The Raiders are the NFL’s only team that will have two home finales this season.
Last Sunday in Oakland. And this Sunday in Carson.
In actuality, Sunday’s game at Dignity Health Sports Park is the home finale for the Chargers, but in one final indignity, the place surely will be overrun by fans clad in silver and black.
“We were born in Oakland, and Oakland will always be part of our DNA,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said by phone this week. “But there were some great years in Los Angeles that will also be part of our DNA, and we’ll never forget that.”
The Raiders, who are moving into their new stadium in Las Vegas next season, contend they’re still the most popular team in Los Angeles, and there’s no arguing the fact they are the only franchise to win a Lombardi Trophy under the banner of this city.
“Out of the 64,000 seats we’ve sold, about 10% have been purchased out of L.A.,” said Davis, referring to the new stadium. “So we’re looking at 6,500 people [from the L.A. area] that will be coming on a weekly basis, and a lot more on a game-by-game basis.”
In this game of NFL musical chairs, there’s no question it would have generated far more fan interest had the Rams and Raiders shared a stadium in L.A., and the Chargers moved to Las Vegas.
But that’s all a pipe dream, and the league now has to tackle the issue of the Chargers moving from a soccer venue into a stadium three times that size. Whereas the Rams have made headway, the Chargers have struggled mightily to generate fan interest and sell tickets, and — as is evident every home game — that climb has been straight uphill.
One of the ironies of the situation is that late Raiders owner Al Davis pushed to build a stadium at Hollywood Park a quarter-century ago. He wanted one team in the stadium; the NFL wanted two. Davis ultimately agreed to a second team, as long as the first team got a five-year head start in L.A. After the NFL balked at that, Davis rolled up his blueprints, and moved his team back to Oakland.
Amy Trask, former chief executive officer of the Raiders, said the league might be in a better position now, relative to L.A., had that five-year plan been in place.
“I believe the league would have been better served if it allowed only one team to relocate to Los Angeles,” Trask said. “Or, at a minimum, as we suggested many years ago and gave the first team a head start.”
That said, Trask said the way the NFL handled the most recent moves played a role in forcing the hand of the Chargers.
“The league gave the Chargers a finite period of time to opt in and join the Rams,” she said. “Had the Chargers not done so, the Raiders would then have the opportunity to opt in. And if the Raiders had opted in, there would have been three teams within roughly 120 miles, and that would have been extremely challenging, as all three would have been working to sell product in the region.”
It’s worth noting that the Raiders had made clear their intention to move to Las Vegas before the Chargers hit their deadline to make an L.A. decision. The league could have pushed back that deadline to give the Chargers more time to find a solution in San Diego.
What’s more, there have been three teams in Southern California before. If each were in a solid stadium situation, that would be entirely viable. Each team would have ample opportunity to cultivate its fan base.
The Chargers are trying to put down roots in soil hardened by prior team allegiances, and the Raiders are eyeing their new market the way they would “BAR-BAR-BAR” on a slot machine.
“I learned a big lesson in L.A. when we were there the last time,” said Mark Davis, who took over as Raiders owner after his father died in 2011. “I was ready to return because I understood the difference of how we approached it when ‘Just win, baby’ was good enough.
“And I came to understand that winning is good when you’re winning. But you’re not going to win every game, and you’d better be pretty embedded in the community. That’s almost as important — or just as important as winning.”
Out: Just win, baby!
In: Vegas, baby!
“For 2½ years, we’ve been embedding ourselves in the Las Vegas community in a big way,” Davis said. “Letting them know that we’re here, and that they’re not just getting a football team, they’re getting us 365 days out of the year. That’s alumni, current players and coaches, and fans that are going to come in here and work in the schools, do programs for charities, and really try to uplift the community.”
The Chargers have made those efforts in L.A. too, doing their best to connect with the community. But with each home game comes a reminder they are strangers in a strange land. Never more so than this week.