The Oakland Raiders are leaving the San Francisco Bay Area. Again.
The Raiders left Oakland once before, in 1982. They played in Los Angeles until 1995, then returned home to Oakland, but once again they are set to move. As of Monday, March 27, the Raiders will soon become a Las Vegas team.
The National Football League approved the Raiders’ move with a vote of 31-1. The usual factors, (need for city revenue, funds for new stadiums, fan loyalty), impacted the NFL’s decision to move the franchise, and the team will endure the usual backlash that comes with such actions. Currently, the Raiders plan to play in a temporary location in Las Vegas for the 2019 season, before permanently moving to a yet-to-be-built $2 billion stadium in 2020.
Steve Ross alone, owner of the Miami Dolphins, voted against the move, while the 31 other NFL owners approved the action. Ross’ reasoning is that not every option for staying in Oakland has been exhausted. According to CBS Sports, Ross feels that fans deserve to be shown the same loyalty that they show their teams. Definite increased profit could not sway his opinion, although CBS Sports estimates that Ross, along with the other owners, stands to gain $11.3 million with the franchise's move.
Another dissenter to the decision is Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, who believes that Oakland will be left with a painfully public wound, and that the league will regret moving the franchise. Raiders fans, with their working class attitude, and terrifyingly tough aesthetic, may forever lose the loyalty once held for their team.
Two factors make this move especially intriguing. Firstly, this is the third NFL team to announce a move in just over a year, and secondly, the Raiders will be Las Vegas’ first NFL team.
The St. Louis Rams became the Los Angeles Rams last year, and the San Diego Chargers are set to move to Los Angeles as well. Both decisions have been surrounded in conflict and turmoil. In contrast to the these teams, the Raiders will stay for at least two seasons in Oakland before moving, but to some Raiders fans this is salt poured in a freshly opened wound. The Rams, Chargers, and Raiders are the first NFL teams to move since the mid 1990s, ushering a new sense of instability into the league.
In these situations, NFL owners almost always want a new stadium, and some cities are unable to provide funds or locations for new domes. Cities must decide how much to spend supporting professional teams as they seek to retain city culture. For the Raiders, a promise from the city of Vegas for public finance to help build a new dome was too much to pass up.
Sharing the Oakland Coliseum with the Oakland A’s gave the franchise a weak image. Even with a “Black Hole” fan section in a stadium fit for a brutal team, owners were not satisfied with what some labeled “a dump.”
In addition to a new stadium, the Raiders franchise hopes for a better market in Las Vegas. According to the New York Times, some NFL owners were reluctant to vote in favor of the move because the San Francisco Bay Area is remarkably wealthy, while Las Vegas has been recovering from a recession in recent years. The Raiders will be leaving the 6th largest television broadcasting network to move to the 40th on the list. However, Las Vegas tourism and the city’s exciting atmosphere convinced 31 owners that the move will be worth it.
Las Vegas’ first pro sports team is the Golden Knights, freshly created by the National Hockey League and set to play this year. Some feel that America’s Sin City is finally receiving the professional sports teams that they deserve. However, far more people believe that athletics have no place in a city of gambling, drinking, and corruption.
Common concerns for the Raiders revolve around Vegas’ reputation, and a belief that athletic integrity will fall to the city’s corruption. Rumors regarding potential MLS and NBA teams in Vegas’ future are also present, but the success or failure of the Knights and Raiders may decide the fate of any other future teams. If past franchise failures are any indication, Las Vegas will not be able to support professional sports teams.
As a native St. Louisan, I sympathize with the fans in Oakland. St. Louis cheered on the Rams in many seasons that were disappointing. Now that they moved across the country, fans care little for the franchise. When favorite athletes choose money over hometown loyalty, (I’m looking at you, Pujols), fans lose faith. Watching athletes and owners choose cities that love the sport less, just so they can earn more, shows fans that loyalty, a virtue that has been historically central to athletics, is lost.
Professional sports will always involve ridiculous amounts of money, and owners must bargain with cities in order to make the greatest profit, but at what cost? St. Louis could not afford to pay for a team that did not love the city enough to stay. Oakland will not bend to demands it cannot uphold. Fans and franchises alike must decide where loyalties lie, and all too often, money will win.