Raiders owner Mark Davis thought Oakland politicos were difficult? Stubborn? Formidable? Welcome to Las Vegas, the land of illusion, entertainment, fine dining, and more poker faces at the negotiating table than he ever imagined.
His hope for presenting the owners with a $1.9 billion domed stadium deal at the NFL meetings next month, one that would secure approval for the Raiders’ relocation to Southern Nevada, instead absorbed back-to-back setbacks within a matter of hours. This was the scorched-earth equivalent of a triple-digit July heat wave.
On Monday night, Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson withdrew his $650 million pledge for the 65,000-seat facility. Then early Tuesday, investment bankers from Goldman Sachs linked arms, similarly walking away and declining to underwrite the project.
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Adelson’s exit comes as no great surprise given his increasingly strained relationship with Davis. His displeasure peaked when he learned Davis had secretly negotiated a $1-per-year stadium lease agreement with the Clark County Stadium Authority. Something about bad business practices. And, in fact, the Raiders’ relocation application that was filed Jan. 19 listed only Goldman Sachs as a financing partner.
The overriding question these past weeks thus became this: Would the casino magnate leave the project gracefully or angrily?
A calm departure would suggest potential still existed for a successful pairing between the Raiders and Goldman Sachs, a longtime and frequent financing partner of Adelson. A nasty breakup between Davis and Adelson – which is what occurred – only furthered the sense among many who believed the bank’s financing was contingent upon Adelson’s continued involvement.
Bottom line, if the Raiders want to stay in Oakland, we are more than ready to be a partner in making that happen.
Ronnie Lott, head of an investment group that wants to keep the Raiders in Oakland
Their reasoning? The Mob’s demise meant more opportunity for the influx of corporations and their billionaires. But no one wants to poke the bear. Adelson’s empire extends far beyond casinos. He owns the state’s largest daily newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and is known for wielding his enormous political and business clout like a machete, nothing resembling a velvet hammer.
“My guess is this potential deal does not go down without a fight,” said one official closely involved with the proposed stadium negotiations who did not have authority to speak on the record on the matter. “People have put a lot of time, energy and money into this. But the biggest issue is what Adelson is going to do. The problem doesn’t go away just because you find another bank.”
The $1-per-year lease agreement troubled other state and local officials, many of whom endorsed the legislation for the hotel tax hike to help fund the stadium, because it enabled the Raiders to maintain an inordinate amount of control over scheduling – perhaps, it was feared, to the detriment of their stadium partner, UNLV.
Clark County Commissioner and Chairman Steve Sisolak, a strong proponent of a Raiders-to-Las Vegas move, said he only learned about the meager lease agreement by reading the newspaper. Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani issued a far more strident response.
“I’m shocked,” she told the Review-Journal. “How arrogant is that? They’re a for-profit company. They should be better partners if they’re coming here.”
And if they aren’t going there? If Davis produces his $500 million contribution but is unable to acquire the additional funding to convince the NFL owners to approve a Las Vegas marriage? What are the alternatives?
Ah, yes. The alternatives. Relocation sagas often read like a sappy, heartbreaking novel.
San Diego is certainly available with the Chargers still unpacking in Los Angeles. As did his late father Al, Mark Davis enjoys the area. But San Diego residents repeatedly rejected stadium funding proposals that included sales or tourism tax increases, and within the past few weeks, city officials have joined Sacramento and a long list of other candidates campaigning for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. The appetite for pursuit of another NFL team appears mild at best.
My guess is this potential deal does not go down without a fight.
An official closely involved with the proposed stadium negotiations in Las Vegas
With the Rams and Chargers sharing the Los Angeles market, that leaves the Raiders with two familiar possibilities in the Bay Area: They can remain at the Coliseum or partner with the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium, at least for the foreseeable future.
The New York Giants and Jets share a facility, and soon so will the Rams and Chargers. Why can’t the NFL craft a shared stadium deal that financially satisfies both the Raiders and 49ers?
Right. Of course they could. They could even warm to the idea. Yet while this is clearly the most logical and fiscally reasonable solution – the NFL has enough accountants to accommodate – there is one major obstacle: Mark Davis. Peace, love and coexistence are not terms he frequently employs while cruising the 880 freeway. He doesn’t like Santa Clara, doesn’t like the size of the Levi’s Stadium parking lot, doesn’t like the distance from Oakland, doesn’t like anything about the 49ers.
That leaves the old, weary, worn-down Coliseum. But it presents another opportunity and more time for Ronnie Lott and his investment group to counter the Las Vegas proposal with a deal the Raiders simply can’t refuse. And he’s trying.
“We have the land available at the existing Coliseum site following the actions of the City of Oakland and Alameda County last December,” the Lott group said Tuesday in a statement. “We have a strong financing partner in Fortress Investment Group. We have an additional $100 million due to the NFL incentive to keep the Raiders in Oakland. Bottom line, if the Raiders want to stay in Oakland, we are more than ready to be a partner in making that happen.”
So what now? What is Mark thinking now?