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Raiders' stadium reduction signals new direction

The SportsXchange

Hell has officially frozen over.

The Oakland Raiders, whose infamous legal battles to move to bigger, better stadiums created free agency for National Football League owners, will downsize the Oakland Coliseum, aka O.co Coliseum.

Most ironic, considering the extraordinary lengths to which longtime owner Al Davis went to seek a better home, the part of the stadium taken off the seating charts will be the soaring edifice known as Mt. Davis.

The move will reduce the number of tickets necessary for a sellout from approximately 63,000 seats to about 55,000 for the Raiders. That makes the Oakland Coliseum the smallest stadium in the NFL in terms of seating.

The stadium reduction would make it easier for the Raiders to sell out games and therefore be televised locally. The team is also lowering tickets prices. A notification was sent Wednesday explaining to those seated in Mt. Davis that they will move to the third deck, where seats are reportedly offered for only $25.

Although the Raiders have sold out all but one game the past two seasons, they needed to offer two-for-one deals and took advantage of a league revision that considered 85 percent capacity as a sellout, allowing games to be televised.

Based on both history and lore -- which are often intermingled by the Raider Nation -- the stadium reduction is a move that never would have been made by Davis, who died Oct. 8, 2011. His son, Mark, who inherited the team, has delegated most major decisions, and the organization has undergone a dramatic transformation.

So, this seat reduction by the new-era Raiders rates in franchise history as a bigger change of direction than the Super Bowl XVII run by Marcus Allen. The Raiders are coming up on the final year of their lease and are struggling to get sellouts and avoid TV blackouts.

Even against that awkward backdrop, history dictates that Al Davis somehow would try to indelicately leverage the circumstance to get a better stadium situation, either in Oakland or elsewhere.

In the 1970s, the Oakland Coliseum was the second smallest in the NFL, with only the indoor Houston Astrodome seating fewer. At that time, the Raiders had more than a decade of sellouts.

But Davis contended that his ability even to negotiate a better situation in Oakland was mitigated by an NFL rule that required approval by fellow owners, 22 of whom declined to give such consent.

Davis proclaimed that such a rule was illegal, a blatant antitrust violation. Armed with the brilliant former San Francisco Mayor and renowned anti-trust lawyer Joe Alioto, Davis, as he put it, "went to war." It was a high stakes, 11-year battle that took a significant toll on Davis, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and the entire league. But Alioto and Davis prevailed.

At the time, Davis was concerned that his Raiders wouldn't be able to compete for talent without a better stadium if the league allowed player free agency, which he thought was inevitable. Turns out he was too far ahead of his time in terms of player free agency, which didn't fully bloom until the 1990s.

What Davis did create was owner free agency. And even those owners who fought bitterly against Davis in his legal plight, such as Cleveland's Art Modell, soon saw the wisdom of his ways and used his hard-fought legal victory as leverage in their own stadium negotiations.

But faced with declining attendance and fewer sellouts, the new-era Raiders are addressing the problem by seeing if they can get positive results by working with their landlord and the city of Oakland.

This gesture is the most recent of several since Davis' death. Last year, the team donated 10 percent of revenue to Oakland public schools on season tickets sold in May and June.

Still, the results of all this, along with the perceived level of support by the city of Oakland, will weigh heavily on where these new-era Raiders will call home.

Regardless, there is still an aspect to this that Al Davis would appreciate. The Raiders still have the final word.

In one thing that does have a ring of familiarity, even as the Raiders are publicly playing nice while heading into the final year of their lease in Oakland, they are discussing something called Farmers Field, which would be built next to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

And there it is. The Davis out clause.
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