NFL agree Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas
New $2bn stadium will be built by 2020 and include $750m in public financing
An Oakland Raiders fan reacts during a game against the San Diego Chargers. The Raiders have announced that they will move to Las Vegas. Photograph: John G Mabanglo/EPA
The NFL on Monday approved the move of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, casting aside decades of fears that putting a team in the gambling capital would corrupt the game, while sending the team to a new and growing market but one that is far smaller.
The team owners, meeting in Phoenix, voted overwhelmingly, 31-to-one, persuaded that having a team in Las Vegas for the first time would allow the league to capitalise on the city’s booming tourist trade and image of excitement, and its willingness to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars toward the construction of a new stadium.
For years, major leagues steered clear of Las Vegas because some owners worried that putting a team there would lead more players and referees to rub elbows with unsavoury characters from the gambling world trying to influence games. But such attitudes have faded with the spread and acceptance of gambling around the country, and the city’s reduced reliance on revenue from its many casinos.
The National Hockey League last year agreed to create a team in Las Vegas, the Golden Knights, who will begin play later this year.
The Raiders are likely to begin playing there as soon as 2019. In 2020, they are expected to move into a nearly $2 billion (€1.85 billion) stadium, with $750 million (€690 million) in public financing, an arrangement that helped attract the league’s interest. The rest of the money was expected to come from a $600 million (€550 million) loan from Bank of America to the team, $200 million (€185 million) from the league and revenue from naming rights and other deals.
“We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry,” Mark Davis, the Raiders’ principal owner, said. “But we hope they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff.”
The team will become the first to leave its home city, return, then leave again. The Raiders are also the third team to move in just over one year, ending a period of turmoil in which the owners agreed to abandon long-time NFL cities that were unable to appease the owners’ desire for bigger markets and more public financing for new stadiums.
Last year, the Rams left St Louis for Los Angeles, and then the Chargers announced that they would leave San Diego to move in with the Rams, starting next season.
Davis said repeatedly that he was frustrated with the efforts by lawmakers in California to replace the team’s current home, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, one of the oldest stadiums in the league.
Unlike the Rams and the Chargers, who left immediately for their new homes, the Raiders will remain in Oakland for at least two more seasons while their new home is being built, creating the spectre of awkward lame duck seasons. Davis said the team would continue to be called the Oakland Raiders during that time.
Some voted reluctantly for the move because, they said, the league would be leaving the sixth biggest television market in the country for the 40th largest. Oakland is also in the booming San Francisco Bay Area, home to some of the wealthiest fans and sponsors in the country, while Las Vegas is a far smaller region reliant largely on tourism and gambling.
(New York Times service)