The National Football League’s bid to return to Los Angeles has turned into an all-out blitz, and officials in Oakland, California, are feeling the pressure. As the Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams jockey for the right to relocate to the City of Angels, an NFL executive’s dire appraisal Tuesday made it clear Oakland is in real danger of losing its pro football team.
Unlike city officials in San Diego and St. Louis, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said Oakland hasn't come close to what the league considers a “viable” proposal for a publicly funded stadium. Raiders owner Mark Davis has vowed to pursue a popular privately funded stadium project in Carson, California, if Oakland officials fail to cough up $400 million in public funding toward a new stadium. NFL franchises have used the specter of relocation to extract taxpayer money for years, but Grubman’s comments at the owners’ meeting in Chicago suggest the threat is closer than ever to becoming a reality.
“It probably has a little more teeth than usual, and it’s clear that Oakland is the one without a deal on the table,” said Victor Matheson, a sports economist and professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Whether the deals in St. Louis and San Diego are rich enough to keep those teams at home rather than moving to LA, that’s still to be determined, but Oakland is the only one of the three potential moving teams that hasn’t countered with a serious offer of public funds to stay at home.”
The NFL’s 32 owners gathered in Illinois this week to hear updates on a potential Los Angeles relocation, as well as formal pitches for proposed stadium projects in the area. St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, known as a man of few words, delivered a charismatic proposal for a $1.86 billion, 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, California. Separately, Chargers and Raiders executives presented their plan for a $1.7 billion two-team stadium in Carson. Both presentations were reportedly well received by both NFL owners and league executives, including Commissioner Roger Goodell.
While Goodell is unwilling to place a timeline on the NFL’s possible return to Los Angeles, league executives have already discussed bedrock issues, including a franchise relocation fee, refundable seat deposits and the use of temporary facilities to house a team until their new stadium is complete. And the NFL will consider moving up the window in which teams can apply for relocation, which currently runs from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15.
Earlier this week, the owners met with officials from the city of San Diego, who updated the league on the latest developments in their bid to build a new stadium for the Chargers in their current market. The city and county of St. Louis teamed with Missouri state officials to present their plan for a publicly funded riverfront stadium in May. Both cities have made “progress” in their efforts to keep their franchises, Grubman said.
The same cannot be said of Oakland, whose discussions with the Raiders and the league office have not progressed to actual negotiations for a new stadium. The two sides are so far apart that Oakland city officials weren’t invited to the owners’ meeting in Chicago, and they are unlikely to be invited to the NFL’s next Los Angeles meeting in October, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“The Oakland Raiders have great fans in Oakland city and the county of Oakland and a lot broader territory, but the facts on the ground are that there’s been no viable proposal that’s been made to the Raiders. … There is no proposal for the Raiders to consider,” Grubman said.
Davis, the Raiders owner, has said publicly that his preference is for the franchise to remain in Oakland. At the same time, franchise officials no longer want the Raiders to play in the Oakland Coliseum, and they have expressed skepticism about the city of Oakland’s ability to present a solution. “I don’t know. I don’t know,” Davis said Tuesday when asked if the Raiders would stay in Oakland, according to USA Today.
The city of Oakland’s unwillingness to contribute hundreds of millions in public money is the chief roadblock. Mayor Libby Schaaf wants the Raiders to stay in Oakland, but she vowed last May not to use taxpayer money to build a new stadium, the Los Angeles Times reported. The city is still paying off debt related to the Oakland Coliseum, and studies have shown publicly funded stadiums rarely provide a discernible economic benefit to their local communities. “We don’t have $400 million lying around,” Schaaf said at the time.
In a bid to find middle ground, Schaaf tapped Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio to serve as point person for ongoing discussions with team and league officials. The city also tasked Floyd Kephart and New City Development LLC, his real estate firm, with putting together plans for a revitalized “Coliseum City” residential and commercial complex, with a new Raiders stadium as its centerpiece.
Mark Davis offers a firm “I don’t know” when asked if there’s a chance the Raiders will stay in Oakland http://t.co/MLWGF13nxL
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 12, 2015
City officials were ridiculed last June when Kephart’s confidential plan to finance a new Raiders stadium without public funding leaked to the public. Critics decried the plan -- which called on Raiders’ ownership to sell a 20 percent stake in the franchise to help pay for the stadium -- as a nonstarter. Marc Ganis, a noted stadium finance expert, told the Bay Area News Group that the plan was “the worst stadium proposal I’ve seen.”
For months, Oakland’s detractors have pointed to the document as proof of the city’s unwillingness to present a viable plan. But Kephart says it was a response to the city’s request for a plan that would not use public money, and that it was never considered a practical solution.
“We have never believed that a proposal without public money would fly,” Kephart told International Business Times. “We’ve given the city a detailed recommendation of a proposal that I hope they will submit, at least to open negotiations and to show the NFL that they’re moving forward. Because, truthfully, they are moving forward.”
Oakland’s bid to keep the Raiders may have made progress behind the scenes, but the city’s “discussions” with the franchise haven’t evolved into full-fledged negotiations. Cappio told the San Francisco Business Times that she expected to unveil a proposal by September.
“We are continuing our discussions with the Raiders,” Cappio said in a statement to IBTimes. “On July 29th, I met with officials from the NFL and the Raiders, and representatives from Alameda County, which is co-owner of the land and the existing sports facilities. Since that time, the City of Oakland has been gathering the additional information and analysis that was requested by the team and the NFL. This is part of our ongoing effort to keep the Raiders in Oakland. ”
One aspect of the Carson stadium proposal works in Oakland’s favor. The Chargers and Raiders’ plan calls for joint pursuit of construction and the resulting costs, so a withdrawal by either franchise would cause the deal to fall apart. San Diego city officials have promised public money toward a new stadium if the Chargers agree to stay put.
But the NFL’s threats to relocate will only become more urgent -- and more genuine -- in the days ahead.
“I do think that time frame is running out,” Kephart said. “I just don’t think this can extend past the October NFL meeting.”