Raiders owner Al Davis held an impromptu briefing with the media on the final day of the NFL winter meetings in Phoenix on March 17, 1999. Big Al didn't discuss the return of instant replay or the signing of quarterback Rich Gannon by his beloved Raiders. Instead, he beat an old drum.
Davis told reporters he wanted Oakland to fulfill its promises to him and he wants the league to indemnify him if an expansion team is put in Los Angeles. The Raiders are entangled in lawsuits on both issues. Davis (right) reiterated his complaint that Alameda County and the city of Oakland have failed to honor guarantees made when the franchise returned to northern California in 1995. He said he was promised that all club seats, suites and personal seat licenses would be sold out at the Oakland Coliseum (since renamed Network Associates Coliseum in 1998). Davis acknowledged that the guarantee for sellouts wasn't included in the 16-year lease agreement that obligates the team to play in Oakland through 2010. The Raiders' recalcitrant owner said that city and county officials pledged sellouts in press releases and statements.
"The first thing is to get the community to live up to what they committed," Davis said. "If they can't do it, then recision comes into vogue, and we'll see."
Alameda County and Oakland are suing the Raiders to honor the remaining years of their lease at the Coliseum. The team countersued, claiming the lease is invalid because sellouts were falsely promised for the 1995 and 1996 seasons before the agreement was signed. The case is expected to go to trial in Sacramento early next year.
Davis said he wants to resolve his feud with Alameda County and Oakland within six months, coincidentally the same deadline that the NFL has given Los Angeles for a stadium plan. Davis also suggested he has no immediate plans to leave Oakland. He said his attorneys have explored settlement talks with Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.
"I have optimisim we will come out all right," Davis said. "I don't worry about problems. Problems are normal. But I'm in the later years of my life and I want to get this resolved so we can get this team back to where it belongs.
"I know the future of the Raiders is gonna be great. Where we'll play, I don't know."
Davis also has claimed in court that the Raiders own the territorial rights to the Los Angeles market. The team played at the L.A. Coliseum from 1982 through 1994. The NFL awarded a conditional expansion franchise to Los Angeles on March 16. A viable stadium plan and significant financial support must be presented to the league within six months by the two groups seeking the franchise.
Davis believes he's entitled to a payment known as "territorial enhancement." According to NFL policy, if an existing team relocates to a more lucrative market and enhances its value, it pays a fee that is divided among the other teams. This was done when the Rams moved from Anaheim to St. Louis and the Browns left Cleveland for Baltimore.
Big Al also wants a "disenhancement" fee for returning to Oakland, a significantly less lucrative market than La-La-Land. He declined to reveal the amount of compensation he would demand.
"LA has very carefully played to the court system," Davis said. "They've been pretty cunning. I don't want to stop them from doing anything. I just want the Raiders to be paid for the Los Angeles opportunity and the disenhancement in Oakland."
Davis and the rest of the NFL team ownership brethren are motivated by greed. They know they must have a bottomless cash flow to land prime free agents in their pursuit for a Super Bowl trophy. Without a juicy stadium deal and sellout crowds, the Raiders or any team lags in the all-important revenue race and on the field.
"The difference betweeen the worst quartile of the teams and the top quartile in the NFL is between $30 million-$50 million in revenue," Davis said. "In some cases, it's $50 million in income. I don't care how bright you are, you can't compete against that.
"My preference is for Oakland and for my team to be where it can function best."