The time has come. Votes were cast. And 31 of the NFL’s 32 teams voted in favor of the Oakland Raiders relocating to Las Vegas. When it actually physically happens remains anyone’s guess. But for the third time in just over a calendar year, the league has paved the way for a team to relocate from its original city.
There’s a whole heck of a lot to look at here. How will the Raiders’ eventual move to Vegas impact the rest of the NFL? Is Raiders owner Mark Davis to blame? What about Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf?
In between these questions, there are even more points that can be raised. Did the NFL drop the ball in Los Angeles? Can Vegas house an NFL team? What about the public financing debate? Remember, the near $2 billion stadium in Vegas is being covered in large part by taxpayers.
These are the questions we’ll answer in our eight takeaways from the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas.
1. Libby Schaaf and Oakland did their citizens a favor
The whole idea of the city of Oakland using public financing for an NFL venue has always seemed a bit ridiculous. This is much different than San Diego refusing to use tax-payer dollars prior to the Chargers moving to Los Angeles. In instances like this, we surely have to look at the socioeconomic conditions of the impacted area. In reality, Oakland itself has been one of most economically downtrodden major cities in the United States.
According to the most-recent U.S. Census, the per capital income in Oakland is just north of $33,000 annually with a 20-percent poverty rate. That compares favorably to the city of San Diego. Though, California’s southernmost hub has a poverty rate of just over 13 percent. That’s a major difference, especially when we look at the fact that the United States as a whole boasts a 13.5 percent poverty rate.
Cities have to make decisions on how public financing will impact their entire citizenship. With a high crime rate, high poverty rate and failing schools, it makes sense that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Co. would not want to use this money to help an owner in a multi-billion dollar industry fund a private stadium.
Think about it this way. According to the East Bay Times, Oakland’s school superintendent called for $25.1 million in annual budget cuts back in February. With the city already cutting down in its police force and crime still among the highest of all major cities in the United States, it simply didn’t make sense to put out public financing for a sports venue.
2. Northern California was never viable for the Raiders
As with the socioeconomic conditions we covered before, there have always been logistical concerns about the Raiders remaining in Northern California — the East Bay in particular.
Once the San Francisco 49ers erected Levi’s Stadium in the heart of the Silicon Valley, it became nearly impossible for the Raiders to find another option in Northern California outside of Oakland itself.
When it came to a potential new venue in Oakland, that also seemed to be off the table. Former Raiders president Amy Trask actually covered this once Levi’s opened for business.
“I believe that the site of the Oakland Coliseum is an absolutely stupendous site for a sports facility. It’s a marvelous, marvelous site, Trask said back in February of 2015. “But man, it is only 32 miles from Santa Clara. That’s a lot of infrastructure in a very, very small region.”
The idea of two NFL venues within the same geographical location in Northern California just didn’t make sense. Remember, there’s a reason why Oakland Colisuem and Qualcomm are the two oldest stadiums in the NFL. Both exist in a state of California, where political red tape itself is absolutely horrendous.
It took the backing of Silicon Valley coffers to get that venue erected in Santa Clara. As it relates to the Inglewood location where both the Chargers and Rams will be playing, it took 20-plus years of no NFL football in the nation’s second-largest sports media market for that project to go through.
What were the Raiders’ options in Northern California? They couldn’t move further towards the heart of Silicon Valley. That was never a viable option. Traffic concerns were also big issues as it relates to any move north, such as the Raiders’ training camp facility in Napa. It just became too much of a headache to find potential cities that could house a team, especially after the idea of the Raiders joining forces with the 49ers at Levi’s was thrown out the window.
3. NFL dropped the ball on the whole Los Angeles dynamic
It’s now readily apparent that the NFL wasn’t against the Raiders themselves moving away from Northern California. Monday’s vote that went 31-1 in favor of relocation magnifies this to a T. The league just didn’t want Mark Davis’ squad to end up in Los Angeles.
