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Is Oakland Feeling Super?

Time will tell how quickly the Raiders are able to regain national prominence as one of the best teams in the league and are able to make it to the Super Bowl.  But it is equally possibly the Super Bowl could come to them.  This week, all eyes have turned to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI.  Indianapolis was given the opportunity to host by way of a new stadium initiative that started years ago.

In recent years the NFL decision makers, led by Commissioner Roger Goodell, have made an effort to award newly constructed stadiums with the Super Bowl hosting experience.  It’s one of the NFL’s ways of giving incentive to cities to put tax money into new stadiums.  Cities are hesitant to put money into stadiums, especially in troubled economies, but if the politicians can point to the huge economic flux that hosting a Super Bowl can bring, it lessens the public’s distaste for the millions of dollars cities or states will give to the pro teams.

In fact, since 2006 when Goodell took over for Paul Tagliabue, many of the Super Bowls played and scheduled to play have been in new venues (something that Tagliabue also gets credited with as a few of these were already scheduled before Goodell took over).  In 2008 the game was played in the then-new Arizona Cardinals stadium in Glendale, AZ.  In 2011, it was in the new Dallas Cowboys stadium.  This year, it will be played in the new stadium in Indianapolis.  In 2014, the new joint Giants/Jets stadium in New Jersey will have the honor of hosting the Super Bowl.  Then, in 2015, it will go back to AZ.

And with NFL football reaching new peaks of popularity every season, the economic benefits from hosting the most popular sporting event in America can be great.  According to Super Bowl Host Committee Marketing Coordinator McKenze Rogers, the planners are expecting at least $150 million in income to the city, with the total dollar amount possibly as high as $400 million dollars.  The city of Indianapolis and nearby surrounding areas blocked off 18,000 hotel rooms at 141 hotels for the two week window before and during the Super Bowl in expectations that 150,000 visitors would be showing up.  Those numbers don’t include the economic impact of those who already live in the city – according to NFL PR rep Brian McCarthy, a new record for attendance at The NFL Experience was set at 42,156 on Sunday January 29th, before most fans and media arrived.  The first weekend it was open, over 100,000 people had already been through The NFL Experience.  The massive amount of money the NFL generates makes every team’s city interested in hosting.

It certainly seems likely that some California city will play host to a Super Bowl in the somewhat near future – the first for the state since San Diego hosted in 2003.  The question is which city will host?  All three California teams – The Raiders, their neighbors the 49ers and the Chargers are in need of new stadiums.  However, California tax payers are, in general, disinclined to contribute.  The state’s annual budget concerns do not help, either.  If the state is cutting essential services to balance the budget, it seems unlikely there is any extra to help fund a stadium.

Even in this stunted political climate, the 49ers have been able to reach agreements with the city of Santa Clara to build a new stadium in that city, although they will remain, in name, the San Francisco 49ers.  In June of 2010, the voters of Santa Clara voted to approve a measure that would allow the city to lease the land for the 49ers stadium, and this last December, the city voted to borrow $850 Million of the expected $937 million for the stadium from several major banks. And now the league has agreed to infuse an additional $200 million into the project.

So the 49ers have the clear edge in getting their stadium done first.  From there, it’s anyone’s guess which way the wind will blow for the remaining California teams and Oakland is clearly the wild card with three possibilities.  There are talks of Oakland sharing the Santa Clara stadium with the 49ers but with the 49ers already signed as the primary tenants, the Raiders would be the secondary tenants, much like the Jets were in New Jersey prior to the new stadium being built that had them partners with the Giants.

To thicken the plot, in mid December, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced a new proposal to build a “Coliseum City” on the spot of the current Coliseum.  This proposal included Oakland’s three pro teams – The Raiders, the Warriors and the A’s. 


However, the A’s seem unlikely to stay in Oakland and destined to bolt for San Jose.  The city of Oakland has been buying up property around the Coliseum and already owns much if not all of the land in question in order to be able to expand with this project without needing any state redevelopment funds, although with its close proximity to BART it may be in line for some transportation development funds.

Raiders owner Mark Davis has said that staying in Oakland is his preference.  At the press conference to announce the hiring of Reggie McKenzie, Davis stated, “I’ve been working on other stadium situations for about a year and a half. We’re trying to get something done up here, but if we can’t we’ve gotta get something done somewhere because we need to be able to compete. And that’s where it’s at.” 

Later Davis went on to reiterate a possible move back to Los Angeles: “Yeah, Los Angeles is a possibility… The timetable is yesterday. So that’s where it is. We’ve got to get a stadium. We’ve got to get that done.”

This sentiment is shared by Commissioner Roger Goodell who made his preference clear in his yearly Super Bowl press conference on Friday.

“We want to keep our teams where they are,” said Goodell. “We’re working to get stadiums built and make sure we do whatever we can to make sure those teams are successful in those communities.

“We would like to be back in Los Angeles, if we can do it correctly. There are a lot of issues that have to be balanced there.”

Los Angeles is also in the process of approving a new NFL-ready stadium in downtown LA, in an attempt to lure an NFL team back to the second largest market in the US.  LA has two plans but the most likely at this time is an LA Live expansion in downtown Los Angeles.  LA Live is a development area next to Staples Center and it’s already secured many of the needed rights to get a stadium built in an expansion project.  This endeavor is already so far along that the developers have secured naming rights with Farmers Insurance.  Farmers Field may be open as early as 2016.  It’s unknown which team will play there but it does seem likely that a team will make the move because of the allure of a large city and state of the art facilities. Another thing Goodell mentioned on Friday is that there are no plans for expansion in the foreseeable future. Which means if a team is to inhabit the stadium, it will most likely be a transplant.

The Raiders franchise seems to be the most likely to move because it’s been in LA before, their facilities in Oakland are some of the worst in the league, and Mark Davis is open to the move.  The Chargers are another possibility, however.  They, also, are trying to get an agreement with their city to build a new stadium, but if San Diego and the team cannot come to an agreement they may look to LA as the next best option.

Clearly, there are a lot of dominoes that have yet to fall.  San Francisco’s stadium situation appears to be worked out.  Either the Chargers or Raiders or both could come to an agreement with the cities they are already in by using the threat of moving to LA as leverage.  Either of them could be more than flirting with LA – one of them may come to an agreement to play at Farmers Field as early as 2016.  Or, perhaps, another team – like the Vikings, Rams or Jaguars – could come to an agreement with LA instead, increasing the likelihood that both the Chargers and the Raiders stay where they are. Or, in the case of the Raiders, making a shared stadium in Santa Clara with the 49ers the best option.

Whatever happens, it seems clear that in a few short years, the landscape of California’s sports teams will look quite different. Once the teams do get their new venues though, expect for some Super Bowls to come California’s way including, potentially, to Oakland.  And who knows what will happen with the team between then and now.  If Raiders’ new GM Reggie McKenzie and new head coach Dennis Allen can turn the team into the bullies that Hue Jackson promised, perhaps the Raiders can be the NFL’s first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium.

If Oakland does score a Super Bowl someday, here are some things it can learn from Indianapolis, which has received near universal praise for its hosting experience:

Centralize.  One thing that has created success for Indianapolis is having everything together downtown.  Most of their downtown hotels are connected by skywalks to a large mall.  The mall, in turn, connects to the Convention Center – 16th largest in the world – by skywalk, and the Convention Center connects to Lucas Oil Stadium underground.  