Where will the Raiders start the 2020 season, if there is one?

For most of the teams facing possible stadium or arena construction delays thanks to the coronavirus crisis, there’s an easy fallback plan, which is to just keep playing in their current venue for a bit longer. Even the Worcester Red Sox could just stick around in Pawtucket for one more season, which I would actually appreciate since I’ve never been to 78-year-old McCoy Stadium and was planning on going this summer, back when there was going to be a this summer.

For the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders, though, things aren’t so simple, because the team declined its 2020 lease option at the Oakland Coliseum early in March, even though it had until April 1 to decide whether to do so. Even if it would have been hard to return to a city whose fans said farewell to their team by throwing nachos at them, this was maybe not the best decision to rush into rather than waiting a few weeks to see if the entire world was going to come to a screaming halt and leave your football team with nowhere to play, assuming anyone can play. Possible options include:

  • UNLV’s old Sam Boyd Stadium, San Antonio’s Alamodome, or El Paso’s Sun Bowl, according to Forbes, citing no sources at all other than that this is what is “said to be” in the works.
  • Salt Lake City, Phoenix, or San Diego, all of which are just the speculation of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which notes that “it is realistic to think that all of those options could be resurrected” since they were all options being considered for 2019 before the team re-upped with Oakland for one last season.
  • Play the preseason and possibly the opening of the regular season on the road, suggests the Review-Journal, while the Las Vegas stadium is finished.

All of this, of course, assumes that there will be a 2020 NFL season, which while the league swears is what it’s planning is not at all certain, given the difficulties of staging games safely even in front of empty stadiums when it would require so many people to play and broadcast games and feed and house all those people and if any one of them tests positive, suddenly you could have to shut down. (There’s also the question of whether it’s worth starting a season that could have to get interrupted again for renewed shutdowns if the virus flares back up again.) Though if the season is played in front of empty seats, then suddenly it doesn’t matter where the Raiders play: Forbes quoted “one NFL insider” as saying “the Raiders would hold games on a Las Vegas playground before going back to Oakland this year,” and they could totally do that if they don’t need anywhere for fans to sit.

One longer-term question for the Raiders and owner Mark Davis, meanwhile, is whether their business model of selling tickets mostly to out-of-town fans who’ll use Raiders games as an excuse for a trip to Vegas can survive the coronavirus, and the coronavirus recession. Will long-distance travel still be as common in a post-virus world? Will enough people have the money to do so anytime in the near future? These are small questions, maybe, in comparison to the bigger one of how any of us are going to watch sports (or live our lives) in the coming weeks and months and years, but if we can’t rubberneck at the bad fortune of Mark Davis (and David Beckham, always David Beckham), then it’s going to be a long 2020.


21 comments on “Where will the Raiders start the 2020 season, if there is one?

  1. Long distance travel will come back, it will just take so time. The bigger question is will it take longer to come back than Mark Davis can stay solvent. My guess is no.

    • The bigger issue for Mark Davis, are estate taxes. When Al died Carol inherited his shares with no estate tax, when Carol dies Mark will have to pay the estate tax on the team. See Georgia Frontiere, her children were forced to sell the team.

    • Yep. This was discussed some time ago on Raider/Charger move threads on this site.

      It’s one of the reasons I don’t think the NFL minds some short term bad press about a) leaving Oakland and San Diego and b) putting the Chargers into a city they have already failed in/ are struggling in again.

      If short term embarrassment is the price of getting rid of the Davis and Spanos families, each of whom are not part of the ‘new breed’ of NFL owners with significant income outside of their football businesses, then I think they’ll take the PR hit.

      Davis has taken on a large amount of debt to build his stadium (albeit with significant taxpayer help…) and delays could cause significant cost overruns (though who knows what he might sell and lease back next to free up cash. How many miles on the Grand Voyager these days?).

      In Spanos’ case, he said he didn’t want to be in LA. I believe there was a reasonable chance of getting a modest stadium built in San Diego if he was willing to pay 50% of the cost. He could have done this in any number of ways, but eventually decided to become Kroenke’s tenant in non-football mad LA instead. I doubt that will end well for him.

      That said, I’m not laughing at either of them. Even if they are forced to sell, they’ll still walk away with a billion dollars in their pockets. They win either way. The only thing they lose is membership in the club, and I’m not sure either of them is feeling particularly welcome there at present.

      • This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for two reasons:

        1. The NFL is dependent on TV revenue and other shared revenue. Your really have to hate someone to be willing to hurt your own pocketbook to spite them. If the NFL loses fans/ratings in aggregate every team owner takes it on the chin.

        2. The NFL has lots of owners who aren’t the “new breed” with wealth outside the NFL. The McCaskeys in Chicago and Rooneys in Pittsburgh jump to mind. No one is trying to force them out. Their teams are successful and profitable for the league but they have no real business interests outside the NFL. AG Spanos and company, in contrast, is one of the biggest apartment developers in the country. If you wanted NFL owners with outside businesses you’d push out the Rooneys not the Spanoses.

