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This brings us to one of pro sports’ biggest misconceptions: That Los Angeles is “a Raiders town” teeming with a lot of Silver and Black fans who can’t wait to buy PSLs and support the team in the under-construction Las Vegas stadium.
Sorry, the numbers just aren’t there for the Raiders in Los Angeles. They never were. That’s why Al Davis was trying to move the team back to the East Bay as soon as 1989, after just seven seasons in L.A., before officially returning to Oakland in 1995.
As an aside, I mean no offense to Los Angeles. When the Raiders bailed on the city, I know it left a scar on their small but vocal group of boosters. East Bay fans know how badly that feels, and I’m certainly not trying to add to their pain. L.A. fans have done a great job supporting the Dodgers, Lakers, and USC football.
But the Raiders? Not so much. Poor attendance and fan misbehavior plagued the Silver and Black in L.A. The Raiders drew fewer than 50,000 fans at L.A. home games on dozens of Sundays during their 13-year stint in the Southland, even drawing a paltry 37,000 or 38,000 on a few occasions.
Today, more than 20 years after the Raiders left L.A., perhaps SoCal fans support them in other ways. For example, how did the Raiders fare with Los Angeles TV ratings in 2018?
Not good, according to L.A. sports anchor Fred Roggin, who posts weekly NFL ratings on social media. The majority of Raiders TV broadcasts last year failed to crack the NFL’s Top 5 in SoCal, according to Roggin.
Besides the hometown Rams and Chargers, Dallas and New England consistently earned big TV ratings last season in L.A. Not coincidentally, those are the same franchises who have big numbers on social media, national TV ratings, and player jersey sales.
The Raiders showed up in Roggins’ TV rankings in a middling sort of way — finishing worse than Kansas City and higher than Chicago, but tied with Green Bay, Minnesota, and a few others in terms of weekly top rating placement. Not great and not awful. Just meh.
Raiders fans in L.A. also have failed to represent at the ballot box. In January 2016, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he preferred the Rams over the Raiders and Chargers, as all three teams were vying then to move to SoCal. Garcetti then jabbed the Raiders, saying the city’s crime rate decreased each year after the Silver and Black deserted Tinsel Town in 1995. Garcetti later said he was “half-joking.” (But only half.) Later that month, Garcetti got his wish when the NFL awarded the L.A. market to the Rams and Chargers, shutting out the Raiders.
Did an army of Raiders fans in Los Angeles punish Garcetti at the ballot box for his negative comments and for keeping their beloved team out of the Southland? Nope. Garcetti was reelected mayor in 2017, garnering a record 81.4 percent of the vote in a landslide victory. Garcetti had publicly rejected the Raiders and L.A. voters still rewarded him with record-setting support just a year later.
If Los Angeles fans didn’t support the Raiders in their own back yard a generation ago, and they don’t have a critical mass of fans, voters, and TV viewers moving the needle now, then why does Davis think the Raiders have won “the battle for Los Angeles?” More importantly why is he literally banking on these fans to travel nearly 300 miles to support them at 10 home games a year in Vegas?
In reality, there aren’t enough Raiders fans in L.A. There never were. The same could be said for any region except for Northern California, which is the only area to fully and consistently support the Silver and Black over a long period of time.
I think I know where misperceptions started about “the global Raiders brand.” One of the late Al Davis’ quirks was the grandiosity with which he promoted the Raiders. It wasn’t enough to merely highlight the franchise’s great won-loss record from 1963-1985, he had to go big and call the Raiders “The Team of the Decades” and “Pro Sports’ Winningest Team.” Part of his hyperbolic dogma included repeated declarations about “making the Raiders a global phenomenon.” Some of Davis’ grandeur bordered on self-parody but a lot of Raiders fans, including me, bought into it.
Raiders fans have many strengths but dealing with reality is not one of them. And when the Silver and Black started losing more than winning, the team’s perceived popularity became the only thing we had. Many clung to it, long after it stopped being true.
Since 1986, the Raiders have earned just seven postseason appearances in 33 seasons and produced only one winning team in the past 16 years.
In light of those embarrassing results, Raiders fans have turned to the only thing they felt they could brag about — invading an opponent’s home stadium. And, sure, sometimes that’s accurate.
But the same can be said of 49ers fans when in Arizona, as well as Packers boosters when in Santa Clara, and of Cowboys and Steelers fans nearly everywhere their teams play. Even the Buffalo Bills, not considered a marquee team, reportedly had 20,000 fans invade Jacksonville for a playoff game a year ago.
In today’s NFL, it’s not that special anymore to send thousands of your team’s supporters to an opposing NFL stadium. When Raiders fans boast that they “travel well,” they’re crowing about things that a lot of other NFL fan bases already do. In other words, none of it is anything to actually brag about. (I mean, the team’s slogan was never “Just show up, baby.”)
Yet the chest-pounding bluster over this continues because Raiders fans have little else about which they can boast.
To be clear, I’m not saying the Raiders are among the least popular NFL franchises. But I’m definitely saying they’re far from the league’s most popular, in terms of mass fan support. The collective data ranks them as above average, at best. Slightly better than middle of the pack. Mediocre.
The NFL does indeed have a few marquee franchises that are decidedly more popular than others. But the Raiders are not one of them. Not on social media. Not in player jersey sales. Not in TV ratings across the nation or in Southern California. Not at the ballot box. Not even especially so in opposing teams’ stadiums.
All of which begs the questions: If the Silver and Black truly have a worldwide fan base, then where are they? In short, where is this “global Raiders brand” we hear so much about? Looks like it doesn’t exist.
Sometimes, clinging to false beliefs is harmless. But this particular delusion could be destructive for a number of parties because Mark Davis is basing his decision to uproot a $2 billion franchise and take on more than $1.2 billion in debt on meritless assumptions about the team’s fan base.
Obviously, the team’s Vegas move is undeniably bad for Oakland fans, who will get kicked in the teeth and lose their NFL franchise — again — over a set of lies about the team’s brand. It could also be a problem for the NFL, which might lose money from yet another failed relocation. (See “Chargers, Los Angeles.”)
And it likely will harm Nevada taxpayers who are giving $750 million in public money for a stadium that, based on Raiders history, seems destined to embarrass its hometown with small, lackluster crowds for NFL games.
Lastly, this move will hurt any Raiders fan who just wants the team to win and thrive. That’s because the Mark Davis era has been defined by failure stemming from poor decisions just like this — destructive moves made by an impulsive, uninformed, and sometimes spiteful owner.
The hallmark of a Davis decision is that it almost always makes the Raiders franchise worse. This is the same owner who hired Reggie McKenzie — after just one interview with one candidate — and then watched a previously 8-8 team go through years of consecutive losing seasons. This is the same owner who will waste millions of dollars by paying McKenzie and former head coach Jack Del Rio to sit on their respective couches through the 2020 season. This is the same owner who paid Jon Gruden the most expensive head coaching salary in league history and watched his team get worse and finish last season with a terrible 4-12 record. This is the same owner who fired Greg Papa, one of the NFL’s best game announcers, just because Papa publicly disagreed with one of Davis’ maneuvers. Davis then replaced him with 79-year-old Brent Musburger, who by all accounts was a major step down for radio listeners.
So, I’m not surprised that Davis and the NFL decided to move the franchise to Las Vegas because, in part, they believe in the delusional notion of the “global Raiders brand.”
Like a lot of Davis decisions, it’s based on fiction, and it’s going to badly hurt the Raiders franchise and embarrass what’s left of its fan base.
Chris De Benedetti writes a regular sports column for the Express.