Anyone spending time in Oakland these days probably knows the city is in the midst of a cultural renaissance. The millennials in particular love the place, with its funky edge, ethnic diversity, thriving arts and music scene, and transformation of the once dumpy and dangerous Jack London Square.
But as the Raiders recover from the NFL’s decision approving the St. Louis Rams’ return to Los Angeles and dismissing a Chargers-Raiders marriage in Carson, owner Mark Davis should take a long look at the tea leaves and then turn over a new leaf. This is a reality check.
His great escape — the most realistic alternative for the Raiders’ owner — is that train to Santa Clara. Yes, Levi’s Stadium.
Hate it. Love it. But share it with the 49ers.
This is a rough time for Davis, who finished last in the three-team relocation derby, behind the Chargers, who were given a year to partner with city and county officials on a stadium in San Diego or join billionaire Stan Kroenke in his privately funded undertaking in Inglewood, either as an equity partner but most likely as a tenant. Davis also was advised to work with city and county officials on a facility at or near the team’s present Oakland location, and if all else fails — and only if the Chargers remain in San Diego — he would be granted permission to join the Inglewood project.
Good luck and good night. Though Chargers owner Dean Spanos is among the many NFL owners who share an intense dislike for Kroenke, who promised to cut his first billion dollar check within a week, the two men are honeymooners compared with Spanos’ relationship with business and political officials in San Diego. Sentiment hints strongly that the Chargers bolt.
So where does that leave Davis, who has his own issues with past and present Oakland officials, besides Santa Clara? San Antonio billionaire Red McCombs is dangling the Alamo City, but the league does not want three teams in Texas. Sacramento is another small market with a thin corporate base, a publicly and privately financed downtown arena already under construction, and a Major League Soccer stadium on the drawing board. There is no appetite for additional public contributions to another professional sports facility. Las Vegas? Portland? Salt Lake City?
Check back in a few decades. Unless miracle workers suddenly arrive in Oakland, the fervent hope and pleas of Raiders fans won’t add up to the cost of an estimated $1 billion stadium. But back to reality, and the common sense fact that the Bay Area simply doesn’t need two NFL stadiums. The Clippers and Lakers are joint tenants in Staples Center in Los Angeles. The New York Giants and Jets are 50-50 co-owners at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. — the only NFL teams sharing a complex, though not for long. The NFL now requires that all of its stadiums be built to accommodate two teams.
“Construction has to be approved by the league,” former Raiders president Amy Trask said, “and that was a condition for the 49ers. When I was meeting with the Raiders and having preliminary talks (about sharing Levi’s Stadium), if that had happened, it truly would have been an equal partnership. We would have had input on everything, including the design. Now, of course, while the stadium was not designed together, that doesn’t mean the teams can’t share a building.”
Trask, an attorney who left the Raiders shortly after Al Davis’ death in 2011, reluctantly ended the talks at the behest of Mark Davis. “Can they share Levi’s?” she said, her voice rising. “Of course they can. It’s not an issue of whether they can, because they can. But the owner has made it very, very clear that he chooses not to do that. They don’t even have to be tenants. There are other ways to work out the financial (and revenue) elements.”
Bay Area sports consultant Andy Dolich, a former top executive with the A’s, 49ers and the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies — he oversaw construction of the FedExForum that opened there in 2004 — similarly embraces the concept of two teams at Levi’s. “Clearly the NFL wants a two-team, one-building solution in its larger markets,” he said. “So if you’re Mark Davis, who is cash poor, what part of zero options are you not getting? You could sit down with Jed (York) and (Commissioner) Roger Goodell, and say that you want to figure out a way to keep my marketplace. You think Raiders fans won’t take the train or make that 38.5-mile drive to Santa Clara?”
Asked how the Raiders could earn an equitable share of revenues generated at Levi’s, Dolich cited the NFL’s deep pockets and suggested Goodell and his advisers could both financially compensate the 49ers for cooperating and devise a strategy that ensures the Raiders’ long-term fiscal stability. “Money can always be negotiated,” Dolich said. “There are naming rights, the share of revenue from food and beverage, parking, sponsorships. But it’s so logical it will never happen. It’s just too logical.”
And here’s another thought: Why should the Raiders be held hostage while awaiting the Chargers’ decision? The rivalry continues. If the NFL believes Spanos and San Diego officials are making a good-faith effort toward a deal, that one-year deadline could very well extend to two. These relocation matters tend to take an excruciating amount of time to resolve and are famously fluid and unpredictable.
Yet there sits Levi’s Stadium, a facility with all the modern technical bells and whistles but very little color. Hmm. The Raiders and their fans certainly would do something about that.