A couple of days ago, in what qualifies as hot news, Magic Johnson said he believed Los Angeles was finally on the verge of obtaining an NFL team, and that the team should be the Oakland Raiders.
On the same day, in what qualifies as old news, a Raiders fan climbed a fence during a training camp brawl and swung a helmet at a Dallas Cowboys player.
Johnson is right, and he’s wrong. On the 20th anniversary of the last pro football game played in Los Angeles, it finally seems like the path is clear for a team to relocate here … but heaven help us if that team is the Raiders.
The NFL won’t say it, but it doesn’t want them here. Sponsors won’t admit it, but they wouldn’t embrace them here. Fans might be screaming for them but, face it, any new team is going to sell out any new stadium here.
Los Angeles may be a Raiders town, but that works for Los Angeles only as long as the Raiders aren’t in town. The team is far more attractive as the other end of a Sunday morning Southwest flight out of Burbank. While covering the hearts of many Angelenos, silver and black is better admired at a distance.
“For the Los Angeles market, the Raiders are the wrong team at the wrong time,” said Rick Burton, professor of sports management at Syracuse University and former U.S. Olympic marketing boss. “As a business strategy for the NFL, it just doesn’t work.”
It’s nothing personal. It’s nothing against the Black Hole or Ice Cube or all those dudes wearing shoulder pads with skulls and spikes. Like Burton said, it’s just business.
“The next team will be the last opportunity for the NFL to make its mark here, so it has to get it right, it can’t compromise, it has to be a perfect situation,” said Marc Ganis, longtime Chicago-based sports marketing executive who helped both the Rams and Raiders move out of town. “As currently constituted, the Raiders are limited.”
Everyone has heard this before, but, as currently constituted, Los Angeles’ real opportunity for an NFL team may have really arrived. At the end of the upcoming season, for the first time, there will be a perfect storm of three teams with expired stadium leases, and all three with Los Angeles ties — the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Raiders.
There is still the stadium issue here, but the most important green stuff is now in place — the Clippers’ recent $2-billion purchase price has made the NFL owners understand this market’s enormous financial potential. This realization has led a renewed effort to make a stadium deal happen either downtown, Hollywood Park, City of Industry, or even on Frank McCourt’s parking lots — ouch! — in Dodger Stadium.
Like Magic said to Yahoo Sports, “I think for the first time, I truly believe we’re going to get a team.”
But then Magic veered off course when he said, “I would love to have the Raiders back in L.A. where they belong.”
The Raiders don’t belong here any more than the Rams, who have a longtime fan base, a far wealthier owner in Stan Kroenke, and a potential 60-acre stadium site near Hollywood Park.
While it’s still hard to believe the Chargers would ever leave San Diego, they would also be more attractive here with their wealthy Spanos family ownership and no hard feelings about their departure, as they only played one season here in 1960.
The Raiders, who are run by Al Davis’ son Mark, can’t match the other two potential owners’ bank accounts or potential business support, and then there’s that tiny problem of perception.
“The Raiders don’t bring the residual goodwill they would need to return to that market,” said Burton.
The stories about the violent atmosphere around the Raiders and their games are tired, and dated, and really, in recent years there has been more trouble caused at Dodger Stadium. But when potential Los Angeles sponsors and partners see the Raiders colors, they still think Raiders trouble.
Folks still remember the Pittsburgh Steelers fan who was beaten into a coma by a Raiders fan in 1990. Folks still remember the Hells Angels’ atmosphere at Coliseum tailgate parties for the Raiders. The folks at a middle school in El Segundo still remember a Raiders team that trashed the facility during the 13 years it served as their headquarters before leaving without paying the rent.
“If nothing else, they’re different, and that might not be the worst thing in the world,” said Roy Weinstein, a consultant who worked with the Raiders on one of their lawsuits against the NFL and is currently managing director of the downtown Micronomics consulting firm. “We’re a very conventional market, and the Raiders are a little bit on the edge, to say the least. That might make them unique, set them apart.”
Yet even during a stretch of six consecutive losing seasons by the San Francisco 49ers, that edge wasn’t enough to increase the Raiders’ Bay Area footprint, with their stadium ranking last in NFL attendance and their team valuation ranking last in the NFL according to Forbes. They will forever be Northern California’s second team, which should make one wonder, why does anyone think they have the smarts and sophistication to be the big guys down here?
There has been talk that the Raiders would be welcomed back if they changed their colors and re-branded their product, but that would be worse. The Raiders have to be Raiders. They just have to be them somewhere else.
Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter @billplaschke