‘A total slap in the face’: Raiders head for Vegas, deserting the legendary Black Hole

Raiders fans, bless their goth-embracing, face-painting, fanatical hearts, deserve so much better.

Now, not only is their beloved team about to become the Las Vegas Raiders, but these fans face the distasteful and awkward prospect of having the team stick around for a couple more years because their new home hasn’t been built yet. They’ll play in the Oakland Coliseum in 2017 and will continue to practice at the team’s facility in Alameda, Calif., owner Mark Davis said Monday after NFL owners approved the kick in the backside to Raiders fans by a 31-1 vote.

Beyond that, they’ll continue to be the thing that wouldn’t leave in Oakland. According to Davis, the deadline for exercising the team’s option for 2018 is next March and he hopes to work out an agreement in which the team plays in the Coliseum in 2019. Moving now is not an option, ESPN reports, because Davis believes UNLV’s 33,500-seat Sam Boyd Stadium’s locker rooms and security perimeter are not up to snuff.

“I had tears in my eyes,” Marie Duplessis, a longtime fan, told San Francisco’s CBS affiliate. “This is really depressing … It’s a total slap in the face … It’s like a spouse saying they are leaving you.”

Davis tried to make nice about his team’s latest abandonment of Oakland — a rarity for NFL owners who, as the 49ers’ Jed York famously said earlier this year, cannot be fired.

“The Raiders were born in Oakland, and Oakland will always be part of our DNA,” Davis told reporters. “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.”

Davis even offered to refund money to season ticket holders. Even if he quickly cleared his throat and walked that back, it was notable because when was the last time an NFL owner offered to give money back?

Whether fans take the money and run, like the Raiders, remains to be seen. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said her citizens “deserved better.”

“I am disappointed that the Raiders and the NFL chose Las Vegas over Oakland when we had a fully-financed, shovel-ready stadium project that would have  kept the Raiders in Oakland where they were born and raised,” she said in a statement. “I am proud that we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction and that we did not capitulate to their unreasonable and unnecessary demand that we choose between our football and baseball franchises. As a lifelong Oaklander, my heart aches today for Raider Nation. These are the most committed and passionate fans any city or team could hope to have. They deserved better.”

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ann Killion echoed that, urging the Raiders to just go now and not let the door “hit you in the butt on the way out.”

There’s a new tradition in California: Owners of professional sports teams and leagues worth billions pay for their stadiums. Not the taxpayers. Only duped cities, like Las Vegas, will offer up insane amounts of tax money — $750 million in this case, which could grow to $950 million — to build professional sports palaces. Californians have learned the hard way: That’s a fool’s errand, and we’re not fools. So good for Schaaf for making it clear from the outset that no public money was available.

The Raiders are a good team right now, but they’ll have another downturn. Will they be supported? Will they attract the same type of loyalty and love?

It’s unlikely. What happened in Oakland between the Raiders and their fans was a rare thing. The type of thing you don’t just throw away.

At least the team’s quarterback seemed to understand that, while business is business, fandom is another thing. Fans choose teams with their hearts and that’s a precious thing for a businessperson to control. Quarterback Derek Carr admitted as much, tweeting that he would have loved to play his entire career in Oakland but “understands the business side of the NFL.”

“Oakland, our team loves you, and my family and I love you!” Carr wrote. “WE will be resilient and WE will stay together because that’s what true Raiders do. WE are loyal, even when it’s hard. WE stick together, especially when it’s tough. So Las Vegas, you can count on us bringing a piece of Oakland with us and you are getting a tough, loyal, and competitive fan base and team. When the time comes, I hope you are ready. For now, it’s about 2017 and our die-hards in Oakland. God bless & Go Raiders!”

Right now, Raider Nation is smarting. Just wait until they can take their pain to football games come September.

Leonard Quinones, bedecked in his “BlackHolestein” gear, couldn’t believe it. “We don’t burn our jerseys,” he told CBS. “We love our Raiders. Why is Mark doing this to us — turning his back and walking away?”

Oakland Raiders fans rallied Saturday ahead of the vote by NFL owners. (Eric Risberg/AP)


Raiders' relocation to Las Vegas reaffirms NFL's cold message to cities

PHOENIX – When the vote finally came down for the Oakland Raiders, it was a rubber stamp delivered with a sledgehammer. And for cities with NFL stadiums entering or exceeding their prime, it has to be worrisome.

That’s the takeaway on Monday from the NFL owners’ 31-1 vote to approve the Raiders‘ move to Las Vegas, which was an exclamation point on one 15-month message that went something like this:

Get your stadium situation handled because this fraternity of billionaire owners and their $40-million-a-year enforcer Roger Goodell aren’t playing around.

