Now that the dust has settled on the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas and the gold glimmer has worn off a bit, one thing is clear about the relocation — the short-term consequences are bad for everyone.
The Raiders’ new stadium is set to be built 500 miles away from their currently viable fan base (due to a competitive public funding plan!) with little assurance that an appetite exists for the team there other than tourism numbers and a vague, Field of Dreams-type hope, that once it’s built, the fans will come.
But fans can’t come until at least 2020 when the new stadium is set for completion. In the meantime, Mark Davis is hoping the team can stay in Oakland.
It’s as if you asked your spouse for a divorce and then, once the papers were signed, you said you planned on crashing on the couch for a couple years, just ’til you could get back on your feet.
The Coliseum has more self-respect than that, though, and is exploring ways to ditch the two, one-year terms that are currently in place. The Raiders will more than be out of Oakland before the 2019 season. If fans bail on them, that timeline could hasten.
Temporary homes have been suggested, ranging from Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.) all the way to San Antonio’s Alamo Dome. The most logical choice is off the table early, as Mark Davis isn’t interested in UNLV because he wants to get off on the right foot in Nevada.
There is, however, another unconventional option; send the Raiders to Mexico.
If the NFL still has designs on landing an international franchise in the not-so-distant future — and we have every reason to believe that they do — it’s time to look south.
Mexico, now and in the future, makes a great deal of strategic sense for the league. It certainly makes better sense than London. Apart from the obvious factors, like Mexico City’s time zone — CST — fitting far better within Americans’ media diet, and the city’s accessibility — just four and a half hours from O’Hare! The country is also quietly home to the most fertile soils for NFL fans anywhere in the world.
Mexico boasts, by some estimates, approximately 25 million NFL fans, more than any country apart from the United States. With the league invested in the game at the youth level, sponsoring 6,500 teams in Mexican youth programs nationwide, there’s every reason to expect that number to grow.
Would having a Super Bowl contender as their houseguests for a season or two hasten that process a bit? No doubt. At least anecdotally, the Raiders’ last trip to Mexico City looked like a great success. The game day environment appeared exhilarating, and the product translated well to TV. The fans filled the stadium with black and the team left with a win.
There’s very recent precedent for this kind of thing as well, in a more progressively thinking American professional sports league.
When the New Orleans Hornets were displaced, not by greed but by Hurricane Katrina, the NBA smartly spent a season in Oklahoma City. Not long after, when the Sonics’ ownership group imploded, it became obvious that the Hornets’ displacement season had a dual purpose in gauging the viability of the NBA product in a new market for the major professional leagues. OKC passed the test and was rewarded for its hospitality, with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
The Raiders’ players, front office and coaches have built their current team the right way, regardless of craven moves made by those who write their checks. The teamdeserves to play for a crowd that’s grateful to have them; they deserve a real home field before the next one is built.
The Las Vegas Raiders are unlikely to get true home-crowd support in Oakland, nor in another team’s home town or at a college stadium. But Mexico City has shown, in a short time, a willingness to adopt the franchise. Instead of wasting a year sharing a stadium and fans with a city that already has each, the NFL can do right by the maximum number of people with this seemingly unlikely move.
If Roger Goodell and Mark Davis are on-site this November when the Raiders take on the Patriots in Mexico City, I hope that they listen to the roar of that crowd, soak it all in, and think for the first time in a while about the fans that they have now, just as much as the ones they could have in the future.