The Raiders’ planned move to Las Vegas would badly hurt the franchise for many reasons, chief among them is the dubious notion that there is a “global Raiders brand” led by an army of nationwide fans that “travel well.”
There’s just one problem with this oft-stated opinion about the Raiders’ popularity: It’s totally false.
Like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster — it’s one of those things that’s often talked about for fun but doesn’t actually exist.
When placed under greater scrutiny, in fact, not a single metric factually supports the concept of the so-called “global Raiders brand.”
I bring this up because this formerly innocuous delusion shared by NFL execs and non-Bay Area fans is not so harmless anymore, as it’s been used to justify the team’s impending and surely regrettable relocation. NFL owners have said the Raiders could build a fan base in Las Vegas, which would be visited and augmented by fans in Los Angeles and other communities outside of Nevada.
Simply put, this type of thinking is foolish — even nonsensical — especially when used to defend Mark Davis’ plan to backstab East Bay fans for a second time.
As a longtime Oakland football fan, I wish I could agree with Davis and the NFL. Unfortunately, none of it is true. Yes, the Raiders have some fans nationwide and in Southern California, but not as many as you might think. And certainly not as many as do the league’s true marquee franchises: Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Philadelphia.
Statistics in several categories show that the Raiders don’t have enough fans outside of Northern California to consistently and fully support the team. That was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt during the Raiders’ 13 floundering seasons in Los Angeles, where they steadily decayed from 1982-94.
The same likely will be true in Las Vegas. Actually, it might even be worse.
Pick any category that might indicate the Raiders are one of the nation’s most popular NFL franchises, and you’re going to be disappointed. The numbers aren’t there in the team’s national TV ratings or in player jersey sales.
And they’re not there in social media, where the Raiders fail to crack the Top 10 of the most-followed NFL teams on Facebook and Twitter. As of this writing, the Raiders have 1.59 million Twitter followers. Sounds good enough, until you realize that ranks them 14th among NFL teams. The Raiders’ number of Twitter followers, in fact, is fewer than half than that of the Top 4 teams: New England (4.35 million), Dallas (3.77 million), Pittsburgh (3.41 million), and Philadelphia (3.40 million).
For Facebook, the Raiders have just under 3.39 million followers, ranking them 11th among NFL teams. Again, the Raiders’ total here is significantly lower than that of Dallas (8.64 million), New England (7.04 million), and Pittsburgh (6.44 million).
Hmm, maybe Raiders fans compete better in TV viewing. Is that true?
Nope, the Raiders also don’t fare very well in the NFL’s nationwide TV ratings, according to SportsMediaWatch.com. In fact, just three Raiders games in 2018 ranked among NFL lead leaders in national ratings and, each time, it was a nationally broadcast night game with little to no competition from other games.
Even then, the best national rating the Raiders could muster was 5th place among all televised games in Week 16, with the Christmas Eve Monday Night Football game against Denver. The Raiders’ next two highest TV ratings placed them 6th with their Thursday Night Football loss to the 49ers in Week 9, and 7th place for their Week 1 loss to the Rams on Monday Night Football. The Raiders’ national TV ratings for their other 13 games last season fared even worse.
One of Al Davis’ favorite slogans was “The Will to Win.” But when it comes to the Raiders on TV, not enough people nationwide have the will to watch.
This lackluster trend continues when we look at recent jersey sales. Exactly zero Raiders made it into the Top 5 of NFL player jerseys sold in the past five years — from 2014-18. In fact, zero Raiders made it into the Top 10 in both 2014 and 2015, according to NFL.com and the NFL Players Association. That ignominious streak ended in 2016, when then-Raiders star Khalil Mack was 8th in jersey sales, and quarterback Derek Carr and Oakland’s own Marshawn Lynch landed in the back end of the Top 10 the following year. But they never cracked the Top 5. And jersey sales saw a return to sluggish form in 2018, when no Raider players landed in the Top 10.
The players who’ve consistently sold the most jerseys play for NFL teams that have the highest TV ratings and the most social media followers — teams like New England, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Raiders players, in contrast, don’t consistently rank high on these lists.
Mark Davis, who inherited the franchise after his father’s death in 2011, has seemed obsessed about reuniting the Raiders with Los Angeles. First, his 2016 attempt to move the Raiders back to L.A. failed when NFL owners rejected him. But that hasn’t cooled Davis’ ardor for Tinsel Town.
“They’re talking about the fight for Los Angeles,” Davis told the Los Angeles Daily News’ Vinny Bonsignore in August 2017 — five months after the NFL approved the Las Vegas move. “And Raiders fans have been telling me we already won that fight, and that the Rams and Chargers are fighting for the No. 2 and 3 spots. … I think we already won that battle.”
Wow. That’s like Napoleon saying he kicked ass at Waterloo.