In September 1989, Sacramento approved a $50 million payment to induce the Raiders to come north; Davis said thanks but no thanks. Then the following spring Davis announced with great fanfare that he was bound for Oakland, whose lavish $602 million proposal to the Raiders was predicated on projections of a decade of sellouts. If the crowds didn't materialize, taxpayers would have gotten stuck with the tab. When these terms became public and a voter referendum was threatened, the deal was torpedoed. It was then resurrected, only to again be deep-sixed—literally—by Oakland Coliseum engineering problems: In order to squeeze 13,500 more seats into the 54,616-seat stadium, Davis had requested that the field be lowered. When workers started digging, they hit water.
Stung by that threatened referendum, Davis became leery of Oakland's overtures. But after the Los Angeles Coliseum was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Oakland officials offered Davis the use of their coliseum for the season. The Raiders were able to play on their home field, but Davis appreciated the gesture. Discussions with Oakland began anew.
In addition to bestowing on Davis a $31.9 million "relocation loan," the OACC will give the Raiders as much as $10 million to build the team a training facility. (This season the Raiders will continue to practice in El Segundo, which is near L.A. International Airport, and then fly to Oakland for home games.) The OACC also agreed to spend $85 million to gussy up the coliseum, which is 29 years old and snowing its age. The number of luxury boxes—of which there were zero at the L.A. Coliseum—will go from 53 to 175. For the duration of their tenancy, the Raiders will get 100% of the revenue from those suites, whose annual rental prices have not yet been set.
Even given those inducements, smart money had the Raiders relocating across town rather than upstate. Fortified by pledges of funding from the NFL, officials at Hollywood Park, a racetrack near L.A.'s Great Western Forum, had planned construction of a $250 million stadium for the Raiders. Ed De Silva, the Oakland Coliseum board member who negotiated with Davis, says that the terms dangled before the Raiders by Hollywood Park were financially superior to anything Oakland could offer. In the end, however, the refusal of Hollywood Park chairman R.D. Hubbard to guarantee that his stadium would be completed by the 1997 season proved a deal killer.
In his jubilant and at times gloating press conference remarks Friday, Oakland mayor Elihu Harris praised city and county officials for "singing in the key of we." The mayor noted that, unlike in the 1990 proposal, this time no tax dollars had been pledged to recover the costs of bringing home the prodigal franchise. (The financing will come from bond issues and from fans, who will pay up to $4,000 apiece for 10-year "seat licenses.") Sermonized Harris, "There is no reason for anyone to be anything other than positive about the return of the Raiders."
Failing to hit the "key of we" was 49er president Carmen Policy, whose bellicose remarks in a Thursday interview with San Francisco radio station KGO-AM brought to mind a lion marking his territory. Policy accused Davis of "putting the league in jeopardy" by leaving the NFL without a team in the L.A. market and suggested that Davis was "afraid to accept the challenge of the L.A. market."
Indeed, it was widely speculated around the league that by returning to Oakland, with its sweet stadium deal and built-in fan base, Davis was taking the easy way out. Had he stayed in Southern California, sooner or later he would have had to beef up his marketing staff and otherwise drag his operation into the latter half of the 20th century. He would have had to—and this concept is anathema to Davis—delegate.
But Policy was off base when he fumed, "If Al Davis...attempts to move without a vote, he will be sued." League sources say that's not likely. When they meet in mid-July to consider the matter, the NFL owners almost certainly will approve the Raiders' northward migration. After having their heads handed to them by Davis in civil court in 1982, league officials do not relish another legal battle with him. A more likely scenario is that the owners will ask Davis for a relocation fee—perhaps a cut from the cash he will make on the personal seat licenses. This was the concession that owner Georgia Frontiere made to secure approval for her Rams' escape to the Show Me State.
Expect the current NFL vacuum in Los Angeles to be filled quickly. Expansion is just around the corner, and the Walt Disney Company is lusting to erect a football-only facility next to Anaheim Stadium and to plunk down beside it an entertainment complex with an NFL theme. Sources say this expansion franchise could emerge as early as the start of the 1997 season.
Meanwhile the NFL continues to encourage Hollywood Park to forge ahead with its stadium, Raiders or no Raiders. Several disgruntled owners of existing NFL teams—the Cleveland Browns, the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—would consider moving or have already threatened to move to the 310 area code. Player agent Leigh Steinberg, who has been involved in trying to fill the L.A. void, jokingly predicts "the biggest western migration since the Dust Bowl."