The danger in assuming that Mark Davis has finally won Las Vegas for himself and his creditors is that a lot of people assumed that he had won Los Angeles for himself and his erstwhile partner Dean Spanos a year ago, and we saw what happened there.
Namely, that Davis had to hustle up a new deal a year later.
But the danger in assuming that one piece of treachery aimed at Davis in 2016 automatically means the likelihood of a second is far greater, because there is now something that trumps all other considerations and voting blocs.
There is simply no good reason for any owner to vote no, save a personal or financial animus toward Davis by the league establishment that will never be eradicated. In short, all the ducks have been aligned, all the money has been pronounced clean, Interstates 5 and 15 have been cleared for a 2019 takeoff, and the internal shouting is over.
Allowing for what is about a one percent chance of last-second failure (Davis/market size/sunspots), the Raiders will belong to Las Vegas in three years.
Raider fans may now commence their outrage – if they have enough left to give after such a protracted process and in the face of an owner so determined to go that he’s been working the angle for a minimum of three years. At some point, righteous anger can no longer withstand the might of inevitability.
And amazingly, Mark Davis doing a deal that would pass the muster of 31 much richer men who hold him in barely tolerable esteem is some feat.
There were always lots of reasons to think Vegas couldn’t happen, starting with Davis’ richly merited reputation for amiable inertia, then proceeding through his relatively low regard among his fellow owners, minimal wealth by NFL standards, Las Vegas’ principal industry, not to mention Oakland’s tradition and superior market size.
Well, to his credit (or blame, depending on your point of view), he has ticked off all those boxes. Having been slapped down so aggressively by the league when he wanted to split Los Angeles with Spanos and the Chargers, he was told to make a better deal, and did. Every time he erected an obstacle to his own success, he somehow cleared it, or knew the right people to remove it for him. He even managed to cut off his own avenue of retreat with the help of the City of Oakland, and he can now present to the owners the following proposal.
- I got the money to move.
- I got the right kind of money to satisfy you all, as in no obvious traceable casino money.
- I can’t stay in Oakland because you repeatedly told Oakland its deal was dead on the ground.
- In short, I have to leave because I can’t stay, and I have answered every one of your objections to leaving.
And because of all that, there is no longer a forseeably viable way to get nine votes to stop him.
Oh, there is still a case to be made that the Raiders will be giving up half of the sixth-largest television market for the 40th, but that’s a microscopic rebuttal to $1.4 billion in state and bank money for a stadium that quite possibly will cost less that the sticker of $1.9 billion.
And whether you believe that Davis orchestrated this brilliant slalom from failure in Los Angeles through the landmine of Sheldon Adelson’s involvement and Nevada state politics, the noisy but necessary divorce from Adelson and the reassembly of the deal through the graces of Bank of America, or whether partners, friends and fortune just smiled on him throughout, it must still be acknowledged that he took the humiliation of a year ago and turned it into what seems to be for him a triumph in slightly more than a year.
But to be thorough, let’s line up the help he got.
- Oakland’s decision not to present a stadium plan to the league that the league could use to hammer the city in perpetuity. Dealing with the NFL is typically a perilous move for cities, and Oakland’s unwillingness to knuckle under to its demands is a statement about fiscal prudence most cities cannot make.
- Adelson’s work in helping drive the process by which the $750 million hotel tax passed through the Nevada state house in Carson City.
- Bank of America, which stepped forward, almost certainly with some league prodding, to replace Adelson, who was a deal-breaker in the minds of the owners who did not want him as a part of the league.
- The NFL’s horrendous misplay of the Los Angeles market by picking the Rams as the only franchise and then being forced to accept the Chargers a year later even as the softness of the market was being exposed.
- The NFL ownership finance committee, which saw no obvious holes in the financing as well as an avenue toward making their own shares of the perceived Vegas windfall.
- Las Vegas’ ability to recast itself to the owners as a lucrative financial center as well as a gateway to foreign money that few other open cities can claim.
All those factors aligned to make the Raiders and Vegas make sense to the 31 men who decide what cities get to have pro football and what cities do not. Barring something genuinely and insanely unforeseen between now and the day of the vote, Mark Davis has won the approval of those who have always viewed him with the greatest skepticism.
And Oakland loses the Raiders for a second time, a year after they seemed they would be Oakland’s for decades to come.