PHOENIX — So the Oakland Raiders are prepared to pack up their silver-and-black bags, back up the diesel transporters and truck to Las Vegas. The billion-dollar NFL question is: when?
No one knows for certain — not even owner Mark Davis.
By a landslide 31-1 vote, NFL owners Monday approved the franchise’s second departure from the Bay Area, this time to the growing Las Vegas metropolitan area. The Miami Dolphins were the lone dissenting vote.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and some owners said that the league wanted to remain in the nation’s sixth-largest TV market but that no viable stadium-building solution could be worked out in Oakland between Alameda County officials and the Raiders.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to do that, and the plan that the Raiders now have to play in Nevada and Las Vegas is a very sound plan and one that we’ve looked at very carefully, and it meets all of our standards and financial conditions,’’ said Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, chairman of the league’s powerful finance committee.
The vote ended a whirlwind 14-month courtship by business, county and state leaders. In a major coup for Las Vegas, the Raiders will join the NHL’s expansion Golden Knights as the city’s second major league sports franchise.
Goodell said at a news conference that the plan was for the Raiders to play in Oakland until the 65,000-seat domed stadium is built. But already there is a move afoot among Alameda County politicians to break a pair of one-year lease agreements with the team and immediately force them from the city.
In all likelihood, the Raiders will play at least one preseason game at Sam Boyd Stadium in 2018 as the franchise waits for the $1.9 billion stadium to be completed in time for the 2020 season.
Goodell said the league “worked as tirelessly and as hard as we could to try to find a solution and we just couldn’t get it done.’’
The site of the new stadium has not been finalized, although the leading location is an empty lot on the west side of Interstate 15, between Russell Road and Hacienda Avenue, across from Mandalay Bay.
“Our football dreams have come true,” said Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak.
Davis, the Raiders’ managing general partner, seemed a bit subdued when the announcement was made. One major reason is that he must still convince Raiders loyalists in Oakland to plunk down money for season tickets and stadium suites for an undetermined amount of years and games.
“My father always said the greatness of the Raiders is in its future, and the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is a significant step toward achieving that greatness,” Davis said.
As for “any of the fans that have given deposits for (2017 season tickets) and would like to refund them, we’d be happy to do that,’’ Davis said. “Well, not happy, but you know how that goes. But, yes, absolutely.’’
The 61-year-old owner, the least wealthy of his NFL ownership brethren, tried to minimize the psychological damage to Oakland, which has lost the Raiders twice. Forbes ranks the Raiders as the second-least-valuable NFL franchise at $1.43 billion.
The eighth franchise to join the now-defunct American Football League in 1960, the Raiders initially played in San Francisco at old Kezar Stadium. They also played at Candlestick Park before moving to Oakland in 1962. Twenty years later, the Raiders packed up the moving trucks and headed down the coast to Los Angeles, where they played 13 seasons before moving back to Oakland.
“The Raiders were born in Oakland, and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff,’’ Davis said. “We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”
The owners’ vote Monday climaxed more than a year of sometimes difficult negotiations that two months ago led Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson to withdraw his family’s $650 million pledge to help construct the stadium. But three weeks ago, during the league’s stadium and finance committee meetings in Florida, Bank of America filled the financial void by offering to loan the necessary funds.
Some owners were skeptical about swapping the nation’s No. 6 TV market in the Bay Area for No. 40 in Las Vegas. A major public endorsement by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last autumn was an early sign that Davis and Raiders executives, chiefly team President Marc Badain, might be able to sway any undecided owners.
Jones, who sits tall in the saddle as perhaps the NFL’s most influential power broker, worked overtime to convince fellow owners of the economic viability of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, a growing metro area with a global profile.
In the end, the only owner he wasn’t able to convince was the Dolphins’ Stephen Ross.
“My position today was that we as owners and as a league owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted,” he said in a statement. “I want to wish Mark Davis and the Raiders organization the best in Las Vegas.”
Legal sports wagering was cited in the past as the reason the NFL never would put a team in Las Vegas, but that argument turned out to be a mirage.
In the hour leading up to the vote, Sisolak phoned reporters and finalized his prepared statement on the relocation from inside his sixth-floor office in the Clark County Government Center. The room’s TV was turned to ESPN, and a black-and-silver Raider’s cap was on his desk.
The text confirming the move came from Badain at 11:05 a.m. Sisolak’s phone rang less than a minute after.
“Las Vegas Raiders,” he answered.
A flood of more phone calls came next.
“It’s a great day for Las Vegas and Clark County,” Sisolak said.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.
Jon Mark Saraceno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @jonnysaraceno on Twitter.