Ross D. Franklin / AP
Tuesday, March 28, 2017 | 2 a.m.
PHOENIX — More than 10 hours into the most important day in his ownership of the Oakland Raiders, Mark Davis walked away from an interview in a lengthy foyer and spun his head quizzically left, then right and left again.
“Which way is the lobby?” Davis asked no one in particular.
He chuckled at his simple question, amused and exhausted. Here stood Davis in need of a point in the right direction on the day his team finally learned where it would go for the foreseeable future.
Davis found the lobby. The Raiders found their home.
National Football League owners voted overwhelmingly at their annual meeting to allow the team to move to Southern Nevada starting in the 2020 season. The Las Vegas Raiders joined the NFL at 11 a.m. and ended a pursuit that once appeared far-fetched but became reality soon after the state committed $750 million of tax money to a $1.9 billion stadium project to house the franchise.
“I don’t know if anybody thought it was going to really become a reality,” Davis said. “I’m still not sure that I’ve really taken it in yet.”
Hopefully the shock fades quickly because the team faces a 32-month stadium construction schedule that cannot begin until four key documents — a lease, development agreement, non-relocation agreement and a shared-use contract with UNLV — are signed and ratified. Both Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and Las Vegas Stadium Authority Board Chairman Steve Hill said Monday the project needs to break ground by December.
“We still have some work to do, we still have a lease to finalize and a few other details,” Raiders president Marc Badain said.
“That’s why we’re not doing a large rollout right now,” Badain said. “We’ll wait and finalize everything, and then we’ll hold some type of event in Las Vegas.”
The new stadium sought for decades by the Davis family brought a sports cliche to life inside the Arizona Biltmore resort: celebrate victory tonight and get ready for the next challenge tomorrow.
“There’s no time to sit around,” Sisolak said.
As Las Vegas prepares for its NFL debut, the Raiders’ long goodbye to Oakland will take at least two years. The Raiders will play out two one-year lease options at Oakland Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, where no one knows what reception the team will receive after abandoning the city for a second time.
“If the fans would like us to be there, we’d love to be there for that and possibly talk to them about extending through (2019) as well, and try to bring a championship back to Oakland,” Davis said.
On a day for looking forward, Davis glanced back to Oakland during his press conference, reflecting on a place he grew up and learned from his father Al.
“I have mixed feelings,” Davis said. “Obviously I love Oakland, I love the fans in Oakland and I know that there’s going to be disappointment and maybe some anger. I just hope that in the future, as we play in Oakland this year, they understand it wasn’t the players, it wasn’t the coaches that made this decision. It was me that made it.”
Davis later shut the door on discussion of Sam Boyd Stadium as a temporary home for the Raiders at any point before the stadium is finished in 2020. He left a message Monday for UNLV President Len Jessup, with whom he will need to negotiate a deal to share the new facility, to welcome his new “roommate.”
The Raiders plan to begin a season-ticket interest list in Las Vegas this week. Davis wants to capitalize on the momentum of the relocation announcement, much as Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley did when the National Hockey League awarded the city an expansion franchise last year.
“This could not have happened without Bill Foley and the Golden Knights,” Sisolak said. “They got the NHL to risk their brand on Las Vegas.”
Now, two professional sports franchises now call Las Vegas home. Evidenced in a 31-1 vote with only Miami dissenting, league owners saw the city as a viable alternative to Oakland despite its 40th-ranked TV market and tourism-dependent economy.
“The existing size of Las Vegas, the diversification and the growth that it has undergone over the last 20 years combine to make it a mid-sized market today, but one that is exhibiting significantly above-average growth,” said NFL Vice President Eric Grubman. “Those things in combination — its current size with its above-average growth — combined to give the rest of the ownership confidence.”
Confidence no longer is needed in Las Vegas. The vote is final and the Raiders are coming. Now the work begins anew to build the stadium that brought them to town.