As it stands, the brief time the Oakland Raiders looked like a lock to move to Las Vegas will go down in relocation “what if?” history, alongside the Philadelphia Eagles almost moving to Phoenix and the Chicago White Sox threatening to move to Tampa Bay.
It’s amazing that the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas looks dead, at least for now. The team was given $750 million in public money for a dome, a record for American professional sports stadiums, and still might not be able to get it done.
It began to unravel when casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who had pledged a $650 million investment, pulled out of the deal. The Raiders thought they had a backup plan through Goldman Sachs, but then the investment company later said its involvement hinged on Adelson’s investment. The way that story unfolded makes no sense, but consider that Adelson and Goldman Sachs have a “long-time relationship” according to the Review-Journal. Adelson’s spokespeople insist he never contacted Goldman Sachs to pull support. Then there must have been one heck of a miscommunication between the Raiders and Goldman Sachs over two-thirds of a billion dollars. Now the Raiders have to fill a $650 million gap if they want to move to Las Vegas.
What happened that this sweetheart deal went sideways? If you believe a spokesperson for Adelson, it was because the Raiders were handed an incredible deal, then asked for even more.
“[Adelson] was willing to share revenues and make it financially mutually beneficial, but they were picking his pocket,” said Adelson family spokesman and vice president of Las Vegas Sands Corporation Andy Abboud told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I think that they felt they were asking to be entitled to revenue streams and things that simply made the deal unworkable. It was never about the financial return for the Adelsons, but the Adelson family wasn’t going to have their pocket picked, by the Raiders or by the NFL or anybody.”
This is business, there are still a few weeks left until NFL owners vote on the Raiders’ relocation, and if there’s money to be made then fences can be mended or other investors could be found. But if the Las Vegas Raiders deal is in fact dead, we can look back to the Raiders’ stadium lease proposal on Jan. 27 as the moment the team blew it, at least according to Abboud. The Raiders submitted a proposal that included many points that were very friendly to the team, most famously an annual rent of $1. The Raiders also said they wanted full control over all markings on the field, which ignored how important UNLV football was in the deal. It’s surprising that the Raiders could be so tone deaf after just being given a fortune in taxpayer money from Nevada, though the Raiders have since walked back on that and said they’d be flexible on stadium and field markings for UNLV home games.
Abboud said that proposal “did not reflect the commitments that the Adelson family made to the Raiders and that the Raiders had made to the Adelson family.” The proposal, in addition to the proposals that benefited the Raiders, did not mention Adelson as a partner. That’s pretty amazing when you consider Adelson was giving about one-third of the cost of the $1.9 billion dome.
“I’m still trying to figure out what the hell they were thinking,” Abboud told the Review-Journal. “Had they told anybody ahead of time that they were going to dump that document, even if they had told us, ‘We don’t want you in the deal anymore,’ if they had shown anyone that’s been involved in this process at all that document, we would have said, ‘What in the hell are you thinking?’
“[Adelson] wanted everyone in the state to know and the community to know that he would never have asked for that $750 million if we knew the Raiders were going to come forward with terms that were not reflective of anything we had discussed over the last year,” Abboud said. “He would have never asked for that kind of commitment from the state based on the lease agreement the Raiders proposed.”
It seems like the deal could be revived. There’s still all that public money that was pushed through by the politicians in Nevada, and the NFL hasn’t voted yet. Most businessmen don’t like leaving $750 million in free money on the table. The Review-Journal’s story said “the Adelson family remains committed to getting a stadium built and having an NFL franchise in Las Vegas,” and Abboud “thinks there are tough negotiations ahead if the Raiders proceed,” though he wasn’t aware of any new investment partners with the Adelson family out of the deal. The Review-Journal is owned by Adelson, so it’s worth keeping that in mind as your read these explosive statements. Some negotiations are more public than others.
But at the moment, the Raiders’ missteps are ripe for criticism.
“Don’t underestimate the ability of Las Vegas to stand up for itself,” Abboud told the Review-Journal. “The Las Vegas Raiders are today’s bright, shiny object. There will be a new bright, shiny object tomorrow and there will be another bright, shiny object after that. This is a city that always has one fabulous new idea after another. You had to be deaf and blind to think the city or the state were ever going to roll over for anybody.”
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