PHOENIX — Sometime in the not distant future, they will become the Las Vegas Raiders.
Until then, likely in 2020, Mark Davis’ team belongs to Oakland. Well, sort of.
NFL owners approved the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas 31-1 at the league meetings Monday. Miami was the lone dissenter. Davis insisted the club his father, Hall of Fame owner Al Davis, built into a champion — in Oakland and Los Angeles — should still be considered a part of the Bay Area community.
“I wouldn’t use the term lame duck,” Davis insisted. “We’re still the Raiders and we represent Raider Nation.
“There will be disappointed fans, and it’s important for me to talk to them to explain why and how.”
As he does so, he also can address what is ahead for a team that, on the field, clearly is on the rise. Yet, questions abound how much support the Raiders can possibly retain in what is now a temporary home.
“My emotions are mixed,” said coach Jack Del Rio, a Bay Area native. “While I’m sad for family and friends and fans in the Oakland area, I also recognize the tremendous opportunity going forward for our organization. That being said, my mission remains the same. To lead this team here and now. Players and coaches need to understand their defined roles. We all need to bring positive energy everyday as we focus on things that we can control.”
What they can’t control is community reaction in a place where devotion to the Raiders during their Oakland years — they spent 1982-94 in Los Angeles — has been admirable. Even during all the losing between their last Super Bowl appearance, for the 2002 season, and their next winning record, which came last year, the Black Hole gang has been dedicated.
“All the Raiders fans my age, no way you can do it,” said Ivan Davis, a fan of the team for a half-century. “Anyone who lived through the first one will not support them. The older Raiders fans, you lost them forever. The ones who gave their life blood to you, you lost them forever.”
There will be new fans, of course, in a new locale, a place no one imagined the NFL venturing to just a few years ago. But with their $1.7 billion stadium not to be completed before 2020, the Raiders have three seasons to fill playing elsewhere.
“We have two more years of lease options for Oakland right now,” Davis said. “If the fans would like us to stay there, we’d love to be there for that and possibly talk to them about extending it for maybe 2019 as well, and try to bring a championship back to Oakland.”
The likelihood of the East Bay welcoming the Raiders for a third season at the aging Coliseum they share with the Athletics — the only such NFL/MLB arrangement remaining — isn’t high. Mayor Libby Schaaf has accused Davis and the league of not “manning up,” and other legislators have mentioned finding ways to void the two years of stadium options the Raiders have negotiated.
Davis said any season ticket holders who have already paid for next season will get full refunds if they seek them.
While 2019 is not nearly upon us, Davis needs a concrete plan for that season, including finding a training facility as well as a stadium.
There are other potential hang-ups that could slow construction of the Las Vegas stadium, which doesn’t have a definite site yet.
Las Vegas stepped up with $750 million in public money, and Bank of America is giving Davis a $650 million loan. It’s conceivable, if highly improbable, that snags will hit in those areas.
Interestingly, one segment that will profit from the move: Raiders employees. There is no income tax in Nevada, while California’s is among the highest in the nation.
Meanwhile, league reservations about relocating a franchise to a city built on gambling have disappeared.
“The existing size of Las Vegas, the diversification and the growth that it has undergone over the last 20 years, combine to make it a mid-sized market today,” said league executive Eric Grubman, the NFL’s point man on stadium projects, “but one that is exhibiting significantly above average growth. Those things in combination, its current size with its above average growth, combined to give the rest of the ownership confidence.”