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May 24, 2017

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Opinion:

NFL owners headed for showdown over Raiders move to Las Vegas

Image

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

In this Nov. 6, 2016, file photo, Oakland Raiders fans hold up signs about the team’s possible move to Las Vegas during an NFL football game between the Raiders and the Denver Broncos in Oakland, Calif. The Raiders have filed paperwork to move to Las Vegas.

Circle the wagons and circle the calendar. There has been yet another twist in the Relocation Raiders saga. So the dates of March 26-29 loom as the highest-stakes showdown yet when it comes to the team's future.

The NFL' s regular March meetings have long been scheduled for those days in Phoenix. But now, it seems for sure, the Raiders will get an up-or-down vote on whether the league wants the team in Las Vegas ... or if, instead, the league is leery of the concept and doesn't want to move so fast.

My prediction, until I hear more complete details, is still that the final decision will be delayed until later in the year — or perhaps even by as long as 12 months. But the news out of Florida on Monday does raise eyebrows.

According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal as well as other outlets, Raiders executive Marc Badain told key NFL committee members that the team has secured financing for the proposed 65,000-seat Vegas stadium through Bank of America.

If that is true, then we could indeed get a final showdown vote in Phoenix. So buckle up. In three weeks, Raiders fans in Oakland will learn if they will be watching a lame duck team at the Coliseum this season, one that intends to evacuate Northern California by 2019 or 2020.

Under NFL rules, at least 24 of the league's 32 owners must approve any franchise shift and new stadium plan. And I know this much: There will be many questions asked before any vote later this month. Because the owners have been here before.

In January, one league source with first-hand knowledge of the meeting remembers how Badain stood up before two key NFL committees and said the Raiders had a firm commitment from Goldman Sachs to replace the $650 million in financing that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was supposed to provide for the $1.9 billion Las Vegas stadium. A few days later, Goldman Sachs said exactly the opposite and totally withdrew from the project. "I still don't understand that," said my source. "You know, Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft were in the room when the Raiders said all that. Why would you say all of that unless you were absolutely sure?"

Search me. But the only conclusion to draw from the outside is that when it comes to the lofty, intense and complicated world of mega-money sports venue deals, the Raiders and owner Mark Davis are learning as they go along. This does not inspire complete confidence.

The Vegas project is buttressed by $750 million in public money from Nevada, with the Raiders supposedly kicking in $500 million. Now, it seems Bank of America will cover the rest, presumably in a mammoth loan. But to gain approval from 24 or more owners, Davis and Badain not only have to provide ironclad guarantees that the BofA money is real, but that the Raiders have a sensible plan to pay back all of the money ... plus pay any franchise location fee that the NFL might propose ... plus are able to spend enough money on a marketing and operations plan to establish the team properly in a brand new market.

Can a new stadium actually generate enough money to pay for all of the above? Davis is not among the league's richest owners. And in the entire history of the franchise, the Raiders have never built a stadium — or done anything that has been so logistically or financially complex. Also, the Raiders still need to complete negotiations regarding the stadium deal parameters with the Las Vegas authorities who hold the keys to the money. Look for more news (and drama) about that over the next week or so.

But maybe the Raiders do have their ducks lined up properly, with all of the ducks wearing impressive black eyepatches. Maybe the Raiders' top execs are primed to blow away NFL owners with a fantastic plan in late March. But after the Goldman Sachs debacle, Davis and Badain had better be prepared to authenticate and corroborate and substantiate every single element of that plan.

The following scenario is more likely: The Raiders will present their package in Phoenix and the owners will have questions that can't be totally answered. So the team will be asked to button up the proposal with airtight details and present them at the next NFL owners meeting, scheduled for late May in Chicago.

And I suppose there's a chance, if extremely unlikely, that the NFL owners would reject the Las Vegas idea entirely. Why do I say it's unlikely? When $750 million in public money is being thrown at you, the tendency is to stick it in your pockets rather than say, "No thanks."

Sideline thought: The Bank of America was founded in the Bay Area, which adds another ironic twist to all this. It's now located in Charlotte. But the BofA still does a lot of business with civic entities — including, possibly, the city of Oakland. Well, possibly not any more.)

Any further delay in the Raiders' decision, of course, also gives Oakland more time to bring together its own proposal to retain the team — although that notion grows less realistic by the minute. This perception was confirmed by some other news out of Florida on Monday.

At the same league meetings, an Oakland delegation also made a presentation to the key NFL committees. The city outlined its support for the efforts by Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and his group to assemble a stadium package and keep the team in the East Bay. The money for Lott's plan is largely coming from the Fortress Investment Group out of New York City.

However, according to reporter Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News, no one from the Fortress group attended Oakland's presentation Monday. This might have sent up a red flag for the NFL committee members. Bonsignore also quoted an NFL source who said: "Bottom line, there were no new proposals or information on the foundational issues."

Here is one of those "foundational issues": If any new Raiders stadium is built, then the A's must be given a two-year notice to leave the Coliseum and the baseball team could then terminate its ongoing 10-year lease, which runs through 2024. When asked by NFL officials if the city was prepared to exercise that clause with the A's franchise, Oakland's delegation could not give a firm answer.

In a few weeks, there might be fewer questions about everything. But with the Relocation Raiders, you always get the feeling there are more unexpected twists and turns to come. By the time we get to Phoenix ... be ready for anything.

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