On Monday, the NFL approved the Oakland Raiders’ future move to Las Vegas.
The divorce papers are signed, but the breakup won’t happen anytime soon. Oakland and the Raiders have two more years together, maybe three, and it’s not a time they’ll be able to use as marriage counseling. It’s like staying together to keep the health insurance. The kids know the end is coming as everyone will try to pretend that life is going on like normal.
That means for at least 2017 and 2018, the team will stay put — in its dilapidated stadium in front of its shunned fans. Oh, and when they leave? Yeah, they’ll be keeping their massive, old debt on the sidewalk, thank you very much.
The Raiders will be the NFL’s first known franchise with at least two lame-duck seasons before skipping town. Check out what Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a statement about the Raiders’ plans to keep re-upping their one-year leases at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum.
“The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff,” Davis said. “We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”
The Raiders might be on the verge of something special, football-wise. Before Derek Carr got hurt in Week 16, the Raiders were steamrolling into the playoffs as real dark horse Super Bowl contenders.
Carr turns 26 on Tuesday, entering his prime years. The team has continued to shed some of its dead weight, all while adding impact players. The way general manager Reggie McKenzie has drafted the past few seasons, there’s likely more talent incoming. Plus, they could be primed to add more veterans (Marshawn Lynch? Adrian Peterson?), especially with Carr — who recruited tight end Jared Cook and wideout/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson — assisting the team-building efforts.
Carr shared his conflicted feelings on social media, tweeting this:
But if you’re a jilted Raiders fan, are you renewing your season tickets for this season or next? Do you want a piece of this before it’s gone? Lynch coming out of retirement can get only so many people to get off their couches on Sundays, after all.
Raiders fans of a certain age have been through this song and dance before, of course. Al Davis moved them from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982 and made the reverse commute back up the coast 13 years later. Many fans of that generation stuck with them through those relocations, but will they do so with the team crossing state lines?
The truth is that the flight from Oakland to Vegas is only a few minutes longer than the one to LAX, so that’s not the issue here. The Raiders have a massive, worldwide brand that has a diehard following. Chances are, they will still fill a respectable number of seats wherever they play, including going across the Bay to perhaps squat at Levi’s Stadium for a year in 2019 while the Vegas digs are still being built.
But that’s not to say that it won’t be weird. The Raiders are built to win now — after years of awful football — and yet they have one foot out of the door. This might be a franchise that’s uniquely built to handle this type of awkwardness, having been through it before and knowing that the city of Oakland didn’t exactly put on a full-court press to get a stadium deal done. This debate is well into its second decade, and a last-minute push wasn’t about to prevent the obvious exodus.
We will be fascinated to see what happens with the fans. Despite what the NFL says, they really are the last ones we think about. We wonder what their allegiance will be only after teams relocate, and we expect a fair portion of them to sell out for eight or more round-trip flights a year down the road. But in the meanwhile, will Raiders fans stage a protest of sorts and skip out on home games?
If they do, they miss watching a potentially special team — and in turn, would half-full stadiums eliminate any kind of home-field advantage? The Raiders, after all, play a tough slate this season, with four 2016 playoff teams, including both top seeds (New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs) and two more teams that just missed the postseason (Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos).
Having a good team likely will prevent those stands from being empty. The love for the Raiders, even by the fans who feel most jilted, likely helps too. But knowing they soon will be gone doesn’t exactly scream “take my money, please” either.
Fans of the area buzzed during the Raiders’ 2016 season, when hope was faint but still alight. Many of them were captured by the Golden State Warriors’ incredible runs the past two seasons. They’re good sports fans for sure. But will they still care as much, even if the Raiders keep winning? Is talk radio going to light up with calls about the team that’s skipping town in a few years? That’s the real test right there.
You can expect it to get weirder before it gets anything else. We’re several years from this, but can you imagine the scene if the Raiders win Super Bowl LV after the 2020 season — in the Los Angeles Rams’ new stadium that the Raiders weren’t allowed to move into? Awkward and the Raiders have gone hand in hand through most of their history in the league, so we are placing our future bets on this happening soon.
And where can we place such a bet? Oh, you know where.
More on Las Vegas Raiders
• Owners approve Raiders’ move, 31-1
• Move signifies cultural shift in NFL’s stance on gambling
• How will move impact Las Vegas’ economy?
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