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Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas reveals the hazards of loyalty

Photo: Oakland Raiders via Las Vegas Review-Journal

Sports is about money. But since the money comes from the fans — and the effort comes from the players — the people who run the sports business must talk as if it’s about passion and loyalty. The fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of sports is on display in the statements about the Oakland Raiders’ upcoming move to Las Vegas, after a 31-1 vote by the NFL’s owners in favor of the move.

I analyze three statements: from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, from Raiders owner Mark Davis, and from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, and what they mean about how organizations are never as loyal as their fans and workers.

Roger Goodell talks like a CFO — but without the clarity

Here’s what Commissioner Goodell had to say, with vague phrases in bold and my translation following.

Our goal is to have 32 stable franchises for each of those teams and the league. We worked very hard and never want to see the relocation of a franchise. That means exhausting our options and doing everything we possibly can to get a solution in the existing market.

Translation: Relocation is expensive, not only in terms of building stadiums, but because it pisses off the fan bases you leave behind and you have to build new ones. So you have to give us a really big bribe to get us to relocate a team.

As you know, there’s been a stadium situation in Oakland that we felt needed to be addressed. I think even our friends in Oakland agree that it needed to be resolved for the long-term issue of the team, and frankly, the community. This has been an issue for well over a decade. We have a very rigorous and disciplined process. It’s a difficult process, as it should be.

Translation: To make the maximum possible amount of money, you need a stadium with better seats and luxury boxes. We played off Oakland against Las Vegas to see who would build that for us. Las Vegas won.

Our stadium committee and finance committee, which represent 18 owners, worked tirelessly on this over the last nine months or so, just on this relocation proposal. We believe we and the Raiders have worked earnestly in Oakland for over a decade to try and find that viable option in Oakland. We needed to provide certainty and stability for the Raiders as well as the league. As you know the clubs also, I think it was 2015, put off the decision for a relocation in the hopes of trying to see if we could develop a solution in Oakland. The owners put in an additional $100 million – unprecedented – for a $300 million total, to try to find that solution in Oakland. So, I know the ownership feels they went the extra mile to try to find that solution in Oakland.

Translation: We only move when the home city’s bribe is too small. So we gave them lots of chances, but they came up short.

Raiders owner Mark Davis’s statement is vacuous, as it must be

Davis is the one taking the bribe, but he’s also got his fans to manipulate, since the team will remain in the stadium in Oakland for two more years. So he moves his lips but says nothing. Again, vague statements in bold, with my translation:

I’d like to thank Commissioner Goodell, the two committee chairmen, Mr. McNair and Mr. Rooney, and my other 31 partners in the National Football League for making this vote in our favor. I’d also like to thank Governor Brian Sandoval and congratulate him as well, and the legislature of Nevada, who overwhelmingly supported this process and are bringing the Raiders to Las Vegas. Finally, I’d like to thank Sheldon Adelson, whose vision and directions made it possible, and probably would have never happened without him.

Translation: Our team and the folks in Las Vegas put together such a good bribe, all the rest of the owners couldn’t turn it down.

My father used to say that the greatness of the Raiders is in its future, and the opportunity to build a world-class stadium in the entertainment capital of the world is one opportunity that will give us the ability to achieve that greatness.

Translation: I’m willing to suffer  — and exploit the fan base in Oakland — for two more years in exchange for getting what I want in Las Vegas. (Pro tip: when someone tells you that greatness is in the future, you’re about to get screwed.)

I have mixed feelings, obviously. I love Oakland, I love the fans in Oakland, and I know that there’s going to be disappointment and maybe some anger. I just hope that in the future, as we play in Oakland this year, that they understand that it wasn’t the players, it wasn’t the coaches that made this decision, but it was me that made it, and if they have anybody to talk to about it, it should be me. I will, in the coming days, try to explain to them what went into making this difficult decision.

Translation: I can’t win without the fans, even though I’m leaving them behind. So try to keep loving the players and coaches, because I need your help before I ditch you.

Derek Carr’s statement is a big wet kiss

Derek Carr has to keep throwing footballs, and he needs the fans as much as they need him. He can’t diss management, but he can’t embrace the move, either. So here’s what he said:

As I sit here and see a vote that takes the Raiders to Las Vegas, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t know how we should feel. I feel the pain of our fans in Oakland. I also see the joy on the faces of our new fans in Las Vegas. As players, we will show up and give everything we have. We will compete and we will do our best to bring a championship to the entire Raider Nation. While I am from California and would have loved playing in Oakland my whole career, I understand the business side of the NFL. It affects us all.

Oakland, our team loves you, and my family and I love you! WE will be resilient and WE will stay together because that’s what true Raiders do. WE are loyal, even when it’s hard. WE stick together, especially when it’s tough. So Las Vegas, you can count on us bringing a piece of Oakland with us and you are getting a tough, loyal, and competitive fan base and team. When the time comes, I hope you are ready. For now, it’s about 2017 and our diehards in Oakland. God bless & Go Raiders!

This is all emotion and nothing else. There is nothing else Derek Carr can say, because, like all players, he has no say in this.

Organizations have no loyalty. Never imagine otherwise.

Rooting for teams is fun. It only works if you think the team cares about you. And the players actually do care, because while they get paid, they get their energy from the fans.

But the loyalty only goes one way. Teams and leagues do whatever they need to do to make money. Teams are not loyal to fans or cities; the economics don’t permit it.

Teams and owners manipulate us, and we enjoy it — until it’s not fun any more. So even as you buy the hats, the jerseys, and the overpriced beers, don’t imagine that things are any different.

The same is true of companies and their employees, as is clear from the many layoff notices I’ve analyzed here.

The same is true of political campaigns, as Trump voters are now finding out.

Keep rooting for your team, your company, and your candidate. But keep your eyes open. Their loyalty is provisional; yours should be, too.

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One Comment

  1. True enough. As Jerry Seinfeld once observed, we’re loyal to the uniform rather than the ones who wear it.