The city of Oakland has always had something of an inferiority complex about it, sitting as it does in the shadow of a world class city like San Francisco. Jack London Square is nice but it’s not Fisherman’s Wharf. Author Gertrude Stein once dismissed the town rather sharply, writing, “There’s no there there.’’
Soon, there will be no NFL team there, either.
Oakland is about to become an orphan again, thanks to the vagabond virus infecting the National Football League. The hometown Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas, but not right away. Instead, the league will stay in Oakland until 2020 when a fancy new stadium will be ready in Vegas, a neon-lit mecca for the gambling industry which is known affectionately as Disneyland for adults.
This makes the Raiders lame ducks, a rather shabby way to treat Oakland, which, unfortunately is accustomed to being treated like a second hand city. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. In 1982, the franchise got bored with its longtime home and owner Al Davis took the Raiders down the California coast to Los Angeles. That love affair lasted until 1995 when Davis made a U-turn and returned the team to Oakland.
That episode and some other hijinks contributed to Davis’ image as the NFL’s rogue owner. Commissioner Pete Rozelle, of sacred memory, looked like he was sucking on a lemon when he was forced to present the Lombardi Trophy, emblematic of Super Bowl supremacy, to Davis. But the longtime Raiders’ boss is innocent of this latest escapade. He died in 2011, leaving the franchise in the hands of his son, Mark Davis.
The NFL, once the model of franchise stability, lately has displayed a case of wonderlust. The St. Louis Rams headed back to Los Angeles last season and the San Diego Chargers thought that was such a good idea that they abandoned their home and will join the Rams in LA next season. To which the Raiders said, “What about us?’’ and embraced the siren’s song of America’s gambling capital.
On the surface, the Raiders’ move is a bit puzzling. Oakland is the sixth biggest television market in the country. Las Vegas, just coming out of a punishing recession, is the 40th largest. Why swap No. 6 for No.40? The answer is simple. Follow the money.
NFL owners, who voted 31-1 to support the move, were impressed when Las Vegas lawmakers raised $750 million in public funding for a fancy new domed stadium which will make the 50-year-old Oakland Coliseum look like some rundown shack. The Raiders have not been happy sharing the Coliseum with the baseball A’s. Now they won’t have to. What’s more, the new stadium will generate considerable revenue which is shared by the team’s league partners.
Never mind that Las Vegas was forced to close a school for special needs children and increase class sizes in other schools because of a lack of funds. That’s peripheral damage. Hey, at least the town will have an NFL team.
The Raiders’ move was enthusiastically supported by the Dallas Cowboys Hall of Fame owner Jerry Jones. He owns half of a marketing and hospitality company called Legends and coincidentally, Legends won the contract for the new stadium. The same thing happened with the Rams’ move to Los Angeles. No wonder Jones was so supportive of those moves. Then there is the $400 million relocation fee the Raiders must pay the league, to be divided by the member clubs.
So the NFL, which has been so vocal in its opposition to that nasty vice of gambling, held its collective nose and approved a move to a city where gambling is the main industry.
There was one profile in courage among the owners when it was time to vote on the move. Stephen M. Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins opposed the deal. In a statement, Ross explained his vote, saying, “We as owners and as a league owe it to fans to do everything we can to stay in communities that have supported us.’’
How old fashioned.