Pondering The 2017 Geography Of The AFC West

Now that the Raiders are thankfully where they belong in January–watching football instead of playing it–I think it’s only appropriate to point out that they, along with the Chargers, could have new addresses in 2017.  Since major news on this could come as soon as this week, I’d like to spend a little time thinking about where two of the Broncos’ road trips could be in the future.

Who will go to Los Angeles?

As you know, the Chargers have an option to join the Rams in Los Angeles that must be exercised before January 15, 2017–which is one week from today.  If the Chargers decline this option, the next Los Angeles option goes to the Raiders.

All indications are that the Chargers will indeed exercise their Los Angeles option, and in my opinion, they’d be foolish not to.  That’s because I would imagine that, despite all the negotiation he has done with Las Vegas, Mark Davis would jump at the opportunity to return the Raiders to Los Angeles, where they have history from playing there in the 1980s and early 1990s.  Since the Chargers and Raiders options were approved by the owners in a vote as a condition on allowing the Rams to move, I do not believe that Davis would need a subsequent vote to exercise the option if it’s available.

The prospect of having not only the Rams but the Raiders as well in Southern California strikes me as incentive enough for Dean Spanos to make the hard decision to finally abandon San Diego.  Regardless of what happens, I think it’s highly likely that the Broncos will be playing against somebody in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2017.

If the Chargers move to Los Angeles, when will the Raiders apply to move to Las Vegas?

With the Raiders out of the playoffs, their window for applying for relocation is now open, and it will last until February 15. I’m sure the NFL would like the Raiders to take their time in filing these papers, as the league could already being seeing the Chargers officially move next week, and would rather not deal with the public relations effort of seeing two teams poised to move within just a few days of each other.  But the indications have been that Davis is chomping at the bit to move to Las Vegas, and it will be interesting to see if he heeds any pressure to go through the process as the league office would prefer.

Whenever Davis does apply, reports indicate that the NFL will take its sweet time on voting on the application.  This, too, makes plenty of sense, as I see plenty of barriers and concerns that need to be addressed before the NFL rolls the dice on Sin City.

How quarantined will Sheldon Adelson be from the Raiders and the NFL?

After decades of excessive opposition to legalized gambling, as recently as a few years ago it appeared that the NFL would never allow a franchise in Las Vegas.  However, that opposition has appeared to soften. (Plus, it didn’t help that the NFL’s opposition now looked hypocritical after their adventures with daily fantasy football.)

However, while playing in a state that allows legalized gambling may no longer be a bridge too far, having a casino owner as controversial as Adelson close to the NFL may be.  As you may know, funding for the proposed stadium is slated to come from three sources on roughly equal grounds: $750 million from the state of Nevada that has already been approved, $500 million from the Raiders themselves, and $650 million from Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands corporation.

On the surface, Adelson’s interest appears to be for using the stadium for convention space, as opposed to profits from the Raiders. However, Mike Florio earlier floated a rumor that the league thinks Adelson may be angling for eventual controlling ownership of the Raiders.  If there’s truth to that rumor, then I would imagine that the NFL would pretty displeased with what Davis has pursued. Davis has never been seen as an ideal NFL owner, and in an ideal world I’m sure it would have liked for Davis to sell to one of its preferred short list candidates, such as Larry Ellison.  Refusing to sell earlier, only to let someone like Adelson into the exclusive club of NFL ownership, may be beyond the pale.

Whatever Adelson’s intentions may be, he also seems comfortable with playing hardball with Davis and the NFL.  If the league could find a way to make the Las Vegas Raiders work without Adelson, I’m sure they would be perfectly happy with that outcome, and I’d guess that will be under much discussion after any application.

What type of relocation fee would the Raiders have to pay to move to Las Vegas?

Somewhat related, remember that the relocation fee for the Rams to move to Los Angeles was a cool $550 million.  Obviously, that high amount was a function of moving into the second largest media market, and any similar relocation fee into Las Vegas would be nowhere near that.  But the other owners will want some sort of cut regardless of wherever the Raiders want to move.  And it bears repeating here that unlike most NFL owners, who are incredibly weathly from other ventures, Davis’s wealth is tied up entirely in the Raiders.  Now there are ways to make it work by garnishing Davis’s share of revenue–and given his notoriously frugal lifestyle, he may be perfectly fine with that.  But it’s still something to watch.

Does the NFL want to keep two teams in the Bay Area–or does it want to use it as the new Los Angeles?

If all else was equal, I would think that the NFL would want to retain the status quo of having two teams in the Bay Area.  It’s one of the richest areas of the nation, and it is the 6th largest media market, while Las Vegas is the 40th.

However, as I mentioned above Davis isn’t exactly the ideal NFL owner, and if he refuses to sell, it might make sense for him to occupy one of the smaller markets among NFL cities.  Furthermore, if/when the Chargers move in with the Rams to Los Angeles, it will have closed out its two-decade long tactic of using the second largest market as leverage to secure stadium deals in other NFL cities.

As such, any possible present loss that might be sustained in having only the 49ers play in the Bay Area could be offset by future gains in continuing to play the stadium leverage game, except this time it would be for a similarly lucrative location in Northern California instead of Southern California.  That would be one calculus I’d use as an owner in favor of allowing the Raiders to move to Las Vegas.

Where would the Raiders play while a Las Vegas stadium is under construction?

This is clearly a logistical obstacle that needs to be solved.  Davis has said that he would want to stay in Oakland for two more seasons. However, I find it hard to imagine that the NFL would allow the Raiders to play two seasons as a lame duck in a city it’s committed to abandoning, given the utter shitshow that was the Cleveland Browns’ 1995 season.

The problem, however, is that there may not be a better alternative.  Sam Boyd Stadium may be too small and not lucrative enough for an NFL team even on a short term basis. The best place that I can think of is for the Raiders to camp out in the Alamodome for a couple seasons, as San Antonio officials have said in the past that they’d be willing to temporarily host an NFL team. But Jerry Jones and Bob McNair might not be thrilled of the idea of the Raiders taking even a temporary stake inside of Texas.

Finally, Broncos players could see a tax break with a Raiders move to Las Vegas

As you may know, the salaries of NFL players are taxed not entirely within the state of their team.  Each game is taxed at the rate of the state the game takes place in.  Since California notoriously raised its income tax on its highest earners to 13.3%, while Nevada on the other end of the spectrum has no income tax, I’m sure Broncos players would not mind getting a little more money in their pockets for the annual game they have to play in the Raiders’ house.