides not to get caught.

And that ultimately is what dictated this vote, and this move. Mark Davis decided at least three years ago, and perhaps longer, that the team left to him by his parents and future did not lie in Oakland, and worked aggressively if not always efficiently to find a new business home.

Like his father, though, leaving was time-consuming, expensive and came with a great deal of friction. He talked to San Antonio only to find out that Jerry Jones and Bob McNair would never allow him to move his team into their state. He tried to move to Los Angeles in tandem with San Diego’s Dean Spanos and marched cheerily to the altar only to find out at the last minute that it would end as a red wedding.

And even this time, he repeatedly false-started his way through a year of deals and abortive deals before finally convincing his wealthier and haughtier brethren that the new money of Las Vegas was a better bet than the tradition and size of Oakland.

As regards that supposition, only time and short-term greed vs. long-term growth will tell. The league hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory with the multiple ways it screwed up the Los Angeles and San Diego markets, after all, and Davis as the league’s cash-poorest owner is always vulnerable to market forces and bullying partners.

But the possibility that this move might turn out to be an ill-fated choice does nothing to assuage a second generation of jilted Raider fans. Those fans were badly served through most of Oakland Raiders 2.0, deserved better, and ended up with a bittersweet experience, heavy on the bitter. In total:

- There was the gall of watching the third-worst record in football in those 22 years (Detroit and Cleveland), the league high total of 12 non-interim head coaches and the added irritation of watching the team opt to leave just as it was freshly positioned for an extended run of success.

- There was the financial and architectural sinkhole of Mount Davis, which added seats and as-yet-unpaid debt while removing ambience from an old stadium living off the memories of the best Raider teams.

- There was the organizational paralysis of the later Al years and the aggressive wanderlust of the Mark years, leaving the fans to wonder what stable ownership might have offered.

In short, the new generation of Raider fans got remarkably little bang for their bucks, or for their hearts, and still got the same cruel reward their parents did.

Still, the Raiders were theirs, for good or ill, even if the last few years they only kept their team through the fecklessness of their owner. Now that the team is leaving again, these fans have only the commiserations their parents and older relatives who went through it once before, and learned in the most painful way of all that cities and fans don’t own teams – billionaires do, and billionaires are only citizens of the empire of money. Fans and cities and traditions and allegiances are merely wallets toward an end.

But one never knows what the future will bring. They might come back in 2030 and give it another 8,000-day try for the children of the brokenhearted. It would be a particularly perverse thing for the Raiders to do, but there is nothing in their history that suggests they mind treating their fan bases perversely.