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Postseason Battle for Raiders Between Oakland and Las Vegas Begins to Take Shape

What a difference a year makes…

This time one year ago, things weren’t going well for the Oakland Raiders. They had a 5-6 record and were on their way to missing the playoffs for the 13th straight season; their lease on their out-of-date stadium was set to expire in five months; the city of Oakland was still adamant in its refusal to provide any subsidy to build a new stadium; and their home and location of the infamous and widely feared Black Hole was still unfortunately named the O.Co Coliseum.

Fast-forward to today.  The Raiders are 9-2 atop the AFC West; their young quarterback is fifth in the NFL in passing yards, seventh in passing touchdowns, and is a serious candidate for NFL MVP; their current home now has a much more acceptable name (see Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum); and owner Mark Davis’s forbidden dance with Sheldon Adelson and the city of Las Vegas has made it possible that the Raiders could, in just a few years, be playing in a brand new stadium in one of three major cities.

When I wrote on the Raiders’ stadium situation back in February, Davis and Adelson, the Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, had just met to discuss the possible construction of a new Las Vegas stadium to be shared by the Raiders and the UNLV football team. At the time, the meeting mostly seemed like a power play on Davis’s part to incentivize Oakland to get serious about funding a stadium for the Raiders. And that plan seems to have worked, with a group called the Oakland City Pro Football Group, which is led by former Raider Ronnie Lott and backed by Fortress Investment Group of New York, making Oakland’s bid to keep the Raiders stronger by the day.

Let’s take a look at how Davis and the Raiders got to this point and assess what could happen when the owners meet in January to decide their fate.

Los Angeles or San Francisco? Probably not…

First off, let’s not forget that the Raiders return to Los Angeles was a serious possibility less than a year ago, and remains a possibility today. But with the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles before the beginning of this season, a move for the Raiders to the City of Angels (actually the nearby suburbs) seems less and less likely.[1]

The Raiders and Chargers had made a joint proposal to build and share a stadium 12 miles south of Los Angeles in Carson, CA, but ultimately Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s proposal to move the Rams and build a $2.7 billion 80,000 seat stadium in Inglewood, CA won out. The Chargers and owner Dean Spanos, who have had their own problems trying to get a new stadium built in San Diego, were given the option to move to Los Angeles within one year. The Raiders could only move to L.A. if the Chargers refused to exercise their option. Many believe that both Kroenke and Spanos want the Chargers to stay in San Diego, but recent reports suggest the Chargers may end up in Los Angeles next year anyway.

There had been talk about the Raiders sharing Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara with the 49ers, but Davis shot down that idea not long after the decision to move the Rams to Los Angeles was made. “I don’t think it fits the Raiders,” Davis said.

With their short-term options limited, in March the Raiders signed a one-year lease with Oakland for the 2016 season that dramatically increased their rent to $3.5 million. They paid $925,000 in 2015. An official with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority said they were just “trying to pass along some of these (costs) to the Raiders.” But is there really any doubt that Oakland used the Raiders’ desperate situation to jack up the their rent?

Las Vegas? Maybe…

Enter Las Vegas. Ever since the meeting between Adelson and Davis in February, Nevada has gone all-in on bringing the Raiders to the Silver State. On October 14, the Nevada state legislature approved a measure to provide $750 million for the construction of a 65,000 seat stadium that would serve as the home for the Raiders and UNLV football. The measure, which calls for the issuance of bonds backed by a hotel room tax increase of 0.88 percent, was signed by Governor Brian Sandoval three days later on the UNLV campus while a marching band played “Viva Las Vegas” in the background.

Adelson and Davis are all-in too. Adelson has pledged to contribute $650 million to construct the stadium, and the Raiders will chip in an additional $500 million. Davis reiterated his intent to relocate the Raiders to Las Vegas in an October 19 meeting where he briefed the other 31 NFL owners on the potential move. He’s also on record as saying he is not using Las Vegas as “leverage” or a “bargaining chip.”

