Al Davis agreed Monday to accept the richest deal ever given a sports franchise and return his Raiders to Oakland in 1992, a decade after he beat the National Football League in court for the right to play in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Within hours, both the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors had approved the deal--the council, by a 5-3 vote with one abstention, and the supervisors, with a 3-1 vote, also with one abstention. Davis was in Florida at a meeting of NFL owners but telephoned his decision to Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson and Alameda County officials at a noon deadline. Wilson revealed the news at a press conference in his office.
"Oakland will become the sports capital of the world. No city has ever lost a franchise and brought it back before us," said Wilson.
Davis, the Raiders' managing general partner, speaking to reporters in Orlando, Fla., called the Los Angeles Coliseum "just not a good place to play football."
"That's home--Oakland. I'll take it," Davis said. "We were very happy there."
Davis' deal called for a $660-million, 15-year agreement.
The council and board of supervisors met in a rare joint session. The meeting in a downtown auditorium turned raucous, with most in the crowd of 1,000 cheering officials who support Davis and booing council members who voiced criticism of paying the Raiders with public funds.
There was an extensive parade of speakers before the vote, and it was 11:53 p.m. before the voting was actually completed. A later vote will be required to ratify specific terms of the move.
Officials said that a press conference would be held in 10 to 14 days after negotiators had finished the actual details.
Oakland and Los Angeles--joined for a time by Sacramento--have been bidding for the Raiders since last summer. Oakland officials had set a noon Monday deadline for Davis to let them know if the offer was acceptable.
If the Raiders do move back to Oakland, it will be a bitter day for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, who helped the Raiders establish a landmark in sports by defying the National Football League owners.
Ed Snider, the Coliseum's chief negotiator, had said Los Angeles would be ready if the Oakland deal faltered--as had Davis' 1987 agreement to move to suburban Irwindale.
"I don't think we're totally out of the ballgame yet," Snider said Monday.
But Coliseum representatives have been unable to satisfy Davis almost from the day he moved the team to Los Angeles in 1982. Coliseum officials met over the weekend trying to fashion a sweetened deal for Davis but could not agree among themselves in time.
"The timing was just such that over the weekend it just couldn't be done," Snider said.
The chief deputy to Bradley said the city would work on acquiring another football team if further overtures to Davis are not successful.
"When the Rams moved to Anaheim, the mayor went out and put together a group of community leaders and found another football team," said Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani. "Los Angeles did it before and we can do it again."
The $660-million package that Davis accepted is the most lucrative deal ever given to entice a sports team to relocate. The last NFL team to move, the St. Louis Cardinals, moved to Phoenix in 1988 on a promise of about $17 million a year from tickets and concessions. Irwindale offered a deal of less than $200 million to entice the Raiders in 1987.
Oakland and Alameda County would sell all the tickets to Raiders' games and share the revenue with Davis. He would be guaranteed at least $28 million in ticket income a year. The city and county would keep 50% of the concessions and parking revenues. Davis would keep all television revenue, currently about $32 million a year.
Oakland and Alameda County also would put up $53.5 million to expand the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where the team would play its eight home games a year.
With the city and county guaranteeing the proposed deal, the taxpayers would have to pick up the cost unless the Raiders consistently draw at least 57,000 fans to the expanded 63,500-seat stadium. If all tickets are sold out over the 15 years of the contract, Alameda County taxpayers could earn a return of $51 million. But if 20% of the best tickets go unsold, taxpayers could be liable for $23 million.
Fans will find the Raiders a much different team than the colorful champions and perennial contenders who left after the 1981 season. Despite stars such as Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen, the current Raiders have missed the NFL playoffs for four seasons.
Oakland fans will also find that prices have changed considerably since the Raiders were last in Oakland. About 37,000 of the seats will cost more than $30, and many will require fans to commit several years in advance and pay a premium of $2,000 to $16,000.
City Councilman Wilson Riles Jr., a candidate for mayor this year, was adamantly against the deal. "This deal is a gamble not worth getting into," said Riles. "The risks are just too high."
Councilman Carter Gilmore said in the Oakland Tribune on Monday that "if we were voting today, I would vote against it because of the opposition we are getting from the citizens of Oakland. Many people don't trust Al Davis and think he is just playing games with the city."
But when asked if he has the votes necessary to approve the deal, Mayor Wilson said Monday, "I believe I do."
