At this week’s NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando, Mark Davis acknowledged the elephant in the middle of the Coliseum complex. From the Merc’s Tim Kawakami:
-Q: If Wolff’s saying he needs a 10-year lease…
-DAVIS: That would make it tough for us to build a new stadium on that site.
Last fall, Davis admitted that he’d rather build a new stadium on the Coliseum’s existing footprint, which would evict the A’s while changing the character of Coliseum City. In yesterday’s interview, Davis again expressed frustration at the pace of Coliseum City planning, throwing some shade Mayor Jean Quan’s way in the process.
It’s no secret that the Raiders and A’s would prefer that they not share facilities. By now it’s becoming clear that the two would rather not share the Coliseum complex, let alone a stadium. Financing issues and competing concepts aside, it’s simply less complicated. Davis would love for Oakland to commit to the Raiders, accelerate the development with BayIG, and figure out just how much money can be squeezed out of the plan. In the middle of an election season, Quan and her competitors won’t commit to anything, lest they appear to favor one team over another. So Quan keeps talking about signing the Raiders sometime in the near future, all the while deadlines continue to slip for the project.
Meanwhile, Lew Wolff has said that the best place in Oakland for something to be built is the Coliseum, though he hasn’t endorsed Coliseum City. Chances are that he’d be fine with the Davis taking the Raiders south, which would force Oakland and the JPA to deal with Wolff only to salvage one team at the complex.
Davis’s audience isn’t the media, Raiders fans, Oakland civic backers, or even taxpayers. His audience is his fellow owners and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The keys to the kingdom of LA are in Goodell’s hands, with the owners acting as his Greek chorus. Goodell can unlock access to banks and potential minority partners who have stadium futures to trade. All Davis has to do is show due diligence for at least one year.
So far he has. Davis has repeatedly dismissed the idea of tenancy at Levi’s Stadium, comparing it to the Jets playing in the Meadowlands. He has claimed that he wants the stadium in Oakland, while exploring other corners of the East Bay. Goodell may have nudged him to move to Santa Clara, but the whispers have fallen on deaf ears. It’s either Oakland or Los Angeles for the Raiders. If Coliseum City continues to move like molasses, or the Oakland pols are frozen out of electoral fear, Davis can go to Goodell and say, See, I tried, these people are incompetent.
The funny thing is that the urgency that Davis wants out of the various CC partners may not materialize unless he formally presents a stalking horse in the guise of LA. Talk all you want about not having political support from LA City Hall, or the legacy of attendance issues that plagued the Raiders. If the Raiders moving becomes a distinct possibility, multiple groups will coalesce in the Southland, all competing with each other for the rights to land the Raiders or Rams. The biggest obstacle in LA is the numerous egos all trying to get a piece of the action. Davis knows he’d be the belle at the ball when the time came to debut in LA. If LA becomes a legitimate threat, Oakland will be forced to (re)act. That’s the classic stadium playbook. We’re not far from that page.
The league has its own leverage play too. What Goodell doesn’t want is for the Raiders to have LA all to themselves. He’d rather have the Rams or Chargers there as well, sharing a stadium or not, providing competition for each other. He has a lot more control over franchise relocation than either of his predecessors (Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue) did because of the league’s control over a large stadium funding mechanism, the G-4 program.
Oakland thinks it has leverage because the NFL has been loathe to acquiesce to Raiders ownership’s desires. That leverage could evaporate quickly with a simple nod from Goodell. And if Goodell agrees with Davis that Oakland isn’t moving fast enough, Goodell could turn up the heat on Oakland by making the LA stalking horse appear. That’s the playbook. Quan appears to be taking everything rather cavalierly, offering up a rather incomplete statement about what Oakland has to do for MLB to keep the A’s:
You saw that the (Port of Oakland) Port Commission, now that they have eliminated all the maritime uses from Howard Terminal, has begun to take up the proposal from the Ballpark Waterfront Group, which is made up of some of the top CEOs in the city, and they are asking for a one-year exclusive negotiating agreement, to develop a plan to build a ballpark at Howard Terminal, which, for most fans, is their priority. So that completes my promise to Major League Baseball, when I first became mayor, that we could provide two good sites that have site control, and when they finish negotiating their deal, I think Major League Baseball will have to make a decision.
MLB will have to make a decision? On what? Two sites that have uncertain funding scenarios and unknown cost outlays? MLB is used to taking cities for a ride. They’re not going to commit to anything until they see Oakland doing something truly significant. That may mean saying Adios! to the Raiders at the Coliseum, or pulling out the stops to get Howard Terminal ready for a ballpark. Presenting two sites that haven’t been studied? That’s as if Quan stepped to the starting line at the Oakland Running Festival over the weekend, and when the race started she declared herself victorious.
Consider that Sacramento didn’t truly get moving on its arena campaign until Seattle became a serious threat. Even late in the arena effort, the team was practically sold and delivered to the Emerald City. David Stern allowed that to happen. Mayor Kevin Johnson used a ton of political capital and connections to work out the arena deal, securing a quarter of a billion in public funds for the effort.
Why do teams and leagues use the playbook? Because it works. There’s nothing complicated about that.