That’s the bottom line as it always is in this league. Repeat it over and over again. That’s what this is all about, the never-ending financial wooing of the NFL and its 32 cash cows. Keep them happy – because another pasture is waiting on the other side of the next fiscal impasse.

The NFL doesn’t want that to be the implied message, of course. After all, the league can’t overtly tell its host cities that the NFL’s brand and wallet is a bigger priority than,  well, everything.

No, the NFL doesn’t want that to be the title of this week. That’s the last thing it needs in an era of concussion settlements and ratings schisms and several years of negative off-field attention. The NFL would prefer everyone stay on script. Play up all the positives. Talk about the growth of the game and new market opportunities. Heck, talk about that $25 billion annual revenue goal that Goodell has his sights set on for 2027. Just don’t tie that revenue target to NFL teams relocating for bigger, richer stadium complexes, particularly the ones being sweetened with public funding and tax breaks.

Please don’t tie them together. That is not what the league wants. Cue NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman, who is the league’s kingmaker when it comes to stadium deals …

“This is not intended to send a message to any other team,” Grubman said. “Every community and every situation is different. We work hard and the teams work hard to produce as healthy a franchise, as healthy a financial picture, as healthy a stadium picture as possible. Every stadium is different. This certainly isn’t intended to send any message and I don’t believe anyone should take any message in it.”

I’ll just go ahead and note Grubman’s use of the phrase “not intended.” There is a lot of wiggle room inside that language. Are NFL owners sitting around in meetings scheming to smack down financially reticent politicians or challenge fans who already feel overtaxed in their NFL bargain? No. But the league is showing it is willing to swing a wrecking ball in scenarios where NFL owners are badly losing a fiscal battle for new facilities. Particularly when that fiscal battle has some impact (direct or ancillary) on the other owners and the NFL itself.

The past 15 months has spoken volumes about NFL ownership and the league’s bottom line. And it says more than what Grubman ever could about “intended” messages. It says the league is willing to be more aggressive than ever about offering owners alternatives to their financial hurdles, especially when clearing those hurdles benefits all the billionaires in the room.

That’s what everyone should have learned from three franchises relocating to new cities in 15 months. That has never happened in modern league history. And it’s hard to believe it could have happened even 10 years ago, when moving even one team to Los Angeles – let alone two – was practically impossible to pull together. It’s even harder to believe that two of the three relocating franchises resided in California, which offers the kind of weather, wealth and infrastructure that baits professional sports teams rather than drives them away.

Turn the calendar back only a few years to 2014, when Rams owner Stan Kroenke was thinking about relocating the St. Louis Rams. At that time, a person would’ve been laughed out of the NFL’s Park Avenue offices over the suggestion that in a 15-month span the NFL would move two franchises to Los Angeles and approve a third to Las Vegas.

Yet, here we are. Intended or not, there’s a lot of subtext to all of this. And some of it isn’t subtle. Goodell, Grubman and Raiders owner Mark Davis all made a similar point Monday about Oakland’s role in this latest move. Boiled down, their consensus was that the NFL gave city officials every opportunity to advance a stadium plan. And from the vantage point of the NFL and Davis, that never happened, at least realistically.

That may be true. Perhaps Oakland had its chance and failed to step up appropriately. But it’s fair to wonder how receptive the NFL and the Raiders were after Las Vegas ponied up $750 million (and potentially more) in public funding. Once an offer like that is on the table, it becomes hard to see anything else. And it’s also fair to wonder why the league’s one dissenting voter – the Miami Dolphins‘ Stephen Ross – was also the same guy who will spend over $500 million of his own money on stadium renovations in his city.

Ross stayed put and went into his own pockets to fix a problem. Davis is leaving and taking someone else’s money to solve his. Clearly the owners believe Davis leaving Oakland and venturing into Las Vegas, the 40th largest TV market according to Nielsen, is worth more to them than either forcing him to work it out in Oakland or sell the team to someone who can.

And now? Well, Buffalo Bills fans driving by their aging stadium may wonder what saying “no” to public funding could mean to their city’s NFL existence. It’s the same deal for New Orleans Saints fans, who might be wondering how much time was purchased with the hundreds of millions in cosmetic renovations to the Superdome in 2011.

'Around the NFL' crew reacts to Raiders relocating to Las Vegas

The "Around the NFL" podcast crew reacts to the news that the Oakland Raiders will be relocating to Las Vegas.

Places like Jacksonville, Charlotte, Baltimore or Tampa Bay – where NFL stadiums are either approaching the 20-year-old mark or have already exceeded it –have to be aware that something is coming in the next decade. Either expensive renovations or maybe even a new stadium altogether, like the Atlanta Falcons.

If there is anything we’re learning now, it’s that NFL owners look at their stadiums like their running backs: when that 30-year mark hits, it’s time to upgrade.

