Clark Hunt turned 52 years old in February, and rarely a year has gone by that the Chiefs’ chairman hasn’t visited Oakland to watch his team face one of its oldest rivals, the Raiders.
“Over 30,” Hunt said Monday, when asked how many times he’s been in Oakland to see the Chiefs play the Raiders. “For sure.”
And if you ask him why those trips matter to him, a smile creeps across his face.
“If you go back to the early days of the AFL, that Chiefs-Oakland rivalry was so fierce, and there was a lot of shenanigans that happened on the field that maybe were outside the rules,” Hunt said. “I think that’s something that really built the passion for the team, the coaching staff and certainly the fanbase, to want to beat those rivals.”
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Yet, Hunt — like 30 of his fellow owners — voted at the National Football League’s annual owner meeting on Monday to allow Raiders owner Mark Davis to relocate to Las Vegas.
It was a decision, Hunt says, he didn’t make until recently, when it became clear to him that Oakland didn’t have a viable plan to replace to Raiders’ current home, the decaying, 51-year-old Oakland Alameda Coliseum.
“It was really over the last week, as the Oakland mayor worked very hard — to the finish line — to try to come up with something that would be workable for the Raiders and NFL,” Hunt said, when asked when he made the decision to vote for the move. “But at the end of the day, it became clear that she was not going to be able to get that done.”
Hunt said that in today’s NFL, when teams talk about the need for new stadiums, they’re referring to the potential economic opportunities a new facility can generate. But Oakland’s issues go beyond that, he said.
“That facility, I think, in a lot of ways, is reaching its useful life,” Hunt said of the Coliseum. “I don’t know how many more years it’s going to be there, and I think they were truly faced with the situation where they might not have a stadium to play in in the Oakland market in the coming years.”
Had Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf presented what Hunt determined to be a viable plan, would he have really voted to keep the Raiders home, despite the massive $750 million package the city of Las Vegas put together as an enticement?
“Absolutely, and I think there were a lot of owners who would have felt the same,” Hunt said. “Mark Davis, I have to compliment him in not playing the markets against each other, because I don’t believe he really did that that. But I also believe that if he could have stayed in Oakland, he would have done it.”
Davis, who said he had “mixed” feelings about the move, and other owners repeated that characterization Monday, though Schaaf released a statement of her own, disputing the notion that the city’s offer wasn’t good enough.
“I am disappointed that the Raiders and the NFL chose Las Vegas over Oakland when we had a fully-financed, shovel-ready stadium project that would have kept the Raiders in Oakland where they were born and raised,” Schaaf said in the statement.
The city of Oakland’s offer however, included no public money, just land and a promise to provide infrastructure improvements. It also included a $600 million investment from a privately-financed group, something that didn't appeal to NFL owners, who are wary of outside investment outside of public money.
Schaaf maintained Monday that the offer was reasonable considering the city’s of Oakland's other priorities, such as improving the school system, and the fact it is still paying off a $90 million loan for remodeling the Coliseum 20 years ago.
“I am proud that we stood firm in refusing to use public money to subsidize stadium construction and that we did not capitulate to their unreasonable and unnecessary demand that we choose between our football and baseball franchises,” Schaaf said in the statement.
Las Vegas’ offer included millions in public money for a new $1.9 billion facility that will almost certainly increase the Raiders’ overall revenue, which it will share with the other 31 teams, who also stand to receive significant relocation fees from the Raiders.
All but one of the league’s owners — Miami’s Stephen Ross, who paid for the Dolphins’ recent $500 million upgrades to his stadium himself — agreed that the business reasons to make the move were more important than the Raiders’ long, proud tradition in Oakland, their passionate fanbase and the fact the Bay Area remains much larger market (sixth) than Las Vegas (40th).
The potential windfall was also enough to overlook the league’s long-held concern about putting a professional franchise in America’s gambling capital, a move the National Hockey League made last year with the announcement of the league’s newest team, the Golden Knights, who begin play this fall.
“I think there is still a concern about the negative aspects of gambling and having it too close to the players, coaches and officials who are so important to maintaining the integrity of the game, and that’s something the league will continue to be vigilant about,” Hunt said.
But culturally, Hunt said, society has seen a shift in attitudes toward gambling the last five to 10 years due to the availability of gambling, which is legal in many states and available online.
“I think that’s part of the reason that culturally, everyone’s more accepting of it, and it’s not so geographic based,” Hunt said. “Historically, you thought about gambling and you thought about Vegas. That’s no longer true like that.”
Still, Hunt said he was “very disappointed” for Raiders fans, despite his vote.
“They have a tremendous fanbase, the Chiefs have had a great rivalry with them for five-plus decades, and I think in a lot of ways, it’s a sad day that they’ll be leaving Oakland,” Hunt said. “I would say from a business standpoint, I think there’s a lot of benefit for the league for teams being able to stay in their home markets.
“It goes beyond the emotional component to it, and I’m disappointed it’s worked out the way it has for Oakland, San Diego and the Rams to all be moving.”
Hunt added that his hope a year ago was to find a solution for the three franchises that involved fewer relocations.
Last August, he mentioned he preferred for only one of the teams to relocate to Los Angeles. The Chargers relocated to Los Angeles this offseason, and will eventually join the Rams – who abandoned St. Louis for L.A. last year – in their new building when it opens in 2019.
All three moves affect the Chiefs, who shared the state of Missouri with the Rams and share the AFC West with the Raiders and Chargers. The Chiefs now have the state to themselves, though they have yet to expand their reach into the now-abandoned NFL market in St. Louis.
“I think one of the things that’s positive is that there’s a chance there’s not going to be re-alignment of our division which, going back a couple years, that was not a foregone conclusion,” Hunt said. “And I think maintaining those rivalries is very important for the Chiefs and obviously very important for our fans.”
Hunt added that the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles and the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas could make those organizations stronger financially down the road, and thus, give them a chance to be stronger on the field as well. Only the Chiefs and Broncos have won the division since 2010.
“I certainly think there’s a possibility it could turn out that way,” Hunt said. “Of course, the Raiders have been trending in an upward direction here for the last several years and are already a very good football team, so I’m not sure how the move will end up impacting them.”
The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas will also add to the list of cities with brand-new stadiums that could host a Super Bowl, something Hunt still wants to do.
The league, however, still needs to decide to have another cold-weather Super Bowl before Kansas City could submit a bid, and it’s entirely possible the Raiders’ new home, which will open in 2020, could jump to the front of the line, with the next Super Bowl up for bid coming in 2022.
“It’s going to be a weather-protected stadium in an attractive tourist destination,” Hunt said. “I think it would be very appealing to the league, and to the ownership as a whole, as a possible future Super Bowl destination.”
The 2022 Super Bowl host won’t be decided until May, when the owners convene again.
All Hunt knows for now is that the Raiders, and the AFC West, won’t ever be the same.
“It is going to be different,” Hunt said. “For sure.”