The Oakland Raiders are down to their final week of existence, and you can tell it’s going to end because the leaks from owners who usually stay buttoned-up on NFL owner business are whispering to their approved receptacles.
They have essentially said that the 24 votes are pretty much there for Mark Davis to take the team to Las Vegas, and harp on the fact that Oakland offered them no alternative to voting for relocation.
And what they are saying here is that Oakland would not cheerfully play ball in the NFL’s most popular form of extortion – the city-pays-for-the-stadium-and-the-team-takes-the-money dodge.
This is important to note, because when the vote is finally held, there will be attempts to explain the Raiders in Las Vegas as Oakland’s failure, when in fact the actual shorthand history is this:
1. Years of sales, marketing and on-field neglect made the Raiders a poor revenue generator by changing NFL standards. The Raiders had been making money but they were also accepting supplemental revenue sharing from the league which was about to dry up.
2. Oakland and Alameda County chose not to bail out the Raiders A SECOND TIME after getting royally screwed the first time. Mount Davis is among the greatest architectural mistakes of the last three centuries, and it still isn’t close to being paid off, so the city and county made the utterly defensible stand of getting out of the stadium game entirely by making a deal with the Fortress corporation that gave the NFL no leverage – and the NFL loves leverage the way you love puppies.
3. Mark Davis has been eager to show how desperate he is to leave but has been remarkably silent on casting blame toward Oakland (and to that point, nobody in Alameda County government has called Davis any names either). The normal owner tack is to deflect blame by savaging the government that wouldn’t build them palaces, and yet the quiet here would deafen crickets.
4. There has been remarkably little outrage in town over the proposed move, far less than San Diego or St. Louis. This has been considered a fait accompli for awhile now, and even those good souls who desperately wanted to keep the Raiders have been relying on the kindnesses of contrarian owners to save them because it worked as recently as a year ago.
In short, the Raiders are leaving because there isn’t enough interest in them staying.
1. The NFL wants access to the hot international cash that flows freely in Las Vegas.
2. Nevada got hoodwinked by casino owner/king of Las Vegas Sheldon Adelson into pledging $750 million in stadium funds, and though the NFL spurned about half that figure to leave St. Louis a year ago, $750M free and clear would get Warren Buffett’s attention.
3. The NFL owners have always been frustrated by not getting their own way in California, and having managed to screw up Los Angeles twice and then doubled down by screwing up San Diego a year later, their attachment to Oakland has waned. One suspects that if the owners could come up with a good reason to move the 49ers to Beijing, they’d take it.
4. The league is not terribly troubled by the loss of market size (Oakland is half of the sixth-largest TV market, Las Vegas is 40th) because the changing face of sports consumption makes television market size less important with an easily identifiable brand like the Swords Through The Head Guy. As for attendance and local media revenues, the assumption the owners are making is that it can be made up by redefining the fan base as more regional (L.A. and the Bay Area as well as gamblers in general) than local.
5. Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, makes big cash by running stadiums through his company Legends, of which he owns a third. He is also a great vote-whipper among his fellow owners. Legends will run the Vegas stadium. Do the math.
So the Raiders move because there is literally no compelling reason to keep them in Oakland save tradition, and nobody cares about tradition any more.
Hell, not even the Raiders care about tradition – they were born to be put in Minnesota, got thrown into Oakland when the NFL beat the AFL into Minneapolis, moved to Los Angeles, and then moved back, and then investigated San Antonio before re-investigating Los Angeles.
But when the story about how this happened is told – by the winners, of course – just remember that this wasn’t Oakland’s failure. It was Al Davis’ failure, and Mark Davis’ failure, and the NFL’s failure – and Las Vegas’ victory, until it becomes a failure too.
After all, three franchise moves in two years means the league is trying to transcend geography, west to east. Seattle, your ass is next.