One of the more compelling stories about the NFL over the past year — and one the league loathed for its meticulous detail — came from ESPN The Magazine entitled “The Wow Factor: The real story behind NFL owners’ battle to bring football back to Los Angeles.”
It described an intense power struggle among 32 owners, many split between an old way of doing business and a current group defined by immense levels of wealth and influence.
In the end, when relocation votes were cast, new money won out, and a stadium project to house the Rams (and now the Chargers) in Inglewood was chosen over an option for San Diego and the Raiders in Carson.
Things shouldn’t prove so messy when owners soon decide on Oakland’s desire to make Las Vegas home — we’re talking about one team and not three this time. But if the L.A. saga proved anything, it’s that there are few if any side deals some owners won’t make to get their way.
“I think this is already done and the Raiders are moving,” said Ray Ratto, columnist for CSN Bay Area, who has covered the team’s relocation hopes for years. “It has reached the point where (Raiders owner Mark Davis) has acceded to all of their demands, and I believe there is some weariness among owners that they don’t want this to be a problem in perpetuity. Most have to be saying, ‘How many times are we going to have (the Raiders and relocation) on the agenda?”
Many believe such news could come when owners meet in Arizona March 26-29, and given the Raiders now have secured financing through Bank of America for the $1.9 billion project and a lease agreement has advanced to attorneys for the team and Las Vegas Stadium Authority Board to negotiate and settle, the next obvious question becomes this: What would cause an owner to be against the move?
Which ones of the 32 could be, at this point, hard no votes?
The Raiders need 24 in favor to be approved for relocation, and one thing in Davis’ favor is that the NFL no longer is run by its old guard. The most powerful owners love, more than anything else, live money. Las Vegas has it. They also love access to foreign money, defined by those high-rollers spending large chunks of it up and down the Strip.
Influential owners realize that when market size is mentioned as a possible impediment to the deal, TV sets no longer are as great a driving force in a time when things are transitioning into all matters internet.
They understand that by relocating the Raiders to Las Vegas, the NFL isn’t abandoning the nation’s sixth-largest market that is the Bay Area but only the eastern half of it.
Some believe the Steelers might be a no vote given the Rooney family’s long-standing bitterness about having to divest gambling interests years ago, but would those thoughts still hold now that Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson is not part of the Las Vegas deal?
Would an owner such as Bill Bidwill in Arizona vote against the Raiders purely for geographical reasons?
Would an ultraconservative such as Mike Brown in Cincinnati frown on a Las Vegas team?
Would an owner such as Clark Hunt in Kansas City think twice about voting in favor if he believes the financial power within the AFC West would shift from his franchise to one in Southern Nevada, even though Davis would be paying off debt for the foreseeable future?
Would someone such as Jerry Richardson in Carolina, disgusted with how things played out in Los Angeles, vote no based strictly on principle?
Where would John Mara and Martha Ford and Virginia Halas McCaskey of the old-guard Giants and Lions and Bears stand?
It all makes for some definite maybes at this point, possible roadblocks to those such as Jerry Jones in Dallas and Robert Kraft in New England and Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, powerful voices in the pro-Vegas camp.
But, when searching hard at all 32 potential arguments in terms of relocation, discovering nine who could vote against the Las Vegas deal is more difficult than not.
“They can’t use the gambling excuse, because this league already embraced those evils with daily fantasy,” Ratto said. “If the largest gambling center in the world was in Uzbekistan, we’d have the Uzbeky Raiders.
“Las Vegas might be a little town in the desert, but the world comes to it, and the world comes with lots of cash. That’s what owners are interested in. If things like market size and gambling were really issues, it would have never gotten this far.
“They would have told Davis, ‘Mark, don’t even look there. We won’t let it happen.’ But they didn’t. They let him clear the weeds. The truth is, Las Vegas is not going to be a bigger problem for the league than Los Angeles with two teams or Jacksonville.
“(NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell doesn’t possess an original thought. He just advances those of his superiors, the owners. Ten years ago, people who ran the NFL could never have imagined a team in Las Vegas. Now, I think it’s happening. I think it’s done.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.