Last Days of the Raiders 

When the team's lease at McAfee Coliseum expires in 2010, will the Raiders follow the Athletics in the search for a new home?

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"As much as they're working on Fremont, it's going to be years and years," De La Fuente said. "They haven't gotten approval yet. And even if they do, it's gonna be years before they can break ground and build a new stadium. And that doesn't even count all the lawsuits that you and I know are going to happen. ... I'm one of those naive people that thinks it's not going to be a good deal, and it's not going to happen. But that's me."

De La Fuente's comments are probably more of a public bargaining position than a realistic assessment of the city's chances. One day after Wolff's remarks were printed, the team's co-owner immediately reiterated his commitment to move the team to Fremont. And even when he worried about the pace of the Fremont deal, he still maintained that he would never stay at the Coliseum. Supervisor Haggerty, who has spent years trying to lure the Athletics to Fremont, claims the deal is still proceeding apace — and was considerably annoyed that Dellums tried to interfere with his plans.

"I believe they will leave the Coliseum one way or another," Haggerty said. "I believe they will leave Oakland one way or another. The A's are committed to Fremont, and if by some chance that doesn't happen, I believe they'll leave Alameda County. ... Mayor Dellums needs to refocus his attention. He needs to understand that the A's are gone, and he needs to focus on keeping the Raiders here. I do not want to see Oakland become a one-team city."

Ah yes, the Raiders. There's no denying that the team's Al Davis era is nearing its end. At age 79, the veteran owner has withstood at least one bout with cancer and grown increasingly frail. He uses a wheelchair and walker to get around, and the Raiders installed an elevator at McAfee Coliseum just so he can ascend to the owner's box. When the face of the franchise dies, he will leave behind an incomparable legacy in Bay Area sports, that of a man who built the winningest record in football over four decades and broke the color barrier in sports, but who also maddened his own fans by abandoning Oakland and petulantly suing the city that broke the bank to get him back. His wife Carol and his son Mark, the latter of whom has been showing up at team practices more and more lately, are in line to inherit the team. If Al Davis is a mysterious, private man — "Even his closest friends don't know what he's thinking," said Tom Flores, the former Raiders coach who calls the games for KSFO — his son Mark Davis is even less well-known. Neither he nor Raiders spokesman Mike Taylor responded to requests for comment for this story.

From just about every perspective, the Raiders' move back to Oakland has been a mistake for the organization. Given the team's storied history here, everyone reasonably expected the Raider Nation to swarm back into the Coliseum every Sunday. But according to sports economist David Berri of Southern Utah University, the Raiders have done considerably worse since the move. From 1988 to 1991, attendance at Raiders' games was 96 percent of the NFL average. Since moving back to Oakland, it has dropped to just 85 percent of the league's average. "The Raiders have never done as well as they did in LA," Berri said. "And I would imagine you could charge higher ticket prices in LA"

The Raiders seem to agree. In 2001, Davis lost a $1 billion lawsuit against the NFL in which he sought the right to move the team back to Southern California. Los Angeles, the country's second-biggest media market, a vast city of money, people, and advertising, just happens to have no football team. And thanks to the Raiders' presence there from 1982 to 1994, the team has plenty of Southern California fans. And whereas the fan base of the old LA Raiders was the city's blue-collar, low-rent set, Davis could capture one of the most lucrative suburban markets in the country by moving the team to the Rams' old stomping grounds in Anaheim. Sure, he'd have to build a new stadium, but according to sports economist Victor Matheson, the Raiders could finance such a project at the drop of a hat. "You can certainly get a line of credit to build a stadium," Matheson said. "If you were moving a team to LA knowing the sort of audience you can attract, there are a lot of banks lining up."

At first glance, it makes perfect sense. All the Raiders would need is the league's permission. But according to sports economists, Los Angeles is more valuable to the NFL empty than full. For all the wealth and potential revenue of the market, the city's residents were never very enthusiastic about football, simply because there are too many other things to do. Blue-collar cities such as Oakland and Cleveland are presumed to have much less going for them, especially in the winter. Consequently, their leaders are desperate to keep their teams. According to Berri, team owners know this all too well, and have deliberately kept Los Angeles vacant in order to encourage officials in other cities to build them new $400 million stadiums.

"The NFL likes the LA market to stay vacant," Berri said. "Because it's a potential bargaining chip for all the other teams. So a team can go to a city and demand a subsidy, and if you don't give it to us, then we'll go to LA."

If Los Angeles is out of the question, couldn't the Raiders move somewhere else? In recent years, two major metropolitan areas — Las Vegas and San Antonio — have emerged as possible hosts for a professional football team. But according to sports economist Rodney Foot, Vegas suffers from the same problem as Los Angeles; there's just too much else going on. "People aren't going to go to Vegas to watch football," Foot said. "You're going to have to rely on the local fan base. There's too much competition from the casinos." And in Vegas, the local fan base consists mostly of casino workers, who don't exactly draw six-figure salaries. "What I'm hearing from Vegas is it's not likely you can make much money by building a stadium with a single professional franchise."

San Antonio is a slightly more likely candidate. Although the Raiders would have to build an indoor stadium to protect fans from the heat, the San Antonio Spurs have already proven that the city can support a major sport team. But according to Foot, the other owners would never let Davis move there, because they'd prefer an expansion team to fill that slot instead: "I don't see the value of the Raiders in any other location except LA to be very high. And I don't see the value of the league in letting them move there."

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