ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Oakland Raiders are set to move to Las Vegas and play in a palatial $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium with natural grass and a see-through roof with a view of the Strip in 2020.
They have one game left at the Oakland Coliseum this season.
They do not have a lease to play anywhere in 2019. On Tuesday, the city of Oakland filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL that could force a one-year stopover between Oakland and Vegas.
And that’s really all we know for sure at this point. Questions? Yeah, there are a few, and here are some educated guesses to those queries.
The Raiders’ gleaming new stadium in Las Vegas won’t be ready until 2020. Courtesy MANICA Architecture
Seriously, where will the Raiders play next year?
I don’t know. And really, neither do the Raiders, though they would prefer to play one last season at the Coliseum, their home from 1966 through 1981 and 1995 through now. A lease proposal from the team, which already saw its rent tripled to about $3 million two years ago, has been submitted to the powers that be. But no one has acted yet upon the offer, which would purportedly be more than the current $3 million rent, and the initial threat of a city-backed lawsuit has the team contemplating leaving the Bay Area all together. Now that the lawsuit has landed, Raiders owner Mark Davis could look to play elsewhere in 2019. But it won’t be in Las Vegas. Oakland City councilman Noel Gallo told KPIX CBS 5 in San Francisco that the Raiders moving in 2020 leaves taxpayers with the remaining bill from stadium improvements made upon their return from Los Angeles in 1995. “An investment for over $200 million that the citizens of Oakland made, to have a professional Raider football team,” Gallo said. “The way the Oakland Raiders, under Mark Davis, have treated this city, these residents, has been shameful. If they only play another day here, so be it. As far as I’m concerned, I represent the citizens and we want compensation.” A part of the lawsuit reportedly could include the Raiders having to leave the team name, colors and history in Oakland, like the Cleveland Browns did when they moved to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens. The Raiders had no comment.
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Why isn’t anyone freaking out?
Great question, if I do say so myself. Because this game of chicken is a bold one by both parties, considering the Raiders leaving early would cost Oakland about 3,000 jobs at the stadium per game day, Coliseum Authority spokesman Scott McKibben told KPIX, not to mention sales tax and, oh yeah, more than $3 million in rent. And the Raiders have been through this type of uncertainty twice before — once when they left Oakland for Los Angeles in 1982 and again 13 years later for their East Bay return — so there is a feeling of familiarity to all of this. Still, there have to be contingency plans, yes? And this lawsuit could call the team’s bluff if the Raiders have no where else to go and then the city could get a higher rent. As Howie Long told Ice Cube in his 2010 documentary on the team’s history, the Raiders are “a ship without a port. They’re not Oakland’s Raiders. They’re not L.A.’s Raiders. It’s in the abyss, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.” All righty then.
Why don’t the Raiders simply move to Las Vegas early?
Yes, Sam Boyd Stadium, the home to UNLV football with a seating capacity that could be expanded to 40,000, could conceivably be a temporary home for the Raiders. But it simply needs too many improvements for a one-year fix: bigger locker rooms, artificial turf that would need to be ripped out in favor of natural grass, and improved NFL-mandated security measures in and around the stadium. It would simply become a money pit. And with UNLV’s football team joining the Raiders at the new stadium, why would anyone want to pour cash into a building that was erected in 1971 and will likely be demolished after 2020? I’ve suggested in the past that the Raiders use the stadium for games, make the necessary improvements and see that money spent as an investment by flipping the property into its team facility. Alas, the Raiders plan to build a compound in neighboring Henderson. Plus, Davis does not want to go into Las Vegas half-cocked (see the Tennessee Oilers playing a year in Memphis’ Liberty Bowl in 1997 and a year at Nashville’s Vanderbilt Stadium in 1998 before rebranding as the Tennessee Titans in 1999). Davis wants to arrive as a Silver and Black army with all the bells and whistles and a red carpet leading up to a gleaming new stadium in the Silver (and Black) State of Nevada.
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If the Raiders do go, where might they play in 2019?
The feeling is the NFL would prefer the Raiders simply move their home games some 35 miles south on I-880 to Levi’s Stadium, which opened in 2014 and was built to house two NFL teams. But while it is not a sure thing the 49ers would welcome the Raiders to Santa Clara, this much is sure — Davis wants nothing to do with it. Even as Levi’s Stadium is actually closer to Oakland than San Francisco, the place is in the middle of nowhere. Rumors of a one-year stay at San Jose State’s CEFCU Stadium (capacity 30,500, and with artificial turf) have been met with derision, while the thought is neither Cal nor Stanford would welcome the Raiders and the San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park is beautiful for baseball, but not so much for football. Besides, with the lawsuit, Davis would surely want out of the Bay Area entirely, right? San Antonio’s Alamodome is so 2014. Plus, artificial turf, which Davis abhors. What about San Diego, which became a second home for the Raiders in recent years anyway with the Chargers angling for Los Angeles? SDCCU Stadium is still playing host to San Diego State football games and would relish the opportunity for an NFL return, if even for one season. The Raiders have almost as much history — Holy Roller, anyone? — what with the 13-season sojourn in L.A. creating so many SoCal fans. San Diego is closer to Las Vegas than Oakland is, and, well, Glendale, Arizona, is closer to Las Vegas than San Diego. Thinking out loud here, but might the Raiders taking up residence with the Cardinals for a year make sense? Especially with Arizona’s State Farm Stadium a seeming model for the Raiders’ Las Vegas dome with its fully retractable natural grass playing surface. It would give the Raiders a chance to keep growing its southwest fan base while playing home games in an environment similar to what they will have a year later.
Where would the Raiders practice if their home games are not in Oakland in 2019?
The Raiders’ Alameda facility is about six miles from the Oakland Coliseum but were they to play in, say, San Diego in 2019, they are not about to move all of their operations to the Gas Lamp District for a season. Not with Las Vegas on the horizon. No, home base figures to remain in Alameda, with the team practicing there during the week and traveling to “home” games, wherever they might be. Just like they did in 1982, when they practiced in Alameda but home games were at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and in 1995, when they practiced in El Segundo and played home games in Oakland. By 2020, though, all bets are off for Las Vegas (get it?).