While that might not be the NFL’s intended message, we’ve learned a lot over the past 15 months. When it comes to the brand, the infrastructure and the bottom line, the league isn’t playing around anymore. That’s reality – intended or not.


Memo to the Raiders: Lame-duck football ain't pretty, baby

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The NFL has granted permission to the Oakland Raiders to become the Las Vegas Raiders at some point in their moving-van future.

But because there is no suitable stadium in Vegas -- the deal was built on a pile of money and architects' renderings of a proposed stadium -- the Raiders could play as many as three more seasons in Oakland.

And that sets the table for lame-duck football -- something I’ve witnessed up close and personal.

In August 1995, roughly three weeks before the regular season began, the late K.S. “Bud" Adams Jr. shocked many when he announced, at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon, he intended to move his team, the Houston Oilers, to Nashville, Tennessee.

The fact that Nashville didn't have a football stadium with even half as many seats as an NFL team would need didn’t bother him. Nor did the fact that many in Nashville thought Adams was just talking the empty talk of a team owner looking for new digs at his current location.

But deals were made and the move was on. Yet because of lease agreements, hard feelings, and the politics of franchise moves, the Oilers played the 1995 and 1996 seasons in Houston. I covered the Oilers both seasons.

Having spent plenty of time around Oilers players, coaches and team officials during those seasons -- and having talked to plenty of Oilers fans at games, rental-car counters, restaurants, laundromats and the hotel where I spent much of those two lame-duck seasons -- it is with all sincerity that I say this to the Raiders’ fans, players and coaches:

Good luck.

It won’t be fun. The good things that happen to the Raiders will only remind folks that the team is leaving. The bad things that happen to the Raiders will only remind folks that the team is leaving.

Players and coaches will be asked every day what it’s like to play in a city where they have no future. They will have to find ways of thanking the fans, and saying they appreciate them, because the players and coaches are the ones who are going to have to be in front of the cameras every day.

As one player on the Oilers told me, almost weekly, during his two lame-duck seasons, “Man, Bud should have to come down here and answer these damn questions. Ev-e-ry day."

In 1995, the crowd for the Oilers' home opener, a loss to the Steelers, was announced at 44,122. After that, the home crowds were announced at anywhere from 31,489 for the Buccaneers to 36,346 for the Jaguars. But I believe there were never that many people in the Astrodome that season.

After all, Adams had announced the move to Nashville just weeks before the season, after the team had already sold its season tickets. Seats were sold but not necessarily occupied.

It got even uglier in 1996. The announced crowd for the Oilers' home opener was 27,725, and the numbers mostly went down as the season wore on. For the finale, the last Oilers game in the Astrodome, the crowd was announced at 15,131.

There were game days in '96 when, if I hit the traffic lights right during my drive to the stadium, I could reach my parking space without a full stop. No traffic. While the prospect of not having to wait in line has its appeal, it was hollow for fans in this case. Lame-duck football is money spent on a tuxedo for somebody else to wear to the prom.

Two '96 crowds in Houston did surpass 50,000 -- an Oilers win over the Steelers (50,337) and an Oilers loss to the 49ers (53,664) -- but those weren’t exactly "home" crowds. Visiting fans had invaded the Astrodome.

The Oilers finished 7-9 in 1995 and 8-8 in 1996, when their first-round draft pick, Eddie George, was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year. Quarterback Steve McNair showed flashes in limited work during those two seasons -- he was the first-round pick in '95.

This was just a tease for what was to come -- for the enjoyment of a new fan base. After playing the 1997 season in Memphis and '98 at Vanderbilt, the team was renamed the Tennessee Titans and moved into its new stadium in Nashville for the 1999 season. The Titans made it to the Super Bowl that year.

Maybe Raiders owner Mark Davis has a plan for getting the people of Oakland to keep the faith in a team coming off a 12-4 season. But I watched a rebuilding Oilers team with young talent and a future Hall of Famer on the offensive line (Bruce Matthews) become engulfed by anger and frustration that players were forced to drag around like an anchor.

Teams can control the mood in the building, but the players have neighbors, their wives have friends, and their children have classmates. That doesn’t even factor in the current 24-hour news cycle, social media and the rest. The Oilers didn’t have Twitter to contend with, and still they were enveloped in a constant why-is-the-team-moving drumbeat. There was no escape until the team left.

The term “lame duck" dates back to the 1700s and the London Stock Exchange, where it referenced investors who could not pay off their debts. Raiders fans who spent their hard-earned dollars for decades on T-shirts, hats, tickets, road trips and the rest will feel a debt hasn’t been paid. And trust me on this: Two years will seem like a very, very long time for the Raiders to be reminded.

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