        • They aren’t going to lose money long term by forcing out any owner (or, to be more accurate, allowing them to force themselves out).

          If they are willing to be patient, the NFL will ultimately reap rewards for being in Los Angeles (with one team or two). But it might take a generation or more to get to that point.

          In 2018 (the year of his death) Alex Spanos was worth $2.4Bn, up from $1.1Bn in mid 2012. Of that amount, $1.9Bn was down to the (net) value of the Chargers (Forbes).

          The net value of all his other businesses, then, was $500m. That’s a whack of dough… but the vast majority of the Spanos family’s wealth was and is the Chargers.

          • I didn’t make much sense to me that an owner would cut off his nose to spite his face. It makes even less sense that they’d do it to reap rewards in “a generation or two“.

            There are some people who will take a personal financial loss to make someone else suffer, but not many. There are fewer still who live their life to make a lot of money after they are dead.

          • It’s not “cutting off his nose to spite his face”. It’s a long term growth play. Sometimes that involves short term pain, like the present LA debacle.

            And it’s not “an owner”. It’s the league as a whole.

            Even so, if you think NFL owners aren’t keen on building a business that will make their family “even richer” after they are gone then I would strongly disagree with you.

            Intergenerational wealth is a fundamental part of modern day America (and the west in general). Successful business owners are VERY keen to make sure the businesses they built will remain strong for their offspring, or just for their egos.

            Building businesses is all about creating the kind of long term competitive advantage that will outlive you as the original owner/proprietor.

            Pete Rozelle didn’t live to see the exponential growth phase of the league he was a major force behind building. Some owners (Tim Mara, George Halas, Art Rooney) died long before their creations became the behemoths they are now.

            I am quite certain they were ALL very interested in handing over to their children strong businesses that would not only survive but thrive.

            Many of these guys were against expansion and/or merging with the AFL. Rozelle convinced them to do so despite their misgivings.

            Seems to have worked out ok for everybody, doesn’t it?

          • You’ve kind of moved to a different thesis and a different argument. You said the goal was to force Spanos and Davis out, because they aren’t “the new breed.” Now you’re talking about something about the LA market.

            And again you haven’t addressed if owners want fellow owners with outside wealth why Dpanos is a target but McCaskey and Rooney, who have even less outside wealth, aren’t.

            As for multigenerational whatever, with CTE there’s really no guarantee the NFL as we know it will last 20 years let alone 200.

  2. I’m sure you saw a couple of articles over the few days – a German study that has found a Covid-19 mortality rate of about .4%, compared to a typical flu mortality rate of .1%. The other finding was from your neck of the woods, and indicates that age and obesity are the most significant risk factors. I think it is a reasonable assumption that construction workers, athletes, and those who work with athletes are probably the least likely to require significant medical attention if they happen to catch the disease. Given these facts, why not consider the possibility of television-only sporting events?

    • I mean, I guess if you don’t mind only a few hundred of the players and support staff needing hospitalization, and only a couple dozen dying, that’s not a bad plan at all. You’re going to need expanded rosters, though.

      • True, if you assume 100% infection rate. I’m not quite sure why you would assume that, but it certainly reflects the apparent societal need to wallow in the worst possible scenarios. But at the risk of spoiling the fun, I’m actually going to give being reasonable a shot.

        If the mortality rate that includes the aged and obese is .4%, let’s make an educated guess and say the mortality rate for very healthy people is going to be an order of magnitude less, at .04%. Personally I think it’s even lower than that, but of course I have no evidence. Further, let’s take the infection reproduction number at a generous 3, which is high even now, when the virus rages most widely.

        Assume every game involves 100 players, 200 team support staff, and 500 TV crew. A weekend with 16 games might involve 13,000 people. Testing has been so spotty and poor that figuring out how many in that 13,000 might come into the game already infected is dicey. But I’ll go with 1%, or 130 people. Seems incredibly high, but why not. Testing would surely eliminate 99% of those. So perhaps two might slip through.

        At the end of the game five or six extremely healthy people out of 13,000 might have the virus. Odds are that none of them will even require hospitalization. Certainly comparable odds to the risk of the flu, crime, car accidents, etc. that we all live(d) with until recently.

        Why not do it? We’re going to have to start doing something, sometime.

        • There’s no evidence at this point that testing is 99% accurate for catching everyone who’s infectious. But, sure: If players and TV and support staff don’t mind being isolated from their families for several months (because otherwise you have to test and quarantine all of them, too, and all the kids’ schoolteachers, etc.), and if you don’t mind that every time someone tests positive you’re going to have to quarantine them and everyone they’ve come in contact with (and find replacements somewhere), and if you’re okay with a couple of coaches probably dying somewhere along the line, then maybe, possibly, you could have live sports with no fans by the fall. It’s not impossible, but it’s extremely unlikely.

          • Neil, I’m afraid I still disagree. I believe that conditions are changing and improving, even after only a month of serious attention to the pandemic. Everywhere I look I see the rate of new cases declining. As I pointed out before, we’re starting to see that the percentages have been less than what initial reports indicated. I don’t want to sound callous, but calculated risk management is what will get us through this.

