So where do the Raiders go from here?
That age-old question faces owner Mark Davis after the Raiders were sacked for a considerable loss in the NFL’s return to the Los Angeles area.
The San Diego Chargers officially have one year to decide whether to become partners with Rams owner Stan Kroenke and his team at an entertainment palace in Inglewood. Otherwise, the Raiders would have the option to take their place. Davis isn’t counting on that possibility, nor should he.
The Chargers are likely to announce their intentions no later than March 23, the final day of the three-day owners’ meetings in Florida. And early indications are that owner Alex Spanos is willing to break bread with Kroenke to ease relocation-related tensions and join the Rams as either a co-owner or leasing tenant in Inglewood. If the Chargers say yes by the deadline, they would be allowed to play games in an L.A.-area venue next season.
Which would leave Davis with one immediate possibility — signing a one-year lease to play in O.co Coliseum while continuing to negotiate with Oakland officials for a new stadium, armed with the NFL’s $100 million incentive package. If they were to wait longer, it would hamper attempts to re-sign players and come to term with free agents as they prepared for next season. They are required to notify the city about the year-to-year lease between Feb. 1 and May 1.
Or Davis could cut a deal in San Antonio, a market he likes, though league power-broker Jerry Jones may balk about a third-team in Texas joining his Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans. Portland, Las Vegas and the usual suspects also might enter the picture.
Or San Diego, even. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the league’s rejection of a plan that would have brought the Chargers and Raiders to Carson provided an opportunity for a new beginning. The Chargers walked away from talks with city and county leaders last spring, when they wanted no part of replacing outdated Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley.
On Wednesday, Faulconer invited Spanos back to the table.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get together and discuss things positively and collaboratively,” Faulconer said at a news conference.
While Spanos said he would require some time to weigh options, there wasn’t much to consider. It’s highly unlikely the Chargers will want to share the Southern California market without compensation. For that reason, they almost certainly will want to cash in on the Inglewood bonanza despite differences with Kroenke. The league will supervise the negotiations between the Rams and the second party, which all but ensures a fair deal for both sides.
In the likelihood that the Chargers bolt San Diego after 55 seasons, Davis and the Raiders will be left with two options:
n Negotiate a stadium deal in Oakland. As a parting gift, the league pledged an additional $100 million to Davis for stadium purposes. Yet it will take a lot more to build the kind of football-only facility that Davis wants for his team, the kind of money that neither he nor the cash-strapped city have at present. All the while, the A’s want a baseball-only facility, which compounds the situation.
As expected, Mayor Libby Schaaf reiterated a desire to find a home for the team, but until a creative mind steps forward with a viable plan, a new stadium won’t get done. Davis has no other liquid assets, and unless he sells a considerable portion of the franchise, which he may have to do at some point, a longterm marriage in the East Bay remains a Hail Mary pass.
n Move to another location. If the Raiders become a free agent, it will be an enviable position. Only 32 NFL franchises are in existence, and they don’t become available very often, which puts them in great demand.
Start with Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where the 49ers play home games. Davis doesn’t want to play second fiddle, let alone to a local rival in a stadium that he doesn’t own, but the option may be there as a last resort provided 49ers owner Jed York agrees. Such an arrangement is not without precedent, as the New York Jets and Giants have shared stadiums in New Jersey for decades.
Now that Los Angeles has a team again, the league will turn its expansion plans to Europe, which makes London a hot pick at the moment. London would be the second-largest city in the league, and as the first major U.S. professional sports team overseas, it would have enormous financial and marketing potential. At least one NFL game has been played at Wembley Stadium each season since 2007.
San Antonio has a venue in place, the 65,000-seat Alamodome, but only Buffalo and Green Bay have smaller television markets in the league. The city is short on football tradition — its only franchise was in the short-lived USFL three decades ago.
Another potential option is St. Louis, which suddenly is without a franchise for the second time in 28 years. But city leaders say they’ve had it with the NFL.
St. Louis was jilted despite visions of a new $1 billion riverfront stadium, which included $400 million in public money. While the plan fell short of standards, according to league officials, it put the city far ahead of San Diego and Oakland in terms of a new facility.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the city was “led on” and had “no appetite” for a team.
“At this point I’m so frustrated and disappointed with the NFL,” Slay said Wednesday. “Why would anybody want to in any way even entertain any suggestions from the NFL after the way they dealt with St. Louis here? I mean, it was dishonest. They were not being truthful with us. There’s no appetite that I have to take another run at an NFL team.”
Once the bitterness subsides, however, St. Louis could want to get in the game again. For better or worse, the lure of America’s most popular sport is simply too great. And if the stadium situation is certain to be a money-maker, the NFL certainly will consider it again.
On the field, the Raiders have the most potential of the three teams in the relocation game, many agree. Off the field?
As Davis said Tuesday night, they aren’t winners, but the biggest losers.