Under the NFL’s bylaws, franchises that want to relocate to another city must first allow fans to have their voices heard. The practice of the NFL, however, when it comes to building costly stadiums, is to leverage fans’ fears about a team leaving to pressure municipalities into funding stadium construction with taxpayers’ money. However, if NFL executives on Thursday night at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre were expecting citizens of Raider Nation to provide that leverage, and help pressure Oakland city officials into such a deal, they must be sorely disappointed.
Raiders’ super fan Ray Perez, aka “Dr. Death,” may have best summed up the night when he told team owner Mark Davis: “When I want a house built, I don’t ask the City of Oakland to give me a check.”
Although Davis never directly asked for public money at last night’s event, it seemed clear that he wants it — and needs it. The Raiders are proposing to build a $900 million stadium at the Coliseum, but only have identified $500 million in private funds to get the job done. “We need help from the community as well to get something that our fans and the NFL can be proud of,” said Davis. “We don’t have that right now. We’ve been trying for at least the past six years, every day, hundreds of hours, people in this organization trying to get something done.” He later added, “It could be done in Oakland if everybody pulls together.”
But during the three-hour town hall, there was barely any reference made by fans of using public funding to help close the Raiders’ $400 million funding gap. Instead, many of those decked out in silver and black had alternative funding proposals for Eric Grubman, the NFL’s point man in the race by three franchises, including the Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and San Diego Chargers, to move to the long-vacant Los Angeles market.
A few fans proposed to crowdsource funding for a new stadium. Grubman called the idea “awesome,” but kindly dismissed it. “I don't think it would be fair for us to ask you to do that," he told a speaker. Another asked whether ownership of the team could be divvied up in public stocks and sold to fans, an ownership structure used by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
For their part, public officials in Oakland and Alameda County are showing no signs that they will acquiesce to Davis and the NFL. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has consistently ruled out the use of public funds for a stadium, while offering up to $120 million for public infrastructure in and around the current Coliseum complex. The political situation is vastly different in St. Louis and San Diego where various taxpayer-funded stadium proposals exist, but in Oakland, as exhibited Thursday night, there is no clamor from fans to use public money or any amount of heat being placed on elected officials to open up the city and county’s purse strings.
Chris Fry-Lopez, an Oakland resident and vice president of Save Oakland Sports, said many fans understand the fact that the city has struggling schools and that funding additional police officers is a greater priority than building stadiums. “I definitely think necessary things come first,” said Fry-Lopez, who led Thursday night’s impromptu recitation of the famous NFL Films narration, “The Autumn Wind.” Politicians are also leery of making another bad deal after the awful one in 1995 that brought the Raiders from Los Angeles blew a hole in both the city and county’s budgets. Each entity still pays around $10 million annually to pay down the remaining debt on the Coliseum remodel. Fry-Lopez believes Schaaf is leading the way against public financing of a stadium. “The rhetoric she uses is really adamant against using public money, like it’s morally wrong,” he said, “and we have to be more reasonably about this.”
NFL owners could decide in January whether any of the three franchises can move to Los Angeles. Schaaf met with Grubman and Davis at Oakland City Hall shortly before Thursday’s town hall and a stadium proposal may be forthcoming from the city early next month. Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo, who spoke at the town hall, said all parties need to come to the negotiating table. “There's still hope, but also a door open for us to negotiate before we kiss and say goodbye.”