PHOENIX — Is anyone surprised? Maybe that one lone holdout Raider fan was surprised. You know, the guy who has been tailgating in the same parking spot at the Coliseum for 20 years and who wears the face paint and who has Ken Stabler's statistics memorized and who really believes the NFL cares about him and his passion.
Because the choice has been made. Late in the morning Monday, inside a resort hotel ballroom on the north side of town, the 32 NFL owners voted 31-1 to approve the Raiders' request for a move from Oakland to Las Vegas, contingent on Nevada officials meeting certain terms.
All those terms are expected to be met. And most of them involve money. Is anyone surprised at that, either?
And so Raiders owner Mark Davis and his team are bound for Nevada, with the stadium near the Las Vegas strip scheduled to be completed in time for the 2020 football season. The Raiders' lease in Oakland allows them to play at the Coliseum for two more seasons, which is presumably what will occur.
This means, among other things, that Oakland and Bay Area fans face a long goodbye to the Silver and Black, depending on how many show up at the stadium to wave goodbye during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Davis said that any season ticket holder who has placed a deposit for the upcoming schedule in Oakland can request and will be granted a refund. Will thousands do that? Or will they continue to show up? This is going to be one of the stranger chapters in American pro sports. Plus, it's unclear where the team will play during the 2019 season. But by 2020, the Silver and Black will become the Silver and Baccarat.
The NFL owners certified this process in a session at which the league's finance and stadium committees presented their recommendations about the Las Vegas proposal, followed by a presentation from Davis and his team president, Marc Badain. A vote was taken, with the approval of 24 or more of the 32 owners necessary for the Las Vegas adventure to begin. There are a lot of questions about whether the team can succeed in a market less than one-fourth the size of the greater Bay Area. But the NFL has decreed that it will be fabulous and fantastic. So the Raiders' slow-motion move to Southern Nevada will begin.
Was there ever a chance it would be otherwise? Libby Schaaf, the Oakland mayor, had a letter from her hand-delivered to every NFL owner who entered the ballroom at 8:45 a.m. Monday. The letter was a final impassioned plea to consider the East Bay's proposal to assemble a stadium deal for the Raiders, which came together over the last few months.
Yet even the mayor had to know her last-minute campaign was a wasted exercise in folly. This decision was made weeks ago. Months ago, most likely. If Oakland wanted to keep the Raiders, it needed to put something together four or five years ago, before Las Vegas and Davis began to interact.
In retrospect, a meeting of the Nevada legislature last autumn was the turning point. As soon as those legislators voted for a hotel tax that would provide $750 million in public funds to a Raiders stadium deal, the NFL was going to figure out a path to that cash. There were complications along the way, with various parties in and out of the deal in Las Vegas. But no matter what deal Oakland could throw together, with Schaaf pledging not to spend taxpayer dollars, there was never going to be a way to make up that $750 million and make the deal as good for the Raiders. It's the most public money ever contributed to an American sports venue.
The NFL does what the NFL always does. It follows the money. In addition to the Raiders receiving the hundreds of millions from Nevada, the other NFL owners will all get a slice of the estimated $375 million in relocation fees that Davis will pay to the league over the next 10 years. Added to the $1.4 million or so that the other owners will receive from more expensive relocation fees from the Rams and Chargers for their moves to Los Angeles … well, it all adds up to an extra $50 million or more into each owner's pocket. (So, yes, your team can afford to sign that expensive free agent quarterback.)
The Raiders themselves have followed the NFL rule twice before, remember. The franchise left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982 when the riches of Southern California beckoned. Then, in 1995 when Oakland was the city throwing public money at the team — about $220 million in stadium improvements and direct financial incentives — the franchise was lured back north to the East Bay.
Back then, Oakland was the city considered a little crazy to commit that much dough to a NFL team and many in the city later regretted the deal. Now, it's Oakland who is questioning Las Vegas. Call it a full circle, with the NFL owners spinning the wheel. As they left the ballroom Monday, they were all wearing pretty nice clothes.