The reasoning here is simple. The long-term viability of a two-team market in Los Angeles just wasn’t there if one of those teams were the Raiders. They are just too darn popular in Southern California.
Simply put, if the Raiders had joined the Rams in Inglewood it would have made the latter pretty much irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Considering that stadium plan was put forth and backed by Rams owner Stan Kroenke, this was never really a viable option.
Instead, the NFL has two teams in Los Angeles, neither of which represent the fan base in that city as much as if the Raiders had moved. And for their part, the Raiders themselves are now just a three-plus hour drive from Los Angeles. Considering their die-hard fan base in that city, will this end up impacting both the Chargers and the Rams?
Remember, the Chargers just recently sold out their 30,000-seat venue in Carson this week. That’s two months after the team announced its relocation and opened up ticket sales. The Chargers in San Diego might have never been sustainable without a new venue, but it’s now apparant that they are doomed to fail in Los Angeles. In reality, Dean Spanos and Co. are nothing more than second-class citizens to the Rams. Think about just how sad that is.
4. Stop blaming Mark Davis
Long before Davis was setting his own fashion trend with stone-washed jeans, his father had been battling with officials in Northern California. We’re talking over a quarter century of rifts between the organization and the city of Oakland. It’s what led to the Raiders’ move to Los Angeles back in 1982.
Davis was presented an offer from the Vegas area that he could not refuse. Sure the Raiders will find themselves in a massive pile of debt moving forward. But they simply didn’t have the means to self-finance in Oakland. That was never an option with corporate sponsors thinning out at a remarkable level after the funding of Levi’s in Santa Clara and Davis’ own minimal net worth (more on that below).
Instead, Davis gets public and corporate backing for a new venue in a growing desert metropolis that has market sustainability and a population yearning for professional sports. In terms of business, this was really a no-brainer for Davis and Co.
Sure it sucks for fans in Northern California. The Raiders themselves will always be tied to Oakland. It’s where the team’s rich history is represented. In terms of human nature, this had to make it difficult for Davis to relocate. Unfortunately, today’s NFL is all about business. The league has proven that over and over again. Why should the Raiders themselves go away from the grain (and basic business principles) in this era? It would have made absolutely no sense.
In reality, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Oakland didn’t have the means (or willingness) to publicly finance. There were no real corporate backers in that city. We can’t and shouldn’t blame either the city or the Raiders for this divorce. It was always going to be the end result.
5. Vegas can house an NFL team
There’s a common misconception that the Las Vegas area cannot house an NFL team. That the market is too small. That the transient population doesn’t have the economic means or the long-term interest to support this endeavor.
That’s all fine and dandy. It’s also logic based on ignorance more than anything else.
Like other sprawling hubs built up in the desert (looking at you Arizona), we simply can’t just take into account the demographics of the city itself. It’s all about master-built suburbs. In Nevada, that includes the state’s second-largest city. Henderson is a 15-minute drive to the strip and includes a population where the average household income is $63,000.
Add in the lower cost of living compared to Northern California, and there’s a lot of money there for fans to commit to season tickets. The Vegas metropolitan area is also a growing community with the potential for extensive population growth in the coming years. I covered all this in another article earlier in the year (more on that here).
We’ve seen it in Henderson as well as Summerlin (one of the most affluent communities in the western United States). The population in that newly-formed community (25,000 people) remains relatively low, but the average household income is nearing six figures. Add in the fact that there’s no state income tax, and this is all brought to a new level.
As these communities continue to be inundated with a more affluent transient population, the market viability of the Las Vegas area itself will increase. Add in the intense yearning for professional sports in this metropolis, and that’s magnified further.
— Speak For Yourself (@SFY) March 27, 2017
When we include that fact that Vegas is a three-hour drive from Los Angeles and a 90-minute flight from Oakland International Airport, all this makes too much sense. The desert metropolis surely has the market viability to house an NFL team. Period.
