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Oakland Is Right to Keep Refusing to Bend to the Will of the NFL

But by placing its taxpayers’ needs ahead of the NFL’s stadium-building desires, the city is likely to lose the Raiders

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

The Raiders’ long-discussed move from Oakland to Las Vegas now seems all but certain to happen. After the team’s original relocation plans, which included major contributions from Las Vegas Sands Corporation CEO Sheldon Adelson and Goldman Sachs, fell apart toward the end of January, Raiders owner Mark Davis pivoted. On Monday, he announced to his fellow NFL owners that the team has secured $650 million from Bank of America; by Tuesday, there were reports that enough team owners — who will vote on whether to permit the Raiders to move at their annual meetings at the end of March — had pledged their support to make the move a reality.

So now it seems that Davis will get what he wants (a new stadium), as will the NFL (a more profitable franchise by dint of playing in a newer, nicer stadium). Vegas will get what lawmakers insist its citizens want: a football team and a stadium, courtesy of $750 million in bonds backed by a new hotel tax that was approved by Nevada’s legislature in October. And while Oakland appears destined to lose something it loves — the football team forged in the city in 1960 — it will gain something else: the knowledge that, in large part because of the vision of Mayor Libby Schaaf, the city held firm against the NFL. Even after the Alameda County board of supervisors approved a $1.3 billion deal for a Raiders stadium in December — which would have included $350 million of public money — Schaaf stood her ground and as recently as Monday declined to sweeten the city’s offer during a meeting with the NFL. Schaaf said that Oakland would not build the Raiders a stadium with taxpayer money, and, through years of threats by Davis and meddling by league commissioner Roger Goodell, she kept her promise. “We are competing,” she said last month, “but we are competing on our terms whether or not the NFL or the Raiders accept that.”

By contrast, under the most recent proposal submitted to Nevada lawmakers, the Raiders went so far as to write in a stipulation that they will pay $1 per year in rent. Officials have said any proposed rent figure is irrelevant to the potential deal, but still: one dollar.

Oakland’s refusal to bend to the will of the NFL is noble. It is good. It is also deeply, crushingly sad: for Raiders fans, who may have to bid their team farewell in three weeks; for taxpayers in other cities, who keep contributing their money toward lavish new homes for billionaires’ franchises; for future taxpayers, who will have to contemplate where sports fall in the hierarchy of their city’s needs, or who may not — probably will not, if history is any indication — even be given the chance to vote on it.

It is devastating that Oakland’s options were essentially give hundreds of millions of dollars to a wealthy NFL owner or lose the Raiders. It’s rotten that to have a chance at winning the team, lawmakers in Clark County, Nevada, had to pledge hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to the project. It’s so rotten that a Clark County commissioner, Chris Giunchigliani, has spoken out against it — about the preposterousness of $750 million that could go toward infrastructure or public schools instead being directed to the NFL.

“There are so many everyday needs that nobody wants to take the high road and say we need to increase taxes to pay for,” Giunchigliani told The Washington Post in January. “Where are our priorities?”

Schaaf was willing to take the high road, and for that she deserves praise. It just likely won’t be enough to stop a man intent on cranking the gears of the NFL’s money machine from finding another city’s taxpayers to exploit.