Joey “Maniac” Seimas wakes up at 3 a.m. when the Oakland Raiders play a home game. He drives three hours from Fresno, dropping his kids off at his mother’s house, and heads to the Oakland Coliseum’s vast parking lot to start five raucous hours of tailgating. For Seimas, the Raiders are not just a team, and football is not just a pastime. Raider Nation, as the team’s fans collectively call themselves, is an identity, a family and a way of life.
But Raider Nation’s days in Oakland may be numbered, as National Football League (NFL) executives and the team’s management consider moving the beloved team to Los Angeles.
On Thursday, hundreds of Raiders fans gathered at the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland for a public hearing about the future of the team, hosted by NFL executives. Fans and community members were invited to share their opinions and questions about the Raiders and make a case for why the team should stay in the East Bay while four league executives listened attentively.
Several hours before the hearing’s start time, Raiders fans clustered outside the Paramount, forming a line that stretched down Broadway and around the corner of 21st Street. Many fans were in full costume, decked out in shoulder spikes, silver face paint, masks and chains with plastic skulls hanging from them. Police patrolled the line with dogs and news vans lined the street, satellites poles jutting up from their roofs.
“Heck yeah, I’m a Raider’s fan,” said a man who called himself S. Goody as he tended to a table of black t-shirts with Raiders logos and “Straight Outta Oakland” printed on the front. Goody sells t-shirts at 10 bucks a pop and had an eager customer base in the growing line.
After all the fans made it through the Paramount’s doors and sprawled out in the 3,000 seat theater, NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman briefly welcomed the crowd and instructed anyone interested in making a public comment to step up to the microphone at two podiums in the theater’s aisles. The crowd at the Paramount cheered and stamped as Seimas, wearing his own custom Raiders’ jersey and full black and silver face paint, took his allotted three minutes to explain to Grubman why he loves the Raiders. “We are a family,” he said, noting that the Raiders consistently sell out Oakland’s Coliseum, even when the team is doing poorly.
“Why can’t everyone just come together and say, ‘Look, the Raiders belong in Oakland?’” said another man who called himself Dynamo. “Why does it have to be so hard?”
For months, the Raiders’ owners, NFL executives and city officials have unsuccessfully negotiated the terms for construction of a new stadium for the team, unable to agree on who should pay the estimated $900 million construction costs. The Raiders currently share the Coliseum with the A’s, Oakland’s baseball team, but both teams’ owners have vowed to get the teams their own stadiums. SFGate reports that management for both teams have complained to Oakland Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio about the cost of regularly converting the space from a baseball stadium to a football stadium.
Meanwhile, NFL executives have negotiated a privately financed stadium in Carson, a suburb of Los Angeles. The Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and St. Louis Rams have all expressed interest in moving to the new stadium.
Though Raider Nation is headquartered in Oakland, the team hasn’t always been an East Bay franchise. The Raiders were founded in Oakland in 1960, but moved to Los Angeles in 1982 under the leadership of former Raiders’ manager Al Davis, the father of current team owner Mark Davis. In 1995, Davis Sr. moved the team back to Oakland, but the 13-year separation is still felt by the Raiders’ fans.
“If you think the grass is greener in SoCal and try to move the team there again, you’re probably going to come back to a ‘No Trespassing’ sign,” said a fan who called herself Jules, directing her comments at Davis. “We are not the California Raiders. We are the Oakland Raiders.”
In response to complaints from several fans that both the team’s owners and the NFL are not doing enough to secure the Raiders’ future in Oakland, Grubman said the NFL’s goal is to find a solution in which everyone, fans and city government included, does their part. But he did not offer specifics on a deal that would satisfy all parties. “[It’s] not just the budget,” Grubman said, referring to the setbacks in the negotiations for the new stadium. “[It’s] permitting the land, environmental issues.” Infrastructure in cities is complicated, he said, explaining that just navigating around highways can be a major construction challenge.
