Raider owner Al Davis had spoken to so many officials in so many cities on so many occasions about moving his football team during his 13 years in Los Angeles that no one would take him seriously until they saw his signature on an agreement.
On Friday, they did.
Davis signed a letter of intent to take his team back to Oakland, where it played from its inception in 1960 as a member of the now-defunct American Football League until 1982, when the National Football League club moved to the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The move scuttles plans for a proposed $250-million stadium to be built adjacent to Hollywood Park in Inglewood as a new home for the Raiders and possibly UCLA. Davis’ action comes less than three months after the Rams left Anaheim for St. Louis and leaves Los Angeles without a pro football team for the first time since 1945.
It also ends the stormy relationship between the Raiders and Los Angeles. The team won the Super Bowl in 1983 and drew more than 6 million fans while in Los Angeles, averaging 56,561 a game. But when the team started to lose, the fans stayed away--attendance fell to an average of 51,195 last season--and those that did come had a reputation for being tough and loving to fight.
But the nation’s second-largest television market is not expected to lack an NFL team for long.
The Arizona Cardinals have already indicated some interest in moving to Los Angeles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings are also possible candidates for a franchise shift that could come as early as 1996. The NFL ideally wants two teams in this area, which means one probably will be an expansion club.
The Hollywood Park site is expected to become merely one of many prospective homes for a new Los Angeles stadium to replace the Coliseum, which has been called inadequate by NFL officials, including Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Other possibilities include stadiums to be built in Orange County by Michael Eisner, Disney’s chairman, and in Los Angeles by Michael Ovitz, head of Creative Artists Agency. Coliseum officials admitted that the facility never received the renovations, including luxury boxes, Davis had been promised when he moved the team here.
Until a new team arrives, the Raiders’ move will be a boon to fans who watch games on TV. The area will no longer be covered by the league’s blackout rules, which limited the number of games shown locally. The Raiders must still receive league approval for the move or risk another lengthy, expensive court battle similar to the one they endured in the 1980s when they moved to Los Angeles without NFL permission. But the Raiders are expected to get the league’s blessing. A special owners meeting has been tentatively scheduled for July 14 in Chicago. The Raiders are expected to get the required 23 of 30 votes because owners believe Davis can no longer succeed in Los Angeles. The team, however, could be asked to pay a heavy relocation fee because the San Francisco 49ers have threatened legal action unless they are compensated for the Raiders’ return to the Bay Area.
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the Oakland City Council must still approve the transaction. The council is expected to take up the matter at its next meeting, on Tuesday, but the entire legislative process will not be completed until mid-July.
Although various political figures at a celebratory news conference held at the Oakland Coliseum on Friday said the remaining legislative steps were a mere formality, Deputy City Manager Ezra Rapport offered a word of caution.
“In a democracy,” he said, “nothing is ever unanimous. Especially in Oakland.”
If the deal falls apart, it would not be the first time for a move involving the Raiders. In March, 1990, Davis agreed to a 15-year, $602-million deal to return the Raiders to Oakland. But that deal eventually crumbled because of engineering problems and a threatened voter referendum.
In August, 1987, the Raiders signed an agreement to move to Irwindale, receiving a $10-million non-refundable deposit. But when Irwindale officials were unable to meet construction deadlines, Davis stayed at the Coliseum and pocketed the $10 million.
This time, Davis has agreed to a 16-year lease to play in a renovated Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the team’s home in the glory years from 1966 through 1981. Plans call for the stadium to undergo $85 million in improvements by July, 1996, to be financed through city and county bonds that will be repaid with revenue from Raider games. Stadium operators hope to generate $100 million over the next two years through a personal-seat licensing plan, increased capacity, added luxury boxes and club seats.
But while the future of pro football in Los Angeles is in limbo, the sport is again alive and well in Oakland.
“Nothing can capture the emotion and spirit of this day,” Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris said. “This is truly a historic day. For the first time, a team that has left town has come home. And that team is the Oakland Raiders. The words Oakland and Raiders are synonymous.
“It choked many people’s throats to have to put Los Angeles and the Raiders together. And it wasn’t just the smog that made that happen.”
Under the terms of the deal:
* Capacity for football in the Oakland Coliseum will be increased from 54,500 to 65,000. Capacity for the baseball Athletics will be 48,000 with the extra seats on movable platforms. The number of luxury boxes will go up from 57 to 175.
* The Raiders will receive a $31.9-million loan for relocation and operating expenses and up to $10 million more for the construction of training facilities.
* The Raiders will receive up to $22 million in stadium revenue, all of the revenues from luxury suites in the first 10 years, half of club membership fees, concessions and parking, all of the football advertising revenue and half of any fee received from a sponsor that pays to have its name on the stadium.
* The Raiders will be charged $500,000 annually in rent. The team paid $800,000 in rent to the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1993, but played there rent-free in 1994 because of uncertainty over earthquake repairs.
* Personal-seat licenses, which will guarantee fans the right to purchase season tickets for 10 years, will be sold at prices ranging from $500 to $16,000.
* A $1 surcharge on all tickets will go to support projects in the Oakland Unified School District and the Alameda County Human Services Department.
If a league injunction should prevent the Raiders from moving, the loan money must be returned by the team. If a referendum goes on the ballot, the Raiders will move, but play rent-free until the referendum is voted on. And if there is both a league injunction and a referendum, the entire agreement can be withdrawn.
League owners never envisioned such an agreement being drawn up when they left meetings in Jacksonville, Fla., last month with what they thought was a solid deal to keep the Raiders in Los Angeles. The owners had passed a resolution to generate the funds needed to build the Hollywood Park stadium. But Davis doubted that the stadium would be ready by 1997. He had fears of being stuck in the Coliseum, which he had come to abhor. So he kept listening to the overtures from Oakland. He kept thinking about his years on the East Bay, where the fans covered themselves in the team’s silver and black colors and spilled their emotion onto the field, creating a true home-field advantage.
And finally, Wednesday morning, Davis ended months of agonizing and deliberating. He was going home.
At 10:40 Friday morning, a letter of intent, approved only minutes earlier by the board of directors of the Oakland Coliseum and signed by Coliseum President George Vukasin, was faxed to Davis in Los Angeles.
Forty-six minutes later, in the midst of the Oakland Coliseum news conference, the fax came back and was handed to Vukasin.
He held it up, displaying the signature of Al Davis. That drew cheers and applause from city officials gathered for the occasion.
“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that signature line,” Rapport said.
It was a truly emotional day for Oakland, which had never gotten over its love affair with the Raiders, a team that, even in its absence, seemed to have a hold on the sports fans of this area that the baseball A’s and basketball Warriors could never match.
The simmering fires of passion for the club began to again reach full flame early Friday. Outside the Coliseum, a group of fans appeared waving a silver-and-black flag with the Raider logo.
At the top of the front page of Friday’s Oakland Tribune was just one word: “Yesssssss!”
Jim Otto, a Raider in the Oakland days and the only member of the organization on hand Friday, told reporters, “Al always wanted to come back. He never wanted to leave.”
And in another corner of the Coliseum, longtime Raider fan Charles Santana Jr., beamed. His late father, a former member of the Board of Supervisors, had started the failed bid in 1990 to get the Raiders back.
“When that didn’t happen, it helped kill him,” Santana said of his father. “To me, Al Davis is a hero. He brought this team back.”
Times staff writer Bill Plaschke contributed to this story.
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