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Davis says Raiders’ entertainment vision inspired by Lakers’ Showtime

CANTON, OHIO — Mark Davis is in his domain, celebrating his dear friend Cliff Branch’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The event — held Aug. 6 at The Quarry Golf Club, the grandest event venue in Canton — is ostentatious even by Raiders standards.

An illuminated “Branch 21” sign has been set up near the 18th green. The team’s three Super Bowl trophies and Branch’s Hall of Fame bust are at the entrance. Even the shrimp station is a shrine to Branch. The sugar cookies bear the Raiders’ logo.

Davis has saved the best for last. The Raiders owner has hired Diana Ross to perform a 40-minute set. The industry rate for Ross to play such a show exceeds $1 million. It’s worth every penny to Davis, who joined Branch many times to see Ross perform. Davis has also picked up the full travel tab for all 19 members of David Perrico and the Raiders House Band just to play this party.

Entertainment matters to Davis. His Raiders entertainment roster at Allegiant Stadium has featured such stars as Carlos Santana, Neal Schon of Journey, Gladys Knight, Marie Osmond, Ice Cube, Ludacris, Steve Aoki, Too $hort, Sammy Hagar, Marshmello, Yolanda Adams, Vanessa Hudgens, Tinashe, Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons of Run D.M.C., Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge and even the Grambling State University Marching Band. Criss Angel has escaped from a straitjacket while hanging upside down 100 feet above the field. Wayne Newton has sung the national anthem with the Las Vegas Academy Singers.

And as owner of the Las Vegas Aces, Davis has signed off for performances by Blue Man Group, Jabbawockeez and many Cirque artists.

It’s beecome pro sports’ greatest variety show. We chatted with Davis during the Branch party about how, and why, he makes it happen:

Johnny Kats: What was the first music you owned?

Mark Davis: It was “Meet the Beatles.” It’s interesting, it came out right when (Muhammad) Ali was fighting (Sonny) Liston. My parents went to watch that fight on closed-circuit TV, and they gave me the “Meet the Beatles” album and I played it.

This would have been the first fight, Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston?

Right … two major events about the same time.

You liked the album?

I loved it. I got into rock ’n’ roll. From there, I got a few more albums. I got “The Doors,” as a gift, really cool. Another one was “Creedence Clearwater Revival.” Stu Cook, the bass player, his father was the Raiders’ attorney, Herman Cook. So, he gave me an autographed copy of the first Creedence Clearwater album.

You still have the album?

Yeah! But it is in storage.

You’ve kind of modeled the Raiders’ house band after the Del Courtney Band from the old Oakland Raiders days. Did you see them play?

Yeah, very early on, at Frank Youell Field in Oakland. I was 8 or 9 years old.

Were you excited about them?

Not so much. I mean, I wasn’t excited too much about the music. But they were there. They were part of the whole experience. They had a corner of the stadium, or they were on the field. And you know, Del would be up there and he was the bandleader. I liked seeing him there. Del was very well known for years in the Bay Area. His wife was Connie Haines, a famous singer who was with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

One thing I’ve picked up since the team’s move to Las Vegas: There is a lot of your personality and tastes in what the Raiders present. How did that come about?

Entertainment has always been a part of me, growing up the Bay Area, the music scene, going to all the shows. But I think where I really learned how to match the team and entertainment was when we moved to L.A. in ’82, and Jerry Buss was just starting Showtime with the Lakers. Those games at the Forum had a lot of personalities, with Jack Nicholson sitting courtside, and he’d bring people like Dyan Cannon. So, I learned how going to the game could be an experience, and it wasn’t just about watching the game. L.A. had all the Hollywood stars. In Las Vegas, we can offer so much entertainment that is different from anywhere else in the league.

Was your dad as interested in the entertainment culture as you are?

I don’t believe so. But he loved music as well. It was like Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan. He would have them come in and sing the national anthem. We had some phenomenal singers for the anthem in those days. He loved those guys.

Who is on your wish list for performing at Allegiant Stadium this season?

I don’t really have a wish list, exactly. I work very closely with (Raiders vice president of media and entertainment) Brad Phinney. He is running that now, and he comes to me with a lot of ideas. He’s doing a phenomenal job. We’ve gotten to know each other really well, as far as what we’re both thinking.

You’re happy with the Perrico band?

The Raiders and that band is a winning combination. I’m just so thrilled that we have a house band that can back people, so they don’t have to bring their whole band to the stadium if they don’t want to. But it’s really the Raiders’ house band, and it’s really something special to me. We’re in the sports and entertainment capital of the world, so it’s important that we have that.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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