It’s official. The Raiders are moving to Las Vegas … in two years. Imagine breaking up with somebody and then having to see them every day for the next two years. That’s the world Oakland is living in. At least the Rams and Chargers had the decency to skip town immediately after stabbing their respective cities in the back. What the Raiders are doing to Oakland—dragging out a half-hearted two-year goodbye—should be classified as cruel and unusual punishment.
But I digress. The truth is, we all saw this coming a mile away. There was no drama, no nail-biting or sweating of any sort when the Raiders’ relocation bid was finally brought to a vote Monday at the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix. It was a 31-1 blowout (even the Falcons wouldn’t have blown a lead of that magnitude) with only Dolphins owner Stephen Ross voting against the move to Sin City.
Of course, Vegas wasn’t always a sure thing. As recently as last month, the Raiders’ move was in serious jeopardy. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson had offered to bankroll the project, but distanced himself after the team submitted a proposal to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority without his knowledge. Goldman Sachs quickly followed suit and withdrew its funding, leaving the Raiders’ well short of the $1.9 billion needed to finance a new stadium. Bank of America eventually came to the rescue, putting the Raiders’ move back on track by contributing $650 million toward a 65,000-seat domed stadium in Paradise, Nevada.
As I alluded to earlier, the Raiders are the third NFL team to relocate in the last 14 months, joining the Los Angeles-bound Rams and Chargers. The tectonic plates of realignment were set in motion years earlier. Before Vegas jumped to the forefront, the Raiders and Chargers were eyeing a joint stadium in Carson, California. The league preferred the Rams’ Inglewood proposal and eventually moved forward with it, stymying the Raiders’ return to Los Angeles. When the Chargers couldn’t get the funding for a new stadium in San Diego, they decided to share Inglewood with the Rams. While the stadium is being built, the Chargers will play their home games at the 30,000-seat StubHub Center while the Rams will remain at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Housing the Chargers at a local soccer venue isn’t ideal, but until the Inglewood masterpiece opens in 2019, it will have to do.
The Raiders’ move to Vegas is curious on a number of levels. By moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, the Raiders will be going from the nation’s sixth-largest media market to the 40th-largest. Salt Lake City, Hartford, Raleigh and Portland are just a few of the many markets that get more eyes than Vegas. In fact, among the 32 NFL franchises, only Jacksonville’s market is smaller.
As the so-called entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas obviously presents financial opportunities. That’s why the NHL planted roots there with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, an expansion team that will begin play next season. But for a league as image-conscious as the NFL, it’s surprising they would put a team in such close proximity to a four-mile strip of casinos and around-the-clock betting. At best, it’s a distraction (this will not help the league’s alarmingly high arrest rate) and at worst, a conflict of interest. The Raiders’ move to Vegas confirms what we already knew about the league and its owners: it’s all about the money.
After Monday’s vote, Commissioner Roger Goodell said he was “disappointed for the fans in Oakland” while insisting “we worked as hard as we could to try and find that solution.” Did he though? A group of investors led by Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott recently submitted a $1.3 billion proposal for a new 55,000-seat stadium to replace the aging Oakland Coliseum. Goodell roundly criticized the city’s last-ditch effort to keep the Raiders, highlighting some of his reservations in a harsh letter to Oakland mayor Libby Schaff. “Despite all of these efforts, ours and yours, we have not yet identified a viable solution,” said Goodell. “It is disappointing to me and our clubs to have come to that conclusion.”
It’s clear where Goodell’s priorities lie. Oakland’s plan to keep the Raiders in town only called for $200 million in public funding while the stadium deal in Vegas will include an unprecedented $750 million in public spending. With Lott’s group investing $600 million and taxpayers throwing in another $200 million, the rest would come out of the league’s pocket. Naturally, that was a deal-breaker for Goodell.
Players and coaches seemed conflicted on the move. “I feel the pain of our fans in Oakland,” said Derek Carr. “I also see the joy on the faces of our new fans in Las Vegas. As players, we will show up and give everything we have.” Coach Jack Del Rio said his emotions were “mixed,” but insisted that his “mission remains the same.”