            I would love to see Fauci or someone at the CDC or WHO announce the metric they are tracking that will indicate when it is acceptable to loosen social distancing restrictions. There must be one.

            I have to ask, what do you consider to be an acceptable level of personal risk? Is it the same as it was at the beginning of the year? Will you ever go into a crowd again? Without some level of risk tolerance society simply grinds to a halt.

            We cannot simply sit at home clutching our talismanic face masks, subsisting on government subsidies, until all of our every perceived fear is reduced to zero. If in five MORE months we’re still not even able to hold a television-only sporting event, we might as well throw in the towel now. (Sorry, had to keep the sports metaphors going!)

          • Fauci and others have been very clear on what the metrics are for loosening restrictions: New infections have to be down to minimal levels (which we should get to by late May or June) and we have to have measures in place for mass testing and contact tracing so that things don’t flare right back up again:

            https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/09/health/us-coronavirus-thursday/index.html
            (scroll down a bit)

            However: “Loosening restrictions” doesn’t mean going completely back to normal, and large public gatherings like playing games in front of stadiums full of fans will be among the last to return. And even playing games in empty stadiums is a reasonably large gathering, so that’s no sure thing, either. Sure, risk management, but the risk of things going back to where they are now has to be kept at near zero, because otherwise you’re talking tens of thousands of deaths and another two months of shutting everything down. No one can say for sure right now if that will mean no sports at all, but if it does, it does — the virus doesn’t care how bored we are.

          • I am not clear on why anyone thinks a calculated death rate (and there are many such numbers to choose from) for a virus for which the total number of infections reported across the world (even in the west) is either wildly inaccurate or incomplete is important?

            The rate of testing for the general public (which you absolutely need to know in order to calculate any reasonable estimate of fatality rates) is so low and so haphazardly administrated (is everyone using the same test? Is everyone reporting the same standard for positive or negative? Some places are just using the existence of symptoms – mainly temperature and cough based – as the main diagnostic tool) that the statistics being reported are largely useless.

            All we can say is that this virus is highly infectious and transmissible.

            Look at the maps of infections around the world. Are we really to believe that Africa, India, Southeast Asia and South America have ‘relatively few’ cases?

            South Korea and Germany appear to be doing the best job thus far, but even they have significant uncertainties.

            If anyone had calculated the “mortality rate” of the 1918 influenza outbreak during the first wave they would have been very, very wrong.

            The one “test population” we have that could provide a reasonable rate of infection and mortality is from the cruise ships… and since those populations are not broadly representative of the world as a whole, I would argue even that rate is likely going to be artificially high.

            It is way too early to know what this will be yet. Day to day (even week to week) changes in reported cases and/or fatalities are not relevant. 30 people hanging on until just after midnight (or 4am/8am, whatever cutoff the individual districts are using) before dying can skew statistics greatly.

          • The COVID death rate is very clearly way above the regular flu death rate of 0.1%, and below the estimated 1918 death rate of 2-10%. Beyond that, yeah, it’s mostly guesswork.

            Interestingly, though tangential to this discussion, the first wave of the 1918 flu was actually way less deadly than the second wave, because World War I:

            https://www.history.com/news/spanish-flu-second-wave-resurgence

          • “The COVID death rate is very clearly way above the regular flu death rate of 0.1%”

            I disagree. If the total number of people infected is actually 10 or 100 times the number who are self reporting or who have otherwise been recommended for testing, then the mortality rate will be dramatically lower (I am not saying this is the case, just that we do not know).

            The entirety of the point made in my previous post was that it is impossible to know what the CV19 mortality rate is when you don’t know how many people are infected. And we absolutely do not know that. This might end up being “the rate”. But no-one knows that at this point. We are drawing false summaries from incomplete and possibly inaccurate data. Like the old story about 4 people blind since birth trying to describe an elephant to each other.

            When general public testing has moved beyond, say, 20-30% of the total population, and is representative of all geographic and economic circumstances, we might be able to make a reasonable estimate of the mortality rate. Right now, the only people being counted as ‘infected’ are those sick enough to self report/show up at a hospital or who, by sheer chance, end up tested despite appearing symptom free.

            In every sense, this is a subset of a subset, not a useful mathematical projection of what percentage of the general population is infected.

            At this early stage, the numbers being thrown around are a bit like examining 200 billionaires to determine the rate of malnourishment across the world.

          • We know what the numbers are in Asian nations with much more widespread testing. I haven’t seen any numbers much below 1%.

            Or to flip it around, to get the current number of U.S. deaths with a mortality rate of 0.1%, you’d have to have had 25 million people already infected. I don’t know anyone who thinks that’s possible, even if there are way more asymptomatic cases than have been assumed.

  3. Are the players contracts tied to game s played? If the MLB doesn’t play any games this season, are the owners on the hook for any of that? Are we going to see players downgrade from mansions to… Smaller mansions?

    • https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28977862/mlb-veterans-get-4775-daily-60-days-virus-stoppage

  4. “Sources with inside knowledge of the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told me” that… Mark Davis has no idea what he is doing.