The Oakland Raiders’ move to Las Vegas is unique in many ways.
It’s a move the NFL opposed on principle not long ago (“It’s not gonna happen,” NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman told Raiders owner Mark Davis in July of 2014, according to an excellent ESPN behind-the-scenes story on the relocation), brokered by an owner who is mostly seen as a punch line, with a team going from the thriving Bay Area to a relatively small market. And it came together faster than probably any new stadium deal the league has seen.
Ultimately, it had to happen because the Raiders got $750 million in public money from Nevada and Oakland never really had a viable stadium proposal. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t skepticism, including from iconic former Raiders coach John Madden.
“I’m not sure they have that whole deal together yet,” Madden said in a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview, via ESPN. “I’m not sure that they even know exactly what the stadium is, how many, where it’s going to be and all those things.
“For some reason, they jumped into that thing quickly.”
Madden admitted in the interview he might be “oversensitive” about the Raiders moving, which makes sense considering he’s a big part of Oakland Raiders history. And it’s unlikely the Hall of Fame coach is well versed in the details of the Raiders’ stadium deal. But he and others have good reason to be wary.
The ESPN story unveils many great details about how the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas came to be. The best details revolve around the strange partnership between Davis and Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson, who pledged $650 million to the plan but eventually was sliced out as the NFL worried about being in business with a casino owner. There are also relevant details in the story about the Raiders’ debt and moving to an unproven market that doesn’t print money like many people think it does. After Adelson pulled out of the deal the Raiders got $850 million line of credit from Bank of America – a deal that was brokered in large part by powerful Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who played a big role in the Raiders’ relocation to Vegas, as he did with the Los Angeles’ Rams’ relocation. That’s a lot of debt.
But another theme that emerged in the ESPN story, and it was that Davis did a fairly masterful job figuring out a solution to a difficult situation. The story said there was plenty of concern about a move to Las Vegas, especially when Adelson was involved, but the owners in ESPN’s words “felt powerless to slow Davis’ momentum.” Davis got Adelson to throw his political power behind the project and lean on lawmakers to push through a record amount of taxpayer money for a sports stadium, then Davis finished the deal after Adelson felt as he’d been double-crossed and pulled out of it (and threatened Goldman Sachs if they remained involved). Davis is not thought of as one of the NFL’s most powerful owners, but it seems he did well to get a great deal in Las Vegas.
The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas will be scrutinized for a long time, even before the team ever officially moves. How they’ll navigate the next few years as the stadium is built, with plenty of issues to work out in Las Vegas and with the team during its lame-duck seasons, remains to be seen. In some ways the entire move is unlike any other relocation the NFL has experienced.
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