But most of the fans didn’t ask probing questions about the budget for a new stadium. Instead, their comments focused on the sense of community they feel at Raiders games and the relationships at stake if the Raiders leave and their fans no longer have Coliseum tailgates to bring them together.
“You don’t have our back,” said Gary Dowell, a Raiders season ticket holder from San Leandro, criticizing Mark Davis, who jumped up from his front row seat, shouting his response across the theater and taking over one of the microphones stationed amongst the crowd. “We’ve been offering as much as we possibly can,” Davis said of the team’s role in the negotiations.
Davis said the team has worked with three mega-developers to help complete the stadium construction project.
“You don’t have any money, Mark!” a fan retorted. And it’s true—all of the mega-developer deals for the project have fallen through.
The stadium deal is complicated.
In 2012, then-Oakland Mayor Jean Quan supported a deal to build new stadiums for the Raiders and the A’s, as well as the Warriors, Oakland’s basketball franchise that plays next to the Coliseum at Oracle Arena. Called “Coliseum City,” the construction project would not just build stadiums for the teams but also develop housing, retail and business space to help revitalize the surrounding area. The city council allocated $3.5 million to kick-start the project and handed over management of the project to local developer JRDV.
In 2013, Colony Capital LLC, an investment group based in Dubai, joined JRDV as an investor in Coliseum City. But both developers failed to negotiate a deal that the Raiders would sign onto and pulled out of the project the following year, the Oakland Tribute reported.
In 2014, Floyd Kephart, a prominent San Diego developer, took over the Coliseum City deal with his company New City Development LLC, pledging to find a way to satisfy all parties. This September, Bay Area News Group reported that Kephart’s plan would close funding gaps by issuing bonds backed by revenue made at the stadium. But NFL executives said they would not share profits from the stadium, and the deal expired on September 24.
At the hearing, one fan questioned Grubman on why the NFL refused to share profits on the stadium as a means to finance its construction. Grubman swiftly shut down the fan, comparing the NFL’s right to retain its profits to that of a small business. He said that when a small business expands and starts selling products with their branding, the business is entitled to retain all of the profit. The NFL’s brand should be treated the same, he said.
“What we lack is financial capacity,” Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) said to the NFL executives on stage. “You and I know it takes a billion dollars to build a stadium.”
Gallo sat next to Cappio, who has led the city’s negotiations with the NFL, and City Councilmember Larry Reid (District 7), who represents the district where the Coliseum is located. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gave brief opening remarks, touting her love for both the city and the Raiders, but left the seat reserved for her in the front row vacant.
The NFL executives did not state when the group would make final decisions about the future of the Raiders, Chargers, or Rams.
Though the potential new stadium is the center of the negotiations for the city, the team, and the NFL, many fans are perfectly happy to keep “The Black Hole,” an affectionate nickname for the Coliseum, unchanged. “Real fans don’t give a shit about getting a new stadium,” Marcos Hernandez said while waiting in line outside the Paramount. Hernandez and his sister Doris Evans said they have been Raider fans since they were born.
Their father, Fred Hernandez, who was standing in line with them, placed the blame for failed negotiations squarely on city government officials. “We’ll remember who didn’t vote for the Raiders,” he said of Raider Nation’s capacity to affect voter turnout in city elections.
Though emotions were raw, throughout the hearing, the fans consistently cheered and supported each other. Speakers reiterated that Raider Nation is one big family, and some fans even said they would drive to Los Angeles for Raiders games if they had to. As he exited the theater, one fan muttered to another that the public hearing seemed like “just a vent session” for fans that otherwise don’t have any say in the Raiders’ future. He echoed the fear that other fans expressed throughout the night in their public comments: that the Raiders will go wherever they get the most money.
“It’s all about deep pockets,” he sighed, shaking his head and walking down the stairs.
Correction: “National Football Team” was corrected to “National Football League” on October 31.