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Can the Raiders Lead Oakland Into 21st Century?

September 14, 1997|Michael Clough | Michael Clough is a research associate at the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley

OAKLAND — The silver and black playing football in a stadium named after a computer company headquartered in Taiwan? Twenty years ago, before the Raiders left Oakland for Los Angeles, it would have been unimaginable. Today, it is a reality.

The announcement that UMAX Technologies Inc. has bought the name rights to the Oakland Coliseum is a clear indicator of the dramatic demographic and economic forces that are reshaping Oakland and the East Bay. The ability of the Raiders, UMAX and Oakland officials to translate this deal into a lasting partnership may prove to be an important measure of the East Bay's capacity to adapt to the twin revolutions of globalization and digitalization.

In their glory years, the Oakland Raiders were a quintessential representation of postwar industrial America. Their fans, among the most loyal in the country, carried lunch boxes, not briefcases. They were the children and grandchildren of the hundreds of thousands of workers who flooded into the region during World War II to work in the East Bay's booming shipyards and factories. They lived in either the mostly white suburbs of Alameda and Contra Costa counties or the mostly black inner cities of Oakland, Richmond and Berkeley.

Former Raider stars--players like Kenny "The Snake" Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff and Willie Brown--mirrored their fans. They were tough and hard talking. They didn't have the social graces of a Joe Montana or Steve Young, and it would have been a strain to imagine any of them carrying around a laptop or surfing the Internet, but they knew what it took to win a brawl.

In 1982, Al Davis, seeking to take advantage of the Los Angeles Rams' flight to Anaheim to get a more profitable stadium deal, forsook the Raiders' loyal working-class fans and moved his team south. When the Raiders returned to Oakland in 1995, they were a very different team--and Oakland and the East Bay a very different place.

The Raiders have adopted a marketing strategy that places a premium on attracting corporate sponsors and building an affluent white-collar fan base. Their old fans, meanwhile, struggle to cope with a new set of economic, social and political realities created by the decline of traditional manufacturing, the closure of the East Bay's military installations and an influx of immigrants, mostly from Asia.

Over the long run, for the Raiders--and the East Bay--to prosper, they must devise ways to exploit the opportunities created by globalization and the shift from an industrial society to a digital one without leaving their old fan base on the sidelines. The UMAX deal could provide a model of how to do so.

The San Francisco Bay Area has reaped tremendous rewards from globalization--the rapidly growing flow of capital, goods and people across national boundaries--and digitalization--the translation of information, images and sounds into computer-readable digital formats. In fact, since 1980, more new wealth and influence have been created here than in any other metropolitan region in the world.

But along with winners, there have been losers--and the two biggest have been the old industrial working class, white and black, and inner-city residents, mostly black, both of whom are concentrated in the East Bay. The shift in manufacturing from heavily unionized, high-wage areas like the East Bay to non-unionized, low-wage countries has cost jobs. Blacks who have traditionally held a large share of the jobs in the low-wage service sector face new competition from Asian and Latino immigrants. These economic pressures have been exacerbated by the end of the Cold War and the consequent closure of the Oakland Army Base and the Alameda Naval Air Station.

Black inner-city residents also suffer from the increased demands placed on public schools and medical facilities by new immigrants. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why some black leaders in the Oakland schools wanted to declare "ebonics" a distinct language, thereby making black students eligible for some of the resources now set aside to teach English as a second language.

Digitalization, which goes hand-in-hand with globalization, further disadvantages the working class and inner-city poor since they have the least access to computers and the most difficulty in acquiring the technical skills necessary to compete successfully in a digital world.

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