Mark Davis is probably having a little more fun than Raiders fans these days, because even though their team started out the season 0-8 with 0-16 coming at them fast, at least Davis has a diversion. Davis took another trip to London a few weeks ago, he meets with LA boosters trying the lure the team back down near where he lives, he’s in the Bay Area for home games, and he met today with Henry Cisneros and his team from the Alamo city. Naturally, it’s all a matter of exchanging expensive lunch checks, so Davis is having a grand time while everyone else tries to get inside his head.
Prior to today’s meeting, a unnamed Raiders source indicated that the Alamodome, the last on-spec stadium in America, was considered “NFL-ready.” Clearly that means ready as an interim venue while a new one is built, which is sad considering that the Dome is barely 20 years old. Then again, the Georgia Dome is of similar vintage and that venue is considered outdated by the Falcons, so maybe it’s not that surprising after all.
The Alamodome was borne of a strategic mistake. The Spurs’ old home, the HemisFair Arena, had already been expanded once since its ABA days (by literally raising the roof). The time had come for a brand new arena. Instead of a purpose-built basketball venue, Cisneros led the charge to build a new domed stadium, which could have attracted an NFL team at some point. In the meantime, San Antonio became home to a new CFL expansion franchise during that league’s ill-fated venture in ‘Murica. When the CFL’s stateside project went bust the Alamodome was left without a tenant. A half-house configuration housed the Spurs in a manner that made a 20,000-strong crowd look sparse. The Pistons also did this at the Silverdome until they built their own arena. Eventually Spurs owner Peter Holt prevailed upon city fathers to build AT&T Center on the east side of town, leaving the Alamodome with only one tenant, a minor league football team. A few years ago, the University of Texas-San Antonio started up a new football program, so they moved in to the Dome. The only other permanent tenants is the Alamo Bowl.
Debates about the NFL-worthiness of the San Antonio market generally go nowhere. Yes, it would be one of the smallest markets in the NFL if the Raiders moved there. True, it lacks corporate strength. San Antonio is the eighth-largest city in the nation, but as a fast-growing new city it lacks the distinction of its biggest Texas rivals, let alone other major markets. Their one pro franchise, the Spurs, are the NBA’s shining example of how to run a team on a limited budget. In the market’s favor, it does know how to put on NCAA events with aplomb, and the Alamodome is perhaps the best temporary venue in the country. Good enough to be a real NFL market? Maybe, maybe not. Good enough to be a stalking horse? Definitely.
All Davis said after the meeting was:
Henry Cisneros said their job was to present San Antonio’s assets in strongest light and they did that.
In the normal stadium extortion game, this is when the home city, Oakland, would start throwing public funds at Davis. Since Oakland is in no position to do that, Davis has to try a different tack. Davis’s actions make sense when you understand that he’s trying to play three markets off each other to get the best deal possible – one that allows him to divest as little of the team and his own resources as he can stomach.
What can Oakland provide, given the weird state Coliseum City is in? The only thing nearly as precious as money… time. When Davis talked publicly about demolishing the Coliseum ASAP, he wasn’t joking. He’d like to get the Raiders into a new stadium ASAP. The easiest and quickest way is not to build a stadium alongside the existing Coliseum, but rather to demolish the old one and build on top of the old footprint. Doing so would eliminate the need to reroute power transmission lines and other utilities. More important, no EIR would be needed. When it comes to the rest of the project whether a new venue such as a ballpark or ancillary development, those phases would need an EIR. Fred Kephart is projecting a 2019 opening for a Coliseum City stadium. Davis surely wants a stadium by 2018 or even 2017 if it can be managed. That can’t happen with Coliseum City’s current projected timeline. It’s unclear if an LA stadium can be delivered by 2019. San Antonio? Texas builds stadia faster than California, that’s certain.
What about the A’s new lease, you ask? Aren’t they locked in until 2018? Nope. There’s language that accommodates the possibility of the Raiders pushing the A’s out of the Coliseum.
7.2.2. By Licensor. Licensee acknowledges that a plan may develop for construction of a new football stadium for the Oakland Raiders. Licensor shall keep Licensee reasonably informed of any information related thereto. If Licensor presents Licensee with a Raiders Construction Plan, Licensor and Licensee shall, for a period of thirty (30) days thereafter, negotiate in good faith for an amendment to this License that will account for the financial, operational and other consequences that Licensee would suffer from the construction and operation of such planned football stadium. Such negotiations shall not be necessary if the Raiders Construction Plan includes substantial demolition of the Stadium. If such good faith negotiations are unsuccessful or unnecessary, Licensor may terminate this License upon written notice of intent to terminate to Licensee, such termination to take effect sixty (60) days after the conclusion of the second (2d) Baseball Season that commences after such notice.
44.32. “Raiders Construction Plan” means a bona fide plan for construction of a new football stadium for the Oakland Raiders on current Complex property, adjacent to the current Complex property, or otherwise located sufficiently near to the Stadium such that it will materially impact Licensee’s operations, which bona fide plan must include, as pertains to such stadium project, a fully executed development agreement with a third-party developer and the Licensor for development of a new Raiders stadium, supported by a non-refundable deposit from the developer and received by the Licensor of at least Ten Million Dollars ($10,000,000.00).
The A’s are bound to at least 2018 if they choose to leave. Oakland and the JPA are not. Davis’s currency are his 51% stake in the team and the ability to dictate terms. If he can get a year ahead of projected opening dates, he could end up +$50 million in revenue just for that one year compared to staying at the Coliseum. The city that can deliver the earliest start date will definitely influence his thinking to some degree. No one in the media is talking about time, yet it’s every bit as important as site or financing model, at least in the near term.
P.S. – Davis is also playing a game among the NFL owners. Cowboys owner is on the NFL stadium committee, while Texans owner Bob McNair is on the league’s finance committee. Both owners and their respective committees will have a lot to say about potential relocations before any deals are signed. Davis could be sending a message to the Texas owners to play ball with him, or else face a San Antonio threat. It sounds like a terrible hand to play, but Davis doesn’t have much else with football’s Lodge. If he can influence them and other owners that the Raiders should be first banana in LA (despite various misgivings) it’s a hand well-played. Davis doesn’t have much to lose, plus he could help his friend Cisneros prove San Antonio’s viability. If you’re Cisneros, you don’t opportunities like this all the time, so you might as well give it a shot.