President-elect Donald J. Trump wants to get rid of NAFTA, but a lot of good that’s going to do this week for Raiders fans, who will be giving up one-eighth of their home schedule for a game in Mexico City on Monday night.
As far as North American trades go, the Raiders are getting the raw end of the deal. Doesn’t anybody know they’re in a pennant race with the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos? The Raiders could use the home-field advantage. Instead, they’re trading it for the neutral grounds of Estadio Azteca, where they will play the Houston Texans.
Monday’s game sold out in less than a half-hour in the summer at a price range of $30 to $350 per ticket – or 550 to 6,500 pesos. For the 87,000 buyers who gobbled up the passes at face value using Mexican currency, the tickets represented a temporarily safe hedge against the Trump presidency, much like buying a Van Gogh at auction. The peso has plunged more than 10 percent in the eight days since the election of the candidate who promised to wall off Mexico. The same top-priced ticket today is worth more than 7,500 pesos, and that’s before you run it through the scalpers.
The bottom line is the resurgent Raiders, who are scheduled as the home team, are losing the home-field advantage Monday at a crucial time in their history. They still have trips to Kansas City and Denver. Couldn’t the NFL have sent the Chiefs or Broncos to play Houston in Mexico City? Thanks, Obama.
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Interestingly, ESPN viewers should see about 1,500 signs reading “Quédate En Oakland” in Estadio Azteca’s version of the Black Hole. The English translation – “Stay in Oakland” – has become a popular slogan in the East Bay these days as fans fight to keep their team from moving to Las Vegas. Oakland fan groups plan to distribute the signs at the game Monday.
“We’re reaching across the border,” said Jim Zelinski, co-founder of Save Oakland Sports, an organization that helped fund the public information campaign a couple of weeks ago when the Raiders beat the Broncos. During the Sunday night nationally televised game, airplanes towed messages of support over the Coliseum while fans below raised placards imploring the Raiders to stay.
“We believe that the people in Mexico also recognize the great tradition of the Raiders in Oakland,” Zelinski said.
As they know on both sides of the border, Las Vegas is out to steal the Raiders. It’s a wide-ranging conspiracy that includes the governor of Nevada, the Silver State legislature, Las Vegas Sands Corp., mogul Sheldon Adelson and even Raiders owner Mark Davis.
The plot to move the Raiders rests on a $1.9 billion stadium plan to be funded by an increase in the southern Nevada hotel tax, Adelson’s casino lucre and Davis’ share of NFL profits. The league still must approve the deal on a three-fourths vote of the owners, although no consultation was necessary to deprive the 7-2 Raiders of playing a huge home game against the 6-3 Texans.
By the time the story plays out, the Raiders might be as likely to relocate to Estadio Azteca as they are the Sands Casino Dome. You’ll remember Adelson has been quoted as saying the Raiders can go “bye bye” if Davis doesn’t succumb to his terms on the matter of stadium rent.
Like the peso, the odds on the Raiders moving to Las Vegas appear to be dropping, if Adelson’s reported displeasure with Davis is any indication.
For the short term, at least, professional sports consultant Andy Dolich doesn’t see the Raiders going anywhere. Dolich, a former executive with the A’s, 49ers, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies, thinks the NFL owners would be crazy to settle for a $500 million relocation fee from Davis. Wait a few years, his thinking goes, for the league to institute legalized betting on games. Then the owners can chop up an expansion fee from a new Las Vegas owner in the range of $3 billion to $4 billion.
Thus, “the league sure doesn’t seem to be fast-tracking Vegas,” Dolich said.
Meanwhile, all that Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Jack Del Rio have done the past few years is assemble one of the best teams in the league. With Khalil Mack playing at an All-Pro level and finally getting some sacks to show for it, the defense has begun to catch up with the offense. On the other side of the ball, the running game has established itself as an effective complement to the Raiders’ air attack, with the offensive line blowing open holes for tailback Latavius Murray and making time for ascending quarterback Derek Carr to pick and choose between the league’s best wide receiver combo – Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree.
Pro Football Focus this week ranked the Raiders as the third-best team in the NFL, behind the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
On Monday night, the Raiders will play an exceptionally important game, but in Mexico City instead of Oakland, where they should be playing all their important games for the next several decades.
“Playing Beijing, Wembley, Mexico City – that’s fine,” Dolich said of the NFL’s globalization plan. “It’s like a concert; you can pick a lot of venues. But where’s your home, especially in this case, where your team this year is one of the best stories in the NFL? For all of those Gertrude Steins who say there’s no there there – hell yeah there is, and it’s right here at 66th Avenue.”