Thursday, October 2, 2008

The City of Oakland & The Raiders make strange bedfellows

Raiders and Alameda County kiss and make up
Oakland Tribune, Dec 5, 2006 by Paul T. Rosynsky

The decade-long legal war between the Oakland Raiders and its government landlord came to a peaceful end this week as the team decided not to pursue further appeals.

"This ends all the litigation between the Raiders and its landlord," said Raiders General Counsel Jeff Birren. "We are committed to taking all of our energy and channeling it towards improving the game day experience."

The team's decision comes almost three weeks after it was sacked by the state appellate court which overturned a 2003 jury verdict awarding the organization $34 million.

In deciding not to seek further legal remedies, the Raiders forfeited their right to seek an opinion from the state Supreme Court and any chance of winning back the jury's original verdict.

Team officials said they choose the path of cooperation, in part, because of the good working relationship that has developed between them and the Authority.

That relationship began last October when the team and the Authority agreed to kill the woeful Personal Seat License concept and hand control of ticket sales to the Raiders for the first time since the team returned.

As a result, the Raiders have sold out their first five home games this year, well above the three sellouts a year the organization has averaged since 1995. The team also increased its season ticket base by 30 percent despite a two-win season.

"The business relationship that has existed since October... has enabled us to work with the (Authority) on matters effecting the facility and our fans," Raiders Chief Executive Officer Amy Trask said. "We are thrilled to be working directly with our fans."

The agreement to end all legal challenges also improves chances the team and the Authority will develop a plan for a long-term lease extension at McAfee Coliseum.

City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, a member of the Authority since the team returned, said the Raiders decision is just another sign of progress in the relationship.

"We can now put everything behind us," De La Fuente said. "I have been involved with this from the beginning and I am just really happy now."

The legal war began almost before the team jogged onto the grass at renovated Oakland Coliseum.

No sooner did Al Davis sign a 10-year-lease agreement did information become public the Authority had failed to sellout the stadium for all Raiders home games.

Davis had claimed he was told it was sold out and after the Authority sued the Raiders in fear the team would try to break the lease, the Raiders counter sued saying they were victims of fraud.

Had the team known the stadium was not sold out, Davis has said in the past that he would have never returned.

The team sued for $1.1 billion claiming lost business and opportunity.

After listening to testimony for five-months, a Sacramento jury partially agreed with the Raiders stance. It awarded the team $34 million, a figure the jury calculated based on how many empty seats were at the Coliseum during Raiders games.

But last month, the 3rd Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal overturned the jury verdict saying the team had given up its right to sue for fraud because it signed another agreement in 1996.

That agreement not only reaffirmed the original agreement but it also gave the Raiders new benefits.

Under California law, a person or organization cannot sue for fraud if they changed the terms of the original agreement for their benefit, the appellate court ruled.

Regardless of the ruling, both the Raiders and the Authority now say they are ready to start a new, friendly chapter in the relationship.

"What we need to do now is plan for the bigger picture," said Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele, the authority chairperson. "It took us a long time to be working all together. For 10 years we were fighting."

Both Steele and De La Fuente said they will turn there attention towards securing a long-term lease extension with the Raiders.

The Raiders had asked for an extension last year but were denied as the authority choose to see what would happen with the Oakland Athletics.

Now that the Athletics have signaled their desire to move to Fremont, the chances for a Raiders lease extension is more plausible, De La Fuente and Steele said.

Trask and Birren said the team will listen to proposals.

"Certainly, we are willing to listen and to engage in discussion with the (Authority) about any matters concerning the facility," Trask said. "The (Authority) recognizes the facility is 40 years old and must be modernized for all of its tenants."

Added Birren, "We will take a cautious wait and see approach."

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