The Oakland Raiders are going to move to Las Vegas. I am finally convinced of it.
After being a skeptic throughout this process and especially in the aftermath of owner Mark Davis’ deal with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson falling apart around the Super Bowl, there are too many people I trust telling me this has become basically a fait accompli for me to deny it any longer. By Monday night, Davis will be cracking open the bubbly and toasting to his future on the Strip, because with the NFL including a formal vote on Vegas on its official agenda for the annual spring meeting, there is almost no time for this to fall apart now.
The league is incredibly careful about if or when a matter this large gets before the entire caucus of 32 owners for a relocation vote, and the mere fact that a vote of that very nature is schedule for Monday is further indication that the Raiders are on the move. Yes, there will be contingencies involved, and yes, the NFL teams have yet to receive the full binder detailing the minutia and specifics of the agenda items. And, sure, the all-powerful stadium and finance committees will conduct a conference call this week to iron out Vegas’ loose strings before the league converges on Phoenix starting Sunday for the meeting.
But this is happening.
Time for Oakland has basically run out, and even with Davis being of limited means -- by NFL owner standards -- and being of moderate clout, he is about to accomplish his goal of leaving the Bay Area for a sweetheart deal in Las Vegas, however shortsighted that might turn out to be for him and the league.
“This is going to happen,” said one well-connected league source who has been in close contact with many influential owners on this matter. “Enough people will hold their noses and pray for the best and vote this through. Oakland -- and by Oakland I mean the government officials there -- hasn’t stepped up nearly enough, and the league is ready to put this to a vote. And while there is some trepidation about this market, it is going to pass.”
One high ranking official with one of the league’s more conservative franchises said that despite his owner’s concerns over the city’s obvious gambling connections and despite the fact that Oakland is the superior television market with superior population demographics, this is imminent. “Mark will get the 24 votes he needs,” the executive said. “If it’s going to a vote, that’s because the votes are there. If my guy is going to vote for it, then this team is moving.”
There are still some issues to sort out, but none the NFL appears to consider significant enough to push a vote back to May or October. Even with a new stadium in Vegas not being ready until 2019 at the earliest and even with the Raiders soon to be in need of temporary residence anyway, this movement is strong. Bank of America stepping in to finance the deal in the aftermath of Adelson bailing (taking Goldman Sachs investment banking money with him) has saved the day.
Yes, there are some worries about what the debt ratio will be on this project. There are concerns about whether the franchise or the stadium could be used as collateral (which is a no-no). There are some unknowns about how the exact language of the lease will read. But those are trumped by the $750 million in free money coming the league’s way, to say nothing of the relocation fee. These owners are ready to take this bird in hand -- albeit one in a lesser locale -- rather than continue to wait for one to develop in the Bay Area bush.
The other teams are awaiting more details from the NFL on precisely what they will be voting on, and the expectation is that the vote will be contingent on Davis meeting certain criteria in terms of the financial of the stadium and debts, etc. The mystery of who will actually develop and construct the stadium and the area immediately around it is coming into focus as well, with league sources strongly suggesting that billionaire mogul Ed Roski -- who is thought of highly in ownership circles and who tried previously to bring NFL football to the Los Angeles area -- will end up overseeing the project.
There are no longer worries that Adelson may be a hurdle to any construction there -- given some of the sore feelings between him and the Raiders after their potential partnership dissolved -- and Roski is well equipped to handle a project of this magnitude. And unlike Davis, who grossly underestimated the role of working with and to some degree appeasing UNLV officials in some of his initial dealings in Nevada, Roski is positioned to ensure the collegiate and professional football gods are appeased. “Roski has been working with UNLV for years,” one ownership source said. “He understands some of the nuance here.”
I suspect there will be a dissenting voice or two come Monday afternoon in the grand ballrooms at the luxurious Biltmore Hotel. An owner or two will remind the group, and commissioner Roger Goodell, that the NFL established the G4 stadium funding plan in the first place to keep owners from making potentially shortsighted decisions to leave a better and more populous marker for a lesser one, demographically, simply because of a stadium deal.
But the allure of all of those dollar signs has set in. And the frustration with the lack of traction in Oakland -- at least as perceived by the league office and the owners -- has only grown. The wind is blowing in Vegas’s direction and that’s not going to change now, this late in the game. The Raiders will continue to pitch the idea that the limited population in that area will be offset by the influx of fans from Oakland and Los Angeles into the desert on weekends to attend games.
Oh, and did I mention the $750 million?
It may end up being a very big mistake. Five to 10 years from now, there might be a lot of regret about the strength of this market and its foreclosures and weaker population and transient nature. Especially as compared to the boom town that Oakland and the Bay Area continue to be. But Jerry Jones has been championing this project and Bob Kraft is on board, and Davis has a viable enough deal to present, one he is set on presenting.
He’s a mere 24 votes away from moving this storied franchise, yet again. And it certainly appears those votes are essentially already in hand.