New Stadium in Oakland? Chances are improving…

Whether or not Davis ever intended to use Las Vegas as leverage to get a new stadium built in Oakland, the proposed move to Sin City seems to be having that exact effect. On November 22, Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf announced that a framework agreement had been reached between the city and Lott’s Oakland City Pro Football Group to build a new stadium where the Coliseum currently sits. She did not provide details of the proposed deal, but she hinted that the stadium would be “privately finance[d]” by Lott’s group.

Some reports suggest that the new stadium would cost $1.3 billion and take up 90 acres of the 125-acre Coliseum property. Fortress, the investment group backing Lott’s bid, would contribute $600 million to the project, $200 million would come from the NFL’s new stadium fund, and Davis would be asked to kick in $300 million. The only public money would come from Oakland and Alameda County to pay for $200 million in infrastructure upgrades. The public money would be repaid by revenue generated by the stadium building project, which would be in line with Oakland’s desire to limit the cost to taxpayers.

The deal still requires the approval of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the Oakland City Council, since the land on which a new stadium would be built is jointly-owned by the county and the city. The Alameda County Board of Supervisors agenda for Tuesday, December 6, 2016 shows that the Board will meet with negotiators from Lott’s Oakland City Pro Football Group, LLC in a closed session around 9:30 a.m. to take up the issue.

There are problems that could still hamper Oakland and Alameda County’s efforts. First and foremost, Mark Davis has not been part of the discussions between Oakland and Ronnie Lott’s group…he’s still set on moving the team to Vegas. Unless Davis has a change of heart before January, Oakland’s push to keep the Raiders will rely solely on convincing at least nine of the 32 NFL owners that the Oakland deal is solid enough to merit casting a vote against Davis’s Las Vegas plan.

Also, where will the Raiders play when the current Coliseum is demolished? What about the Oakland A’s, who just two years ago signed a 10-year lease to play at the Coliseum through 2024? All this will likely need to be worked out before owners meet in January.

So where will it be?

For the time being, the Raiders are in Oakland and likely will be for the next two years. Their current lease gives them an option to play in the Coliseum for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and there’s no way a new stadium will be finished in that time. But what about after that?

There was a time when no one in their right mind would have believed Roger Goodell and 24 of 32 NFL owners would allow an NFL team to call Las Vegas home. But the NFL’s aversion to the gambling Mecca has softened in recent years, with even Goodell leaving open the possibility of a move when he said in February that, ultimately, “it’s the ownership’s decision.” And with a gigantic public commitment to finance a stadium already on the books in Nevada, Las Vegas’s odds of landing the Raiders are now better than ever. At least one NFL insider believes the Raiders to Las Vegas is a done deal.

Still, all things being equal, owners prefer the status quo, and there are reports that many owners feel Oakland is a much better market than Las Vegas. Goodell himself hinted at his preference when he said that “still a lot has to happen” before a move to Las Vegas can be considered.

But in order for Oakland to have any chance, it has to finalize a plan that can be presented in opposition to the Las Vegas plan that Mark Davis will almost certainly present in January. And for that reason, Ronnie Lott and his group of investors could be saviors for a city that has repeatedly refused to subsidize a new stadium. It is hard to blame them though…Oakland and Alameda County are still paying off the debt they incurred in 1995 when they paid $200 million for renovations to the Coliseum to entice the Raiders to move back from Los Angeles.

We’ll know more in the coming months, but for now, I think Oakland gets the deal done and owners block the move to Las Vegas.

[1] For a fascinating look at the contentious battle between NFL owners that led to the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles, check out this piece in ESPN The Magazine.

About John Sigety

John lives in Frisco, Texas and works as a commercial litigator for Hiersche, Hayward, Drakeley & Urbach, P.C., a full-service firm located near Dallas, Texas. John graduated from Tulane University Law School in 2012 with a certificate in Sports Law. He also served as a managing editor for The Sports Lawyers Journal and published an article in the Willamette Sports Law Journal entitled The Cost of Fair Play: An Examination of How Salary Cap Proposals Have Affected Past Collective Bargaining Agreements and Will Affect the Coming NBA Bargaining Negotiations. John graduated from Brigham Young University in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.

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