Wayne Deboe has been through this before. In 1982, the Oakland Raiders fan watched as his beloved team packed and moved to Los Angeles, where it played 13 seasons before returning to the Bay Area.
Twenty years later, Deboe, now the president of the Oakland Raiders Booster Club, is waiting to find out if he’ll be forced to endure that separation a second time.
“I was one of those people that still liked the Raiders, but I never said ‘L.A. Raiders,’ ” Deboe said. “I only ever said, ‘Raiders.’ I probably won’t ever say ‘L.A. Raiders’ this time, either.”
Dressed from head to toe in silver and black – Raiders hat and jacket, black jeans and black shoes – Deboe sat in a back room at Ricky’s Sports Theatre and Grill in San Leandro last Tuesday, participating in a meeting of the fan group Save Oakland Sports at which the potentially imminent relocation of the Raiders dominated discussion.
The Raiders, along with the San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams, applied last week to relocate to the Los Angeles area, setting up a momentous meeting of NFL owners this Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston at which the owners are expected to vote on whether to return the NFL to the L.A. market following an absence of two decades.
Raiders fans at Ricky’s maintained a cautious optimism that their team will still be playing in the Bay Area in 2016, while acknowledging the distinct possibility of losing them again to the bigger market down south.
“I think the chances (of them staying) are pretty good,” said Tonia Dumas, founder of the group Ladies Love Oakland Sports. “I really feel the NFL knows that Oakland is a better place. They’ve tried the L.A. thing already, and it didn’t work, so what makes them think it’s going to work now?
“We’re just waiting. We’re just in a holding position basically. It’s very difficult to wait.”
The long-anticipated return of the NFL to Los Angeles took a concrete step forward last Monday when the Raiders, Chargers and Rams applied to move to the L.A. area beginning in 2016. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has proposed building a state-of-the-art stadium in Inglewood, while the Raiders and Chargers have proposed building a shared stadium in nearby Carson with the backing of Disney chairman and CEO Robert Iger.
Several NFL committees were tasked last week with verifying that all three franchises had checked off a series of boxes to qualify for relocation and are eligible to move. The NFL owners, at their meeting this week, are scheduled to vote on the relocation issue, with a 75 percent majority – or 24 of 32 owners – needed to approve any team’s bid to move to Los Angeles.
Late last week, there reportedly was a consensus that all three teams likely would qualify for relocation – and that there’s a strong chance L.A. will be home to two NFL franchises when the 2016 season begins. Still, the L.A. issue has gone on long enough to generate skepticism over a tidy conclusion.
“If this were easy to come up with a solution, I guess it already would have been done, because the NFL has been out of the (L.A.) market for 20 years,” said Andy Dolich, a sports-marketing consultant in the Bay Area and former NFL executive.
“These (owners) are significantly wealthy individuals who are adept business people, and ultimately to me the decision is going to be reached as to what is best for the NFL – not necessarily what might be best for one or all three of the teams.”
As part of the relocation process, the NFL requested all three current home cities provide updates on what they’ve done to keep their teams.
At one end of the spectrum is St. Louis, which reportedly submitted a proposal for a new waterfront stadium that included $400 million in public financing. According to the Los Angeles Times, though, the Rams strongly dismissed that stadium plan in their relocation bid to the league.
On the other end is Oakland, which met the league’s Dec. 30 update deadline with a five-page letter that touted Oakland as a center of growth in the Bay Area and floated the idea of making 60 acres on the current O.co Coliseum site available to the Raiders to build a new stadium – but made it clear a concrete stadium proposal is not imminent.
In the letter, local leaders stated they are “ready to move from our current discussions to more formal negotiations” on a stadium financing plan, but also reiterated that the city is not prepared to contribute large public sums to building a new stadium. The Raiders play in the NFL’s oldest stadium, which they share with baseball’s Oakland A’s in the last remaining arrangement between NFL and MLB teams.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a 48-page report distributed to all 32 teams the proposed stadium solutions in Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego are “unsatisfactory and inadequate” to keep their teams.
After the Raiders filed for relocation last week, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement saying the city was “not surprised. … We remain confident that the Raiders can build a new stadium in Oakland without a direct public subsidy. We stand ready to work with the Raiders and the NFL to make that happen in a way that is responsible to the team, the fans and the taxpayers.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis, however, told the Bay Area News Group that the letter was an indication that city leaders “just don’t want to play with us. I don’t know why. I don’t understand it.”
According to the Bay Area News Group, the Raiders have offered to contribute $500 million toward an estimated $900 million new stadium in Oakland with the help of an NFL stadium loan. The relocation fee alone, should the Raiders’ bid to move to L.A. be approved, would be $550 million, according to the Orange County Register.
The Raiders, though, would be moving into the country’s second-largest TV market – they currently play in the sixth-largest – and an area that has been without an NFL team since both the Raiders and Rams left Southern California following the 1994 season. And they would be leaving a stadium that is widely considered one of the league’s worst.
“The ability to generate more revenue from venue-related sources, even as co-tenant in Southern California, would easily surpass that in Oakland,” David Carter, the executive director of the USC Marshall Sports Business Institute, wrote in an email.
NFL owners do not have to approve any of the three applicants for relocation and could approve any combination of the three. If the Raiders’ application is denied, they could return to Oakland for another season and continue negotiations with the city – or apply for relocation again in 2017.
Morie Kahane, an Oakland resident and a longtime fan, said he wouldn’t mind seeing the Raiders move just down the road to Santa Clara and share Levi’s Stadium with the 49ers – though he acknowledged Davis’ outspoken opposition to that idea.
“Going 50 miles is a lot better than going 400 miles,” Kahane said. “You’ve already got a brand new billion-dollar stadium. Just work it out. But I don’t think the Raiders want to be a tenant.”
Kahane said that if the Raiders do move, “I’m not driving to L.A. But I’ll still be here watching them.” Deboe, the booster club president, said friends are already joking about going to watch home games next season in Southern California.
“I told them, ‘You’re probably going by yourself,’ ” Deboe said. “But I don’t know. That changes.”
Ricky Ricardo – who owns Ricky’s, a gathering spot for Raiders fans that Sports Illustrated once deemed the No. 2 sports bar in the country – recalled that when the team relocated to Los Angeles the first time, Bay Area fans still came in to watch games on TV.
“It’s much nicer having the team here, of course,” Ricardo said. “But life is a series of adjustments, you know what I mean? This is the NFL. It’s big corporate business. This is kind of out of our hands.”