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IT'S NEVER REALLY OVER
A few hours after Al Davis announced last March that he was moving his Raiders from Los Angeles back to Oakland, he was congratulated on the prospective shift. "Not yet," he said. "It's not over yet." That's worth remembering in assessing Davis's announcement last week that the Raiders would stay in L.A. after all and play at the soon-to-be-renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next 20 years. It ain't over till the fat steam shovel digs.
You have to wonder about Davis's latest announcement, because in the past decade he has said he was staying in Oakland, said he was moving to Los Angeles, did move to Los Angeles, flirted with moving to Irwindale, Calif., toyed with moving to Sacramento, said he was moving back to Oakland and, now, said he's staying in L.A. The gut feeling here? This will be the deal that ties Davis to a city for the rest of his life. It makes too much sense for him not to go through with it.
Here's what Davis has been promised: $150 million worth of renovations to the Coliseum, including up to 250 luxury boxes; $10 million up front and another $10 million when renovations begin; and the L.A. Coliseum Commission will drop its $58 million breach of contract suit against the Raiders. "The fundamental facts of why Davis came to Los Angeles are the facts of why he's staying," says Mark Fabiani, chief deputy mayor of Los Angeles and one of the city's negotiators. "Los Angeles is an incredibly wealthy area, and it's potentially far more profitable to be here than almost anywhere else."
He's right. But Los Angeles and its new football godfather, Ed Snider, head of Spectacor, the Philadelphia-based management and development company, who will raise private funds for the Coliseum renovation, know they have to uphold their end of the deal or risk another threat by Davis to hit the road. After Davis had said he was returning to Oakland, L.A. mayor Tom Bradley gave Davis a reason to think twice when he told Davis that the Coliseum would soon be turned over to Spectacor, thereby eliminating the battles over promised renovations that Davis had fought through the years with the L.A. Coliseum Commission. "Mayor," Davis said, "I'll believe it when I see it."
"It's easy to make promises," says Fabiani, "but at this point in Raider history, it's obvious that Davis wants to see performance." Now it's up to Snider to perform. If he does, the Raiders will remain in L.A. Here's how the decision would affect various NFL interests:
Television—NBC, which televises AFC games, supposedly wanted the Raiders back in San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, the fifth-largest TV market in America. The feeling was that by playing in the Oakland Coliseum, which they were expected to sell out, the Raiders would boost NBC's ratings in the Bay Area and would open the L.A. market to more NBC games. Because the Raiders don't sell out the L.A. Coliseum, their home games are blacked out in Los Angeles, and a game that is less attractive to the local market is shown instead.
Not so fast. NBC actually isn't upset by Davis's decision to stay put. Here's why: As part of the renovations, the L.A. Coliseum will be reconfigured in 1993 from its current seating capacity of 92,488 to about 70,000 for NFL games, and then the Raiders may well sell out. Whenever they do, the blackout will be lifted; and televising Raider games into the nation's No. 2 market is much more valuable than doing so into the No. 5 market.
Expansion—While there's sentiment among many NFL owners to award one of the two proposed expansion teams to Oakland, look for the presentation to be made by Sacramento, located 90 miles northeast of the Bay Area, to blow away Oakland's bid. This could develop into another old-guard-versus-new-guard fight among the owners, if, as expected, they choose to put one team in the East and the other in the West. The old guard still feels a loyalty to Oakland.
Players—Coach Art Shell has hammered home the point that where the Raiders are based will be no excuse for the way the team plays, so it doesn't matter to the players where they end up. The Raiders are 7-0 at the L.A. Coliseum under Shell, and they have the nucleus to win anywhere. "You hear we're going to Irwindale, Sacramento, Oakland," says center Don Mosebar, "but as a player, all you can think about is football."