By Eli Walsh
Bay City News Foundation
A group of African American businessmen and investors announced Friday that they have made a $92.5 million bid to purchase the city of Oakland’s stake in the Coliseum site, with the goal of launching the first NFL team that is majority owned by African Americans.
The African American Sports and Entertainment Group is seeking to bring an NFL team back to Oakland after the now-Las Vegas Raiders moved to Nevada when the franchise could not secure a new stadium in the Bay Area. The group also includes Oakland construction developer Alan Dones, former Oakland city manager Robert Bobb, former NBA player and sports agent Bill Duffy and Loop Capital, the largest African American-owned investment firm in the U.S.
The Coliseum site is currently co-owned by the city of Oakland and the Oakland Athletics, who on Monday finalized the $85 million purchase of Alameda County’s joint stake in the property. The A’s are also in discussion with the city to buy its stake in the property.
Plans to build a new ballpark at Howard Terminal go before the Oakland City Council next year. Once the A’s leave the Coliseum site, the group’s chair, Ray Bobbitt, said there is an opportunity to redevelop the area in a way that would benefit residents in East Oakland.
“Our goal is to not just have a sports stadium,” Bobbitt said Friday. “Our goal is to have our sports stadium and the ancillary development include a convention center, include a sports and entertainment museum, include affordable housing, include hospitality, which create entry-level positions for people that live within our community.”
Bobbitt added that his group has had conversations with A’s executives about the future of the Coliseum site and how the two can work together to produce the largest benefit for the surrounding community. A spokesperson for the A’s was not immediately able to comment on the AASEG’s effort to purchase the city’s share of the Coliseum site.
A spokesman for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also did not respond to a request for comment about the group’s bid, but Schaaf has indicated her support for the group’s effort in the past.
“The mayor has tremendous respect for Mr. Bobbitt and other Black entrepreneurs who want to make significant investments in Oakland, as well as claim long overdue ownership stakes within industries like the NFL,” the mayor’s spokesman Justin Berton said in September.
The group’s quest to bring an expansion team to Oakland began in June when Bobbitt wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressing interest in applying to own a team. On Oct. 1, Loop Capital joined the group with the goal of assembling an investment group comprised of African American athletes, business people, entertainers and community groups.
“We believe that such an historic project commands the strongest efforts of all involved and we stand ready to do our part and more,” Loop Capital CEO Jim Reynolds said.
None of the 32 current NFL teams are owned by an African American while nearly 75 percent of the league’s players are African American.
“This is huge, not only for Oakland but changing the dynamics of how we look at sports in the United States when it comes to black equity, black ownership, giving us an opportunity to get involved in these endeavors that have been around for centuries,” said Marchon Tatmon, an Oakland City Council candidate who supports the group’s plan.
“This is simple: it’s equity, it’s opportunity, it’s ownership and it’s community,” he added.
With the departure of the Raiders and the Golden State Warriors, who played at the adjacent Oakland Arena before moving to San Francisco for the 2019-2020 season, the A’s are the only team currently using the Coliseum site.
The Indoor Football League’s Oakland Panthers were also scheduled to play their inaugural season at the Oakland Arena prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but will now prepare to debut during the 2022 season due to financial strain wrought by the pandemic Bobbitt said he hopes that the group’s effort in the Bay Area can be expanded to other major metro areas, opening the door for multiple Black and African American owners of major sports franchises.
“We’re the AASEG Oakland but this could be AASEG Memphis, it could be AASEG Cleveland, it could be whatever scenario lends itself to urban centers that can create this economic opportunity,” he said.
Bobbitt did not give an estimated year for the team to debut in Oakland, with multiple steps still needed, potentially including accruing upwards of $1 billion in funding for the franchise.
On their current timeline, A’s officials have said they hope to move to the Howard Terminal site by the start of the 2023 MLB season.