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Playing the Raiders Game

August 03, 1989

The Los Angeles Raiders are trying to take their act on the road again, perhaps back to Oakland, where they opened. When financing for a move from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to Irwindale started unraveling, the Raiders began flirting with Sacramento, where a large new stadium is planned.

That sign of willingness to consider moving back north prompted Oakland to renew its bid to get the Raiders back. Word that the Raiders want at least $30 million in cash on top of extensive remodeling of the Coliseum to remain in Los Angeles led the commission to authorize negotiations.

The commission should try to keep the Raiders here and keep them happy, but not with public cash and not with any more remodeling than it already acknowledges the Coliseum needs. The Raider record makes any other approach naive.

Consider:

--When Irwindale began negotiating with the Raiders, the team's managing general partner, Al Davis, got the city to give him $10 million for moving expenses. Now that the deal has collapsed, Davis keeps the money, and Irwindale must find another use for a gravel pit it once envisioned as a National Football League stadium.

--Oakland's offer includes stadium improvements that will cost $50 million, and a "franchise fee" of $32 million. The city that lost millions of dollars trying to keep Davis from leaving may spend millions more trying to get him back.

--The new Sacramento stadium is a private project that will cost more than $100 million. Its builders want part ownership of the Raiders to give them a voice in the matter should Davis decide to move again. Davis is unlikely to give up majority control, but Sacramento's firmness in dealing with Davis should be a model for Los Angeles.

Fast-growing Sacramento is an attractive market and if it doesn't get the Raiders, it will get some other team. The same is true of Los Angeles, only more so. Local officials should never underestimate their advantages at the bargaining table.

The Raiders have proved that the Los Angeles area can support two professional football teams just as it supports two major league baseball clubs and two pro basketball teams. If the Raiders leave, someone else will move a second team here or, at the very least, the NFL will put an expansion franchise in the coliseum.

Even without a pro football tenant, the Coliseum can make a profit. Although the stadium is aging and in a troubled neighborhood, it is still an attractive and centrally located venue for major events, as the 1984 Olympics proved. The new private-management arrangement with Spectacor, which manages sports arenas all over the country, has made the commission easier for event promoters to deal with. Spectacor is also more likely to modernize the Coliseum, making it more competitive with other Southland stadiums.

Finally, for all the legal battles Davis has waged and won--against the NFL, against rival team owners and against the minority shareholders of his own team--the one legal opponent he has never bested is the Coliseum Commission. For example, the former allies in the victorious antitrust suit against the NFL bicker over the law constantly, but Davis has not been able to break his Coliseum lease. No matter how grudgingly, he even has to pay the rent he withheld in past years because he was unhappy with something or other.

Coliseum management has a lot going for it in dealing with Davis. He needs this city as much it needs his team, and maybe more. The commission should make every effort to keep the Raiders in the Coliseum, but not give away the store in the process. It should bargain with Davis fairly, but it can bargain with him firmly.

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