6. The public financing dynamic
We’ve heard NFL players speak out about the idea of public financing. By and large, it’s been against the idea of using taxpayer money to help fund stadiums for billionaire owners of NFL teams. That makes just too much sense.
The idea here is that cities should not waste hundreds of millions in cash for a sporting venue when there are other issues political leaders need to handle. As mentioned above, this is one of the primary differences between Oakland and San Diego. One had the capability to use public financing, the other really didn’t.
The Miami Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross were the one team that voted against the Raiders’ relocation. For Ross, who had just put up $500 of his own cash to renovate Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, it was all about the use of public funding in Vegas (more on that here).
That’s understandable. But it’s also painting with a broad brush. Ross’ net worth currently sits at $7.4 billion, whereas Davis’ net worth is $500 million. That really is comparing apples to oranges.
Continuing to paint with a broad brush, the larger question here is whether public financing should be used for any professional sports venue. Sure, when these venues couple as places where the entertainment industry frequents, money can be brought into the city. But in reality, that’s minimal in comparison to what taxpayers have been asked to foot in recent years.
It’s a debate that will continue to ran rampant until the NFL itself goes away from using public backing. Raiders owner Mark Davis may be the face of this issue now, but he made the sound business decision to take the $950 million Vegas offered and run with it. He can’t be blamed for playing the game, just as the city of Oakland can’t be blamed for failing to cough up hundreds of millions it simply doesn’t have.
7. Raiders should move to Vegas immediately
Remember the Houston Oilers’ final season in Texas before they became the Tennessee Titans? It was a joke. The team was a laughingstock. And in reality, it was a black eye for the NFL. Now, look at how things ended up last season for the Chargers in San Diego after it became apparent they were relocating to Los Angeles. Just ask Philip Rivers how much of an embarrassment that was.
Davis has left open the possibility of the team remaining in Oakland until its new venue is built in Vegas in time for the 2020 season.
“If the fans would like us to stay there,” Davis said, via CSN Bay Area, “we’d love to be there for that and possibly talk to them about extending it for maybe 2019 as well and try to bring a championship back to Oakland.”
That’s technically an option, but can we really expect fans in Northern California to spends thousands on season tickets only to realize there’s no long-term future for the team in that region? Throughout the history of professional sports, this has not worked out. Heck, we can look at the Seattle Sonics in the NBA as well as the Montreal Expos in MLB. More often than not, it’s proven to be an utter failure.
On the other hand, the Raiders surely have an out here. They have reportedly been in talks with UNLV about potentially playing at Sam Boyd Stadium for the next few seasons (more on that here).
While a 45,000-plus seat college venue has its drawbacks, at least the Raiders will be playing in their long-term home city. Heck, it’s a much sexier option than where the Chargers are slated to play over the next couple seasons.
At this point, Davis and Co. should just move on from the idea of playing in Oakland over the next three seasons. Nothing good will come of it. And if history tells us anything, it will be a black eye for both the Raiders and the NFL as a whole.
8. If the Raiders must remain in Oakland …
It’s all about Marshawn Lynch. The team needs to give its fan base a reason to show up while playing out the string in Northern California for the next three seasons. Surely that could come in the form of a consistently good product. It’s something we saw from the Raiders during their 12-win 2016 campaign.
Even then, it’s most definitely not a certainty that fans will show up to view their soon-to-be former team play on Sundays. As we mentioned above, this isn’t the way it works in today’s professional sports atmosphere.
So why not offer up the fans one of their own? Sign Oakland native Marshawn Lynch to help the Raiders go out in style in Northern California. It’s been something that we’ve seen bandied about for some time now. Lynch is a pure representation of what it is to be Oakland. He apparently wants to come out of retirement and play for the Raiders. As a running back, Lynch also fits a major need on the team.
If you expect your fans to show up and support a product that’s years away from being extinct, you need to offer them a carrot. In this case, that carrot would come in the form of an Oakland legend with still some juice left in his tires. What say you, Mr. Davis?