It was the first day of September and the final game of the Oakland Raiders preseason. Evidence of the Athletics' painful 2016 campaign — fittingly in the form of dirt — lingered like a stain on the Coliseum's grass. The evening's tailgate was a mellow affair, at least for a "Raaiidderrrs" home game. The fans, what with their frequent yalping and unequaled summertime optimism, showed up in modest numbers. And why bother; the starters didn't even suit up for this face-off against the Seattle Seahawks, which means it was quite possibly the most inconsequential Raiders game of 2016.
Except for the Las Vegas factor: Everything was on the line, and Sin City was on everyone's mind.
It's no secret that the Raiders are toying with a move to the Nevada desert. And, of all three East Bay sports franchises, the team's departure would arguably be most agonizing for locals (see this week's cover story).
The Raiders are the region's working class sports brand. They were born of Oakland. Despite ownership's perpetual infidelity, fans keep letting Silver and Black back into their living rooms.
I too am a lifelong Raiders loyalist. But no lies: I'm conflicted by the team's recent overtures toward Las Vegas.
It's hard to stomach a team that not only belies any hometown loyalty, but also makes bedfellows with such a foul stench as Sheldon Adelson: patron of all things grotesque and Grand Ole Party, who, along with team owner Mark Davis, wants to turn a stadium mirage into a Raiders reality on the Vegas strip.
This Sin City mess has upped the ante here in Oakland — a veritable NFL ransom — and I've little enthusiasm for the city or county to entertain any public subsidy or investment as payout.
Let the losers leave, my inner Raider hater says.
I should disclose that I am a fan, and citizen, scorned by pro sports. A quick history: In 2013, I lived in Sacramento, where the former Kings owners were threatening to move my hometown team to Seattle. The City of Sacramento responded to this hostage scenario with a generous payoff: a taxpayer-backed subsidy to build a new downtown arena worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Today, the state's capital is saddled with $18 million in annual debt-service payments, ultimately backed by the general fund, for the next thirty years. This on top of an approximate $100 million donation to the Kings owners, in the form of city property, thousands of parking spaces, and prized digital billboards.
That's right: Sacramento will fork over nearly $700 million over the next three decades just to keep its beloved cellar-dwellers.
Unlike Sacramento mayor and former NBA star Kevin Johnson, however, Mayor Libby Schaaf seems wise to this pro-sports "field of schemes" shakedown. She told our reporter in this week's cover story that there will be no pillaging of Oakland's general fund.
But it's no secret that, to keep the Raiders in the Bay, it will likely cost the city and county plenty.
The estimated price tag of that proposed Raiders dome in Vegas is pegged at $1.9 billion. And the new Rams stadium in Los Angeles comes with a $2.6 billion sticker shock.
Despite my aversion to the NFL mafia and this subsidy charade, I admit and realize that there is value in keeping the Raiders, and especially at the Coliseum site. With the Warriors heading across the Bay Bridge and the Athletics' eying the waterfront, a suddenly vacant Coliseum site might be catastrophic for East Oakland.
On the flip side, imagine a mixed-used and transit-oriented development — complete with affordable and workforce housing, retail, office, and a new Raiders stadium — at 66th Avenue: It could have a phenomenal impact on this underserved East Bay community.
And local governments will eventually need to invest in this location, anyway. So, perhaps a partnership with developers and the Raiders is the most pragmatic, and affordable, gamble?
Unfortunately, the dice are in the air, the cards are on the table. That's why I'm hoping Mark Davis gives Ronnie Lott's investment group some face time. Lott's contingent is already talking with the city and wants to purchase a stake in the team in exchange for helping develop the Coliseum site.
Consider the possibilities: A new Raiders home, on a transit corridor. An NFL franchise with African-American ownership. An affordable, mixed-use, live-work hub in the heart of East Oakland. A project backed by private dollars, not city or county coffers. Oh, and maybe even a Raiders Super Bowl.
A fan can dream.
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