The Raiders are leaving Oakland again, this time for the neon lights of Las Vegas.
In a decision that would have been hard to fathom not so long ago, NFL owners voted 31-1 on Monday at the Annual League Meeting to approve the Raiders‘ proposal to relocate to Las Vegas.
The decision comes after years of fruitless efforts by Raiders owner Mark Davis to build a viable stadium in Oakland. The failure to do so, which goes back to Davis’ late father Al Davis’ stewardship of the team, led to exploring stadium options in Los Angeles and eventually Las Vegas, where Nevada lawmakers approved $750 million in public funding for a new stadium. The Autumn Wind will no longer blow through Raiders games as the team is expected to move into a planned $1.7 billion domed stadium in Las Vegas.
In what is sure to be an awkward process, the Raiders won’t be moving immediately. The new stadium in Las Vegas is not expected to be ready until 2020. The Raiders plan to play at the Oakland Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, Davis said in a statement. Davis also expressed openness to staying in Oakland in 2019, although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league would look into potential venues for 2019. In the meantime, the Raiders will remain the Oakland Raiders.
“My father always said, ‘the greatness of the Raiders is in its future,’ and the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is a significant step toward achieving that greatness,” Davis said.
This is a surreal moment involving one of the NFL’s most iconic franchises, although NFL teams changing cities is sadly becoming routine. The news caps a frenetic 14-month stretch during which three teams announced plans for relocation. The Rams moved from St. Louis back to Los Angeles last year and the Chargers announced their decision to move from San Diego to L.A. in January. Goodell said last week on MMQB Peter King’s podcast that leaving Oakland would be “painful.”
The pain of not maximizing stadium revenues is perhaps a bigger issue within league circles. The Chargers left San Diego after 57 years because they couldn’t solve their stadium dilemma. The Raiders are deserting Oakland for the desert for the same reason.
“The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA,” Davis said Monday. “We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”
On Friday, Oakland and Alameda County officials made an 11th-hour effort to persuade NFL owners that they indeed had a feasible stadium plan for the Raiders. In a letter to the league, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf outlined a proposal for a $1.3 billion stadium plan in Oakland that would include public financing. Raiders fans and the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board also made last-ditch pleas to the NFL, citing the Raiders‘ tradition and growing Oakland market.
Responding to Schaaf, Goodell wrote in a letter that the plan “does not present a proposal that is clear and specific, actionable in a reasonable time frame, and free of major contingencies.” He added: “All of these efforts, ours and yours, have not yet identified a viable solution” toward keeping the Raiders in Oakland.
After no stadium solutions could be negotiated in Oakland, Las Vegas emerged as the Raiders‘ strongest potential destination after Nevada lawmakers approved $750 million in public funding for a new stadium. The Raiders and the NFL will provide $500 million toward stadium construction and Bank of America will contribute additional funding. The move to Vegas comes after the NFL rejected a plan in January 2016 by the Raiders and Chargers to share a stadium in the L.A. suburb of Carson, voting in favor of the Rams‘ Inglewood stadium project.
By the time Monday’s vote arrived, the idea of the Las Vegas Raiders didn’t seem so strange. Only the Dolphins voted against the measure. Owner Stephen Ross expressed publc disappointment about the move Sunday to the Bay Area News Group, comparing an NFL team to a utility and cautioning the NFL to consider its legacy in local markets.
“My position today was that we as owners and as a League owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted,” Ross explained Monday, per Rapoport. “I want to wish Mark Davis and the Raiders organization the best in Las Vegas.”
That message went unheeded, so this promising Raiders squad heads into the great unknown.
The announcement of the Raiders departure, after all, comes at a particularly juicy time in recent Raiders history. Twenty-two years after the team moved back to Oakland following 13 seasons in Los Angeles, the team has finally found a young franchise quarterback to build around. After more than a decade without a winning record, Derek Carr led the Raiders to a 12-4 record in 2016. Buoyed by a strong supporting cast, including pass rusher Khalil Mack and a stout offensive line, the Raiders have a young nucleus that looks ready to compete for a title.
The Raiders franchise has won three Super Bowls and an AFL title in its wandering 57-year history, creating a Raider Nation that goes far beyond the Bay Area’s borders. In essence, that’s what Davis and the NFL is counting on. That this fan base will continue to travel.
Still, Raiders fans in Oakland have patiently waited a long time for another winner. Now the team has a chance to accomplish something unprecedented in NFL history: Win a Super Bowl for a city just before leaving it.