The National Football League (NFL) has officially ratified the Oakland Raiders’ proposed relocation to Las Vegas.
As widely expected, the move was approved on Monday during a vote at the NFL’s annual league owners’ meeting in Phoenix. The owners voted 31-1 in favour of the move - only 24 'yes' votes were required to ensure it went through.
The Raiders, who formally submitted their plan to move in January, will continue to play at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum this season, where they also have an option to extend for another year. It is likely, however, that they will have to find a temporary venue for the 2019 season before officially becoming the Las Vegas Raiders a year later.
The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas is contingent upon the team getting the final lease and use agreements signed for their proposed, US$1.7 billion domed stadium, which is slated to be completed on land close to Vegas’ famous Strip in 2020.
Under the stadium deal - which was originally reported to be worth US$1.9 billion overall - city and state authorities have committed to providing a record US$750 million in public funding, which will be generated through an increase in hotel room tax in the surrounding area. The Raiders will contribute US$500 million towards the remaining cost of the project, while further financing will be provided via a loan from Bank of America.
Private financing to the tune of US$650 million had originally been committed by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of casino resort developer Las Vegas Sands Corporation. However, Adelson, the driving force behind the project since day one, pulled his funding in January after the Raiders’ preliminary Stadium Use Agreement, submitted to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority (LVSA) board, failed to mention his contribution.
Adelson’s withdrawal prompted Goldman Sachs, his long-time business partner and another key financier in the project, to also pull out, further exacerbating concerns that the Raiders would be unable to finance their share of the stadium funding. But with Bank of America stepping in, Raiders owner Mark Davis and team president Marc Badain informed the NFL’s stadium and finance committees of their ability to finance the project several weeks ago, paving the way for Monday's owners vote to go ahead.
As momentum behind the move gathered pace, the city of Oakland made repeated attempts to keep the Raiders. Plans for a new US$1.3 billion, 55,000-seat stadium, backed by the New York-based Fortress Management Group, were approved by city authorities in December, but the proposal was deemed inadequate by the NFL, despite the league wanting the team to find a viable stadium solution that would enable them to stay put.
In a last-ditch effort to convince the Raiders to stay, Oakland mayor Libby Schaff sent a letter to NFL owners on Friday in which she detailed investor plans for the new stadium and offered additional solutions to expedite the bureaucratic hurdles standing in the way of its construction. In the letter, Schaff said Fortress Management Group was willing to ensure US$600 million would be contributed on similar terms to those Bank of America is offering for the Las Vegas stadium.
However, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded to Schaff's letter by saying Oakland’s plan "does not present a proposal that is clear and specific, actionable in a reasonable time frame, and free of major contingencies."
Commenting in a statement, Davis, whose father Al was principal owner of the Raiders for 39 years until his death in 2011, said: “My father always said, ‘the greatness of the Raiders is in its future,’ and the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is a significant step toward achieving that greatness.
"I would like to thank Commissioner Goodell, the National Football League and my 31 partners. I would also like to thank Governor Brian Sandoval and the Nevada Legislature for their commitment. Finally, I would like to thank Sheldon Adelson for his vision and leadership, without which this project never would have become a reality."
Under the Las Vegas stadium proposal set out by the Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee (SNTIC) - a taskforce established by Nevada governor Brian Sandoval in 2015 to determine the best use for state tax dollars - the Raiders will share the new stadium the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) football programme, whose leadership had been seeking a new home to replace their Sam Boyd Stadium.
Any construction cost overruns associated with the new stadium will be the responsibility of as-yet-undetermined private developers, while any operating losses will be assumed by a private stadium operating company. The Raiders will be required to execute a non-relocation agreement with the LVSA, and enter into a 30-year lease to coincide with the term of stadium bonds issued to cover the hike in hotel room tax.
We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff - Raiders owner Mark Davis
The Raiders will become the second major league team in Las Vegas, joining the Golden Knights National Hockey League (NHL) franchise, which is due to begin play in October. They also become the third NFL team to relocate in less than 14 months, following the St Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers, who both moved to Los Angeles.
The Raiders, who currently share the Oakland Alameda Coliseum, which opened in 1966, with the Oakland Athletics Major League Baseball (MLB) team, have been seeking a new stadium for around a decade. They were originally competing with the Rams and Chargers for the right to move to LA, and were granted a one-year option to move there provided the Chargers decided to stay put in San Diego.
After missing out on LA, however, Davis set his sights firmly on Las Vegas, and while NFL owners had wanted the Raiders to stay in Oakland, the lack of a viable stadium proposal there, combined with the appeal of US$750 million in public funding in Las Vegas, ultimately forced their hand.
The Raiders' latest move marks the franchise's third relocation since their inception in 1960, with the team having swapped Oakland for LA in 1982 before returning in 1995. The relocation fee is understood to be US$325 million which, given the size of the Las Vegas market, is half what the Rams and Chargers each paid to move to LA.
“The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA," said Davis. "We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff.
"We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”
According to SNTIC projections, the new Las Vegas stadium will host around 46 major events a year, drawing an estimated annual attendance of 1.97 million. In addition to staging around ten NFL games each season, it is anticipated that the venue would play host to six UNLV football fixtures as well as soccer, rugby, college football bowl games, motorsports, ‘signature’ and other major ‘non-recurring’ events, and corporate and public shows.