Wednesday, October 15, 2008

As the NFL moves forward, the Raiders stumble to keep pace

In 1963, Oakland Raiders majority owners Ed McGah and Wayne Valley tried to sell Al Davis on becoming head coach of the Oakland Raiders.

Believe it or not, Al was not stoked on the idea at first.

Al still had his heart set on making it in the NFL. The AFL was no sure thing but gave him a foothold in the professional coaching ranks. The Raiders ownership group and their methods of team organization were unimpressive to Al.

What really bothered Al was that Oakland did not even have a decent field to play on let alone a stadium. One of his major conditions for taking the job was that a world class football stadium be built.

He got the concession. It didn't hurt that McGah and Valley were real estate magnates. Eventually, after a few years of hiccups, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was born in 1966.

It's not a bad stadium but it is no longer state of the art. Despite millions of tax dollars building so-called luxury suites and incorporating amenities in recent years, the Coliseum just can't compete and never will be able to compete with other NFL stadiums in terms of modernization.

In today's market, you also need corporate naming rights to add significant value to the franchise.

In the latest Forbes valuations of NFL franchises the Oakland Raiders are valued next to last (31), right behind fellow Bay Area stumble bums, San Francisco 49ers.

In this day and age of corporate branding, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is now at a disadvantage. McAfee (who acquired former rights holder Network Associates) has decided not to renew their stadium naming rights agreement, which they paid the Oakland Coliseum Authority 12 million for.

The reality is finding a corporate sponsor willing to lay down double digit millions to be affiliated with the Coliseum is a serious long shot.

The additional reality is most corporations would not want to be affiliated with a Raiders-only facility. The Oakland Coliseum's other major tenant, the Oakland A's, have already committed to re-locating within the San Francisco Bay Area to an as yet to be built stadium sometime in the next decade.

This type of deal must have been a slap in the face to Al Davis and the entire Raiders organization. A brand new, state of the art facility is exactly the crown jewel that has long eluded Al.

He'll never get it either. The nutshell version of this tale is the Raiders are stuck with Oakland Coliseum as much as the city of Oakland is stuck with the Raiders. It is in a irreparable political quandary. Plus, how can anyone expect to do business with Al Davis? You'd need $100 million for lawyers. It's a bad investment the politicians of Oakland have been paying for mightily for years now. When they agreed to bring the Raiders back to Oakland they agreed to stay in bed with Al Davis for the sake of having the Raiders stay in Oakland. This has cost the tax payers of Alameda County millions of dollars as a result.

The most damning is the Raiders have the perception of attracting troublesome fans. On one hand, the Raiders experience can be family friendly but on the other hand, we're always hearing about fights and problems on game days. Not that every NFL stadium doesn't have troublemakers but with the Raiders, sometimes that perception proves to be too true. It just provides more reason not to do business with Al and his renegade stature. NFL= family friendly, Al Davis=unfriendly fartbag.

There's just no easy to way to explain the morass of why the city of Oakland is still affiliated with the Raiders franchise since 1966. It's just too complicated a tale but what is of interest is speculation the franchise will move once again, when their lease with the Oakland Coliseum expires in 2013 (recently extended from 2010).

"The Raiders' more passionate fan base makes them more likely to stay," the Forbes writeup tells us.

It is more likely the reason the Raiders will stay is because they have nowhere else to go. My speculative guess is the franchise has been unable to make any substantial progress with a re-location plan or a new stadium plan of any merit.

Amy Trask, Raiders CEO, commented that a possible solution is to build up the surrounding area with commerce. It' s not a bad idea. A few restaurants, ice cream shops, that sort of thing can only help. There's no eats around the Coliseum now at all that is really accessible or inspires confidence with most fans to stray from the concourse. It would be a tough sell though because it is questionable the area around the Coliseum would really attract potential revelers (unless it's tailgating).

So what about a scenario that has the Raiders re-locating? It's a hassle moving, not to be taken lightly. Another reason why they probably won't ever leave. Going back to Southern California is probably not going to work. Las Vegas and San Antonio have been ruled out. Who is going to pay for a new stadium in Oakland with surrounding commerce?

I'm sure there are land developers out there though it would not be easy of course to make such a deal. A main problem is Oakland is one of the top murder capitals in the U.S. It's a full fledged ghetto and unstable in many ways.

During and after World War II Oakland grew real fast and had a solid working class economy so that is why the AFL wanted a franchise there in 1960. The economics are not the same in 2008.

The good news is there is plenty of Raiders fans elsewhere in northern California so people should not look at the possible moving of the Raiders as a bad deal. They would probably sell out a 50,000 stadium if they moved to Sacramento (where a stadium would need to be built). Maybe not 70,000 which seems to be the desired size of new stadiums these days. I would say they would also fare well if a stadium were to be built somewhere in the Central Valley.

Sources:

East Bay Express
Matier & Ross

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