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Crowds Dwindle as Raiders Hedge : Football: Decision on team’s home is near as pressures of stadium renovation goals and small turnouts grow.

Once again we try to make a navigational fix on the Los Angeles Raiders, your oldest permanently established floating franchise, and we find that the Raiders are in negotiation with the Coliseum Commission and the firm that manages the stadium.

The aim of the Raiders is to coax the Los Angeles bidders into offering at least as much for their hand as that tendered three weeks ago by Oakland.

At that time, Oakland made its bid, giving the Raiders 45 days in which to act.

The exact nature of the figures, and under what pretense the money would change hands, isn’t known to those who aren’t principals, but whatever happens must happen shortly.

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There are two reasons for this. First, stadium renovations in either place must get under way if, in 1992, the Raiders are going to play in the kind of facility they are shooting for.

Second, status quo is killing Raider business. Their act hasn’t been this dead since their start-up in Oakland in the early 1960s.

Their season ticket sale, believed to be 22,600, is the lowest in the National Football League.

And they opened at home last Saturday against Dallas, and the crowd was announced at 28,000, but looked more like 20,000 to auditors in the press box.

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The spectacle was pathetic. You were looking at a force once billed as “America’s Team,” matched against a once-mighty adversary claiming “Commitment to Excellence.”

And now both were on their hind quarter, dreaming of empires that would rise again.

Curator of the Raiders, Al Davis, isn’t shocked by the attendance failure.

“When you announce you are leaving town, as we did, you have to expect this,” he says.

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His reference is to the Raider decision early in the year to shift back to Oakland, a move negated by Oakland’s welshing on the deal it agreed to.

Deal II by Oakland is more modest, but having proved it can’t perform for high stakes, Oakland must prove it can perform at all.

Irwindale couldn’t perform for high stakes. Then seeking to lower the ante, it dropped out completely.

It is a Davis theory that Irwindale ruined the Raiders, their rhythm shattered by a wild search that would follow for a new home.

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The odyssey would take them to Sacramento, Oakland, Los Angeles, back to Oakland, back to Los Angeles.

Whether you want to blame the Raiders or their suitors or merely ascribe it to bad luck is your choice.

But, in their history, this is their most depressing period, almost embarrassing, to be performing in an atmosphere of such indifference.

Deciphering what is happening in the negotiation between the Raiders and the Los Angeles faction is like trying to break the smoke signal code of the old Sioux nation.

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It appears, though, that the principal point of contention involves how much the bidder is willing to give the Raiders in up-front money.

At one point, $35 million was the figure discussed, and the next thing you know it was down to $2 million.

Everything thereafter has been rumor--$20 million, $10 million, $5 million.

Oakland has promised money up-front in the form of a loan, but how much the Raiders would keep and how much they would be made to pay back are another mystery in this case so rife with intrigue.

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About all that is know for sure is that the stadium in either location would be redone to seat audiences of 62,000 to 65,000.

Each would have luxury suites, without which life in the NFL is rated empty, and each would feature what is called club boxes, meaning seats in the stands usually selling for more than they are worth.

If it develops they stay in Los Angeles, the Raiders are confident they would recapture their following in this village, where attendance used to average 65,000.

They feel, too, a new stadium of limited size would stimulate sellouts on a season basis.

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In this little war they are waging, Los Angeles and Oakland have the same consequences at stake, which is to say, the one losing the Raiders would go years without a replacement.

Oakland could go forever.

When the league expands by two teams in 1993, as it announces it will, the territories granted likely would exclude both Los Angeles and Oakland.

Baltimore is rated odds-on for one of the spots. The other would be an area never before hosting an NFL team, unless St. Louis talked fast.

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And once the two franchises are created, the league could stagger into the 21st Century before expanding further.

Whether one cares depends upon one’s assessment of pro football.

But it is not to be assumed the Raiders are making it easy for the respective bidders to bring the team to gaff.

In the monopoly enjoyed by the NFL, franchises are limited. The Raiders know the market, as oil companies know the market, and they are going to milk it for what they can.

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The decision of the club, though, can’t be far away because when management looks at a stadium as devoid of people as the Coliseum last Saturday, logic dictates action that is swift.


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