The NFL is, above all else, a business. And if you think otherwise, take a look at how this move is helping Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. It’s no coincidence that Jones has helped facilitate all three of the NFL’s recent relocations. As Tim Kawakami of the The Mercury News pointed out, Jones owns a large stake in Legends, a California-based marketing company that sells stadium suites and sponsorships. The company already has a presence at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and will soon expand to the new stadiums in Inglewood and Las Vegas. The combined revenue from these endeavors could eventually make Legends worth more than some NFL franchises. These days it seems Jones wields nearly as much power as the commissioner himself.
I grew up in the Hartford area so I know the heartbreak that comes with losing a major sports team, even if I was too young to grasp the full brunt of the Whalers’ exodus (the Whalers’ last game in Hartford came on my seventh birthday). I was a little older when Patriots owner Robert Kraft used Hartford as leverage to build a new stadium in Foxboro. It’s not fun to be the little guy, the pawn in a chess game played by the rich and powerful.
32 rich guys in Phoenix decided the fate of an entire franchise. Try explaining that to Raiders fans, or what’s left of them after Monday’s betrayal.
Quick Hits: Patriots owner Robert Kraft had a lot to say Monday at the Annual League Meeting. Kraft believes Tom Brady can play another 6-7 years and also hopes Bill Belichick (65 in April) can “coach into his 80s.” He also heaped praise on Brandin Cooks, comparing him to Randy Moss, while insisting the team has no plans to trade Malcolm Butler … Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland expects the Browns to make one final push for Jimmy Garoppolo this week at the Annual League Meeting. The Patriots have been hesitant to trade Garoppolo despite his contract being up at the end of 2017 … Bengals.com reporter Geoff Hobson believes the team would trade A.J. McCarron to the Browns “for the right price.” Hobson laid out a scenario where the Bengals could trade McCarron and the ninth overall pick to Cleveland for pick Nos. 12 and 33 … Despite trade rumors, Browns coach Hue Jackson is preparing for Brock Osweiler to be on the team this season. “Obviously, he’s a player on our team and we’re going to treat him just like we do all of our other quarterbacks until he’s not,” said Jackson … NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport doesn’t expect a resolution in the Tony Romo saga “anytime soon.” The Cowboys were expected to release Romo at the start of free agency but have held on to him in hopes of brokering a trade with Houston. So far the Texans haven’t taken the bait … Despite being linked to Tony Romo, Broncos GM John Elway maintains that the team isn’t looking for an upgrade at quarterback. “We feel really good about the two young ones we have,” said Elway, referring to Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. “It’ll be a great competition between them in the spring” … Redskins president Bruce Allen remains adamant that Kirk Cousins won’t be traded. “Kirk and I have talked almost a dozen times this offseason, and we get to laugh when we hear these different rumors,” said Allen. “We haven’t talked to anyone” … The Giants are monitoring free agent center Nick Mangold. It’s the first team Mangold has been linked to since getting cut by the Jets last month … Free agent Johnathan Hankins has had a multi-year offer on the table from the Giants for “weeks.” The Dolphins have also shown interest, though neither team has come close to meeting Hankins’ asking price of $8 million annually … ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells expects Kamar Aiken to push Phillip Dorsett for third on Indy’s wide receiver depth chart behind T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief. Aiken landed with the Colts last week following a four-year stay in Baltimore … Colts owner Jim Irsay suggested that Andrew Luck may not be ready for the start of training camp. Luck underwent should surgery shortly after last season … Ben Roethlisberger has hinted at retirement this offseason but the Steelers haven’t shown much concern. “I think it’s a very reasonable discussion when you get to 35,” said coach Mike Tomlin. “It’s probably not the first year he’s gone through that process and it probably won’t be the last if he continues” … Seahawks backup quarterback Trevone Boykin was arrested early Monday morning in Dallas on charges of public intoxication and marijuana possession. The TCU alum threw one touchdown pass as a rookie last season … Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News believes it’s “only a matter of time” until the Bills part ways with GM Doug Whaley. New coach Sean McDermott has emerged as the team’s “voice” with Whaley taking a backseat. McDermott was instrumental in the Bills’ decision to keep Tyrod Taylor, who Whaley wanted to get rid of.
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