Don Perata, chairman of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, said he too expects passage but possibly not until a second meeting tonight. Davis has agreed to fly to Oakland for a joint announcement when the deal is ready to be signed, perhaps in 10 days to two weeks, Perata said.
Oakland officials had given Davis until 5 p.m. last Friday to decide if he would return. But on Friday Wilson and Perata postponed the deadline until today. Davis had given them solid personal reasons to delay his decision, they said.
If the unpredictable Davis had not called by noon Monday, they planned to withdraw the offer and cancel Monday night's special meetings.
Faced with a similar deadline recently from Sacramento, which also sought the Raiders, Davis refused to comply with the demand. Sacramento officials then withdrew their offer to pay Davis $50 million in public funds to be raised through bonds.
Perata said Monday he was satisfied that Davis has made a genuine commitment to come back to Oakland.
"We didn't have to call him," Perata said. "He called (us) shortly after noon. He said he was extremely excited, (that) this was a momentous day for the Raiders organization. To say he was upbeat would not do justice to his mood."
Davis still has two years to run on his lease to play the Raiders' eight yearly home games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He plans to honor that lease or reach an agreement with the Coliseum Commission, Oakland officials said.
For months the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission and its private managers--Spectacor Management Group and MCA Inc.--have tried to entice Davis with a new deal, but have faced the competition from other cities.
In recent weeks, Davis had reportedly been offered a fee of about $70 million, plus a share of the revenue from 200 new luxury boxes and thousands of club seats, if the Raiders would stay in Los Angeles at the Coliseum.
The historic stadium was also to be thoroughly rebuilt, with the familiar, gray outside walls left intact.
Over the weekend Snider, head of Spectacor, tried to get the Coliseum Commission's backing for a more lucrative deal but time ran out.
Snider felt he needed a firm commitment that Spectacor and MCA would keep control of the Coliseum well into the next decade before making a new offer to Davis. He never got it.
"We don't have a vote of the commission on a lease, nor did I have the comfort level to know that it would happen at the commission," Snider said Monday.
Bill Robertson, the Los Angeles labor leader who as a commission member was instrumental in luring the Raiders originally, said the Coliseum Commission lost the Raiders by not meeting its commitments to Davis. He was especially critical of former Commission Chairman Alexander Haagen and county Supervisor Pete Schabarum.
"I'm certainly disappointed," Robertson said. "I think the die was cast three years ago when the Coliseum Commission reneged on the commitment that I and subsequent commission presidents had made that we would do our best to bring that facility up to state of the art. Pete Schabarum and Alex Haagen were in my judgment the culprits that sabotaged that deal. Al Davis did not create this competitive bidding war. That was created by the Coliseum Commission."
Haagen, who left the commission before the current negotiations, was not apologetic Monday.
"I think Oakland deserves the Raiders," Haagen said. "I suggest that if Los Angeles wants a pro football team so badly, it ought to buy one like Green Bay bought the Packers. That would be a lot less expensive than trying to satisfy Al Davis."
Schabarum said Monday he also opposed meeting Davis' terms.
"'No, no, no, absolutely no," Schabarum said at a press conference Monday. "First of all, I'm not interested in keeping the Raiders in this town based on the terms and conditions that Al Davis seems to require. So go somewhere else, Big Al."
The Raiders' history in Los Angeles began officially in January, 1980, when the Coliseum Commission, stung by the loss to Anaheim of the Rams, announced that Davis had agreed to move in.
The Raiders were an admired championship team with a strong personality that sold out its games in Oakland. Legal troubles kept the Raiders in Oakland until the 1982 season, when they opened to lackluster crowds at the Coliseum. That first year, the Raiders ranked 22nd of the 28 NFL teams in attendance.
In 1984 the Raiders won their only Super Bowl as a Los Angeles team, but the relationship was already souring. Davis and the Coliseum Commission began to battle openly over promised improvements and luxury boxes.
Then in 1987 Davis announced plans to relocate and build a stadium in suburban Irwindale, and was given $10 million in good-faith money by the city. The Coliseum Commission and the Raiders eventually sued each other, and the Irwindale deal fell through.
This February, 83% of respondents told the Los Angeles Times Poll they wouldn't much care if Davis took the Raiders out of town. Only 5% said they would be upset a great deal if the Raiders left.
Reich reported from Oakland and Roderick from Los Angeles.