Thursday, March 30, 2017

Raiders to Las Vegas: End to a Zero-Sum Game for Athletics Fans

The Raiders are, in a few years and barring some sort of "Holy Roller" moment, off to Las Vegas.

Given what I have said in the past -- mainly that the real prize at stake and the fulcrum point on which either the Athletics or the Raiders would stay, is the having sole rights to the Coliseum area and mixed-use development around it -- you would be forgiven to think that I am "happy" about this news. I am not.

The reality is that the A's-Raiders dynamic has been complex. If the Raiders were to have successfully booted the A's from the Coliseum as they long-desired, the A's could possibly have had leverage in their previous, and ultimately quixotic, quest to head to San Jose. Instead, the short term gain of both teams recently signing lease extensions meant the stadium issue was left to fester longer, giving Mark Davis wandering eyes.

And, the desire to evict the A's from the Raiders perspective never waned -- remaining a key issue up until the NFL owner's vote:

Goodell had pressed Schaaf to evict the Oakland A’s of M.L.B. — the football and baseball stadiums would have been neighbors under the proposed arrangement — and declare her loyalty to the financial well-being of the Raiders. 

She saw no reason to sever a relationship with a baseball team that also was entwined with her city’s identity. “Asking us to terminate their lease now,” she wrote to the league this past weekend, “is unnecessary and unreasonable.”

The A's were never in a position, given their public desire to move to San Jose until just a little while ago, to present Oakland and Alameda County with a reverse ultimatum -- boot the Raiders or we bolt. In fact, issuing such a statement could well have led to the city and county agreeing, arguing that at least the NFL has a dedicated stadium fund. The A's only have promises of private money. A bird-in-the-hand (the Raiders) beats a bird-in-the-bush (the A's).

And, while the A's may indeed be serious about scouting alternate locations, I really believe that the Coliseum area has been the end game ever since they were blocked from San Jose and realized that they actually play ball in Oakland. (Their full-throated embrace of the city is almost comical given how far and how long they worked to distance themselves.)

For a second, let's remove the teams and look at this issue dispassionately. From a monetary standpoint, reports indicate that Oakland and Alameda County may actually save money with their football team gone. They also no longer need to rustle up land and fund infrastructure improvements for two massive, privately-financed stadiums where the teams vacuum-up all gate revenue. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

“We’re barely breaking even now,” said Scott McKibben, executive director of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority, a public arm of the city and county that owns and manages the Coliseum and Oracle Arena properties. “Put simply, it’s a bigger loss if they stay and a bigger gain if they go.”

But, life is not dispassionate, and the Raiders leaving after having returned home only in 1995 is crushing to a great fan base. Raider fans are not thugs, despite the public perception of them. I once met "Dr. Death" in Raiders gear, in July, at an A's game. (Talk about dedication.) I spoke with him about the fanbase's reputation and he couldn't have been more pleasant to talk with as he detailed wonderful charity work done by fans in the community. Folks like Dr. Death deserved better.

The A's-Raiders stadium situation has been a zero-sum game. It can be debated, but I firmly believe that one team was going to leave in the end. When presented with this rubric, am I "happy" the Raiders are poised to decamp? No. But, as a baseball fan I preferred that the A's stayed.

What happened to Raiders fans was unfair and heartless. It was big money chasing bigger money. For fans of any professional sports team, the love of our teams is always tempered in the back of our minds by the knowledge that we are pawns -- ready to be wiped off the board and replaced if our cities and states don't provide the most-enticing buffet of benefits.

Just look at the collateral damage to Clark County, home of Las Vegas, as taxes were raised to erect the Raiders palace in the desert:

Even as politicians increased taxes for stadiums, Clark County school officials voted last spring to increase public class sizes and to close a school for at-risk students. There was simply no money. “This is the last thing we ever want to do,” Linda Young, president of the school board, said at that time.

But, the team isn't leaving Oakland and Alameda County without a parting gift, as Matier and Ross detail:

It turns out the oft-quoted $200 million taxpayer-backed bond that brought the Raiders back to the East Bay in 1995 (the Coliseum facelift) is going to end up costing $350 million.

We all want our teams' players to win, but cities, counties and states and fans are frequently the one's who lose. As much as we wish it wasn't, sports -- at the end of the day -- is just another business.

1 comment:

  1. You really can't beat the food at this place; they have the best vegetarian meals and the most adorable dishes for the kids. The service at venues in San Francisco also was impeccable. The salad I had for dinner was delicious as well as the scallop appetizer. The main course of filet mignon and dessert soufflé was also awesome!