It is now time for Oakland Raiders fans to get less comfortable about the continued existence of the Oakland Raiders.
This is less than becoming resigned to losing them outright, because the National Football League and the political structures of the state of Nevada and the city of San Diego, plus the landlording power of Stan Kroenke and the indecisive soul of Dean Spanos, are all variables that have not yet shown their hands.
But with the news that the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee recommended legislative approval of a $750 million public money commitment to a new stadium that would pave and even gild the way toward the Raiders leaving for The Strip on the January stage.
The recommendation was a considerable hurdle because the money request was structured in such a way that the public at large doesn’t get to vote on the proposal. Instead, the state legislature will vote (and is expected to approve) and then send it on to Governor Brian Sandoval (who is expected to sign it).
At that point, the Raiders will have only one obstacle yet to clear before their midnight ride down Highway 99. The January NFL owners meeting.
As we know, the owners are not automatically disposed to do Mark Davis any favors, given the fact that they used him as a passenger-side floor mat during the meeting that greenlighted the Rams to move to Los Angeles rather than the Raiders and Chargers to Carson. They all but told Davis, in fact, “To us, your happiness is Job 38,108.”
So a vote to let the Raiders go to Las Vegas would have to clear the hurdles of the men who stood in Davis’ way in January, most notably Jerry Jones, Paul Allen, Danny Snyder, Jeff Lurie and, well, Kroenke. Jones has said publicly he supports the idea of an NFL team in Las Vegas, and this would seem to indicate that he would be willing not only to vote for the Raiders’ relocation but whip votes as he did for Kroenke before last January’s vote.
But the wild card – and there always is one – is whether the owners want to do Davis a solid when he really has only money to promise in return. And if they hesitate, as they did in January, they would need to find another team to take the Vegas spot instead of the Raiders and leave Davis more convinced than ever that his 31 partners really do hate his guts.
The two obvious choices would be the Jacksonville Jaguars, where owner Shahid Khan’s original goal, to move the Jags to London, seems pretty well dead, and the Chargers, who are going to be told in November that the voters will not approve a massive tax to help build a new stadium in San Diego. Spanos entered into a partnership with Davis once, found out that Davis was his biggest obstacle to approval, and took a humiliating defeat for that decision.
If Spanos is rebuffed, he has three choices – to pick up his option in Los Angeles against his better judgment and learn to be owned by Kroenke, to stay in San Diego without leverage forever and ever, or to do something particularly underhanded (well, except by NFL ownership standards) and make himself available for relocation to Las Vegas.
He could get that vote, because one of the other takeaways from the January meeting was that a lot of owners who voted for Kroenke felt bad for doing Spanos as they did. But Spanos would also have to decide if Vegas is worth it to him, because he wouldn’t have the movable fan base Davis would, so he would have to build interest from scratch. And he would have to pick up the (believed to be) $500 million relocation fee and contribute to the new stadium in Las Vegas. That’s a lot of jack to compete with the people who own Blackjack.
So there are still maneuvers to be maneuvered, arms to be twisted, billionaires to be schmoozed and promises to be broken before anyone can say the Oakland Raiders are about to become the Las Vegas Raiders. But Thursday’s committee recommendation did nothing to deter people from thinking that that’s the way the desert wind is blowing.