The Awful Whinge Is A Raider

By now you’ve all heard the news that the Oakland Raiders will, eventually, drop the first half of that name and trade it in for the city and the brand that is Las Vegas. You’ve probably seen plenty of video clips of reactions to the news; most of those reactions from fans local to Oakland have, most likely, been a mixture of anger, sadness, disappointment, etc. No surprise there.

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Las Vegas Raiders fans: a soon-to-be burgeoning breed

However, it might be illuminating to give some attention to reactions from those who, presumably, would have a more sophisticated point of view–namely, people involved in some way with the Raiders’ organization. Since I live in the East Bay, I’ve had the chance to hear some semi-official thoughts on the subject of the team’s relocation, mainly through the venue of the team’s (current) official media outlet, 95.7 The Game.

Let’s just say, some of these reactions have been “interesting,” to say the least.

The DFR: FootballI should, perhaps, state for the record that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Raiders fan. This despite–or possibly because of–the fact that I grew up within walking distance of the Oakland Coliseum after relocating to the Bay Area from Philadelphia just shy of my 10th birthday. The Raiders never appealed to me, for various reasons.

So I view the subject of the Raiders’ relocation with somewhat jaundiced but relatively unbiased eyes. I don’t share in all that anger and disappointment you’re hearing now from the average grunt on the street wearing a silver and black jersey, but I’m not surprised by it. My surprise and disappointment comes from hearing reactions to the news that range from lazy thinking to outright propaganda–especially when I hear such things from people who have demonstrated sharp minds in the past.

“Bruce and Papa may have presented differing viewpoints on the Raiders’ move…but both in their way serve the purposes of the team–in ways that ultimately work to the detriment of the fans.”

Witness radio host Damon Bruce, 95.7’s afternoon voice, who has been jawing a lot about the Raiders and their situation over these many recent months. Most of his commentary on this matter has had one major thrust: it’s dumb to move the Raiders to Las Vegas because there’s no way that city will support a professional franchise.

I’ve liked Bruce as a sports talk host, and respected his opinion on just about any topic you’d care to bring up within the wide world of sports–but he is absurdly wrong on this matter.

Bruce’s argument–and, I suspect, the argument of many who would oppose the Raiders’ move–stems from a great deal of false assumptions and addled thinking about both Las Vegas and Oakland and the greater Bay Area.

These points of contention include:

  • No one will care about having a team in Las Vegas, because nobody there thinks of the city (or metro area) as a place with an identity beyond resort town for outsiders.
  • The market is too small to support a major pro sports team.
  • The team’s performance will suffer in Vegas, because they will lose the “Black Hole” and other forms of fan base loyalty.
  • Oakland, due to its laughably awful leadership, failed to take the necessary steps to keep the Raiders in town.

The first of these points is just plain stupid, and it ties in a lot with the second point. Of course a town that has not previously had a big league team in it has no identity as a big league town–that’s just a tautology, and one that can be easily dismissed with some clear thinking. The whole point of putting a team into such a market is to build something for the long term. Las Vegas will be working with a small core fan base to begin with, but that can and will grow over time, especially if the team is successful on the field.

And there is room in Vegas for such a fan base to grow. Sadly, Bruce’s attitude about the city betrays a standard, dumbass view of Las Vegas as simply a site for troll-like creatures to go to gamble, get drunk, and get whores. It’s a characterization of Las Vegas you would get if you only ever paid attention to the Hangover movies and nothing else.

But it ignores the fact that Las Vegas is a major metropolitan area, with over 2 million residents in the statistical area. That statistical area ranks #31 in the U.S., which is certainly below the Bay Area (#5 in the same list)–but of course you have to divide the Bay Area up for a football team, since it’s shared territory with the 49ers. And the Vegas market represents also a bigger metro area than Cincinnati (Bengals), Nashville (Titans), New Orleans (Saints), Buffalo (Bills), and–rather famously–Green Bay (Packers). You rarely see arguments that any of those cities don’t deserve their teams.

Clearly, there’s enough people in the market to build a fan base for a team, particularly one that only needs to sell out eight games a year. They are the hidden side of Las Vegas: the millions of people both in and around the city who live normal, ordinary lives away from the neon and glittter of the Strip–the sorts of people who form the core of any sports team’s fan base. The Raiders won’t need to rely upon getting all the high rollers and convention attendees to buy tickets to succeed in Vegas.

But make no mistake: they will get those tourist ticket buyers, too. If you think that everyone who attends a convention over a weekend in Las Vegas will be too busy whoring and blacking out to cap off the weekend with a Raiders game on Sunday, you’re crazy.

Those–the locals and the visitors from everywhere else–will form only two of the legs that will hold up the Raiders’ table. The team will also get ticket holders from two other sources. If you guessed Los Angeles and Northern California–both less than an hour’s flight away–you win the prize, just like Mark Davis and company will. There will be more than enough Californian silver-and-black diehards who will be willing to get their seats and fly in for a weekend each season to fill up whatever parts of the stadium the locals and tourists leave empty.

So ticket sales will not be a problem…which hardly matters anyway, because the NFL is built on TV contracts, and as the Packers have demonstrated, you can play just about anywhere and thrive thanks to the TV networks playing Uncle Sugar. Even teams as incompetent as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns, despite their on-field ineptitude, are in no danger of going bankrupt, thanks to the broadcast money.

And speaking of the Browns, they refute that third point above. How has having the “Dawg Pound” helped the Browns win lately? The fans in northeast Ohio are no less rabid for their team than those fools in Oakland with the Darth Vader masks and spiked shoulder pads. Having a good atmosphere in your home stadium helps make things photogenic and fun, but it doesn’t make a team win–talent and good management do that. The Raiders can have both of those attributes in Las Vegas as easily as they can in Oakland.

Finally, the latter city does not deserve any particular criticism for not doing whatever it takes to build the Raiders a new stadium. Oakland made it clear from the start that they could not fork over exorbitant amounts of public money to keep the Raiders in town–and that’s a good decision, as we’ve seen before. And there’s no real reason to believe that Davis ever really wanted to keep the team in the Bay Area; the money grab was always going to happen somewhere else, and that somewhere turned out to be Las Vegas–where there are plenty of whales to make the move work.

Such are the terrible flaws with Damon Bruce’s arguments. Mostly, such arguments reflect ignorance and poor thinking. Bruce and others who make the same points are just as wrong–but they’re at least, in my reading, making honestly mistaken analyses.

Far worse was what I heard from Greg Papa on his show on 95.7 this past Tuesday, the day after the move was announced. Papa, the Raiders’ longtime radio voice, introduced a segment on his show by arguing that the Raiders were never truly embraced by the East Bay community after their return from Los Angeles in 1995. As proof of that surmise, he cited the first preseason game of the 2003 season, when a crowd (according to Papa) of only 30,000 showed up for the match–the team’s first game at the Coliseum after getting waxed in the Super Bowl by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Papa also mentioned the general lack of sellouts at the Coliseum through many of the years since that Super Bowl appearance.

It was clear, in listening to such nonsense, that the propaganda machine–a traditional staple of the Raiders business plan–was already getting into high gear. Citing the attendance of a season’s first exhibition game–even coming off a Super Bowl appearance–as proof that the fan base did not accept the team into their hearts, was not just an act of fawning sycophancy by Papa towards “Mr. Davis” (as he invariably calls both the late father and the all-too-living son). It was the act of a dutiful henchman laying the  groundwork for pointing fingers at someone else–quite literally, everyone else–for the fact that the team is moving out of town.

It was an embarrassing performance by Papa, a guy with a long history here in the Bay Area; if fans were listening closely, Papa blew much of his credibility with the locals here with such a transparent bit of toadying. It takes a lot of chutzpah to accuse Raiders fans of not being all in for their team these past 22 seasons, especially on such flimsy evidence as poor attendance for an exhibition game or lack of sellouts for an incompetently run franchise during the depths of their losing streak.

Bruce and Papa may have presented differing viewpoints on the Raiders’ move–one voicing opposition, one currying favor by supporting it–but both in their way serve the purposes of the team–in ways that ultimately work to the detriment of the fans.

And that, right there, is why I wished to call this stuff to everyone’s attention, despite the fact that, upon a casual review, these commentaries might seem like a narrowly local, even parochial, story: politics is not the only field where media voices are skewed with either bad analysis or purposefully dishonest assertions. Sports fans too must always be vigilant when consuming the “information” that media outlets deliver.

One may be tempted to think it doesn’t matter, that it’s all just about fun and games–until the question of relocating a multi-million dollar business is the focus of skewed info. Misrepresenting a city as unable to support a big-league team could deny that city’s residents of a club they are more than willing and able to support. And beating a drum about lack of support could create pressure on officials to waste taxpayer dollars on a venture that the city, county–or perhaps even a state–simply can’t afford…like what happened to Oakland and Alameda County when the Raiders returned in 1995.

Keep the lessons of Oakland and the Raiders in mind the next time your local team starts making “pony up or else” noises–especially when you hear presumably honest media voices weighing in on the matter. The wallet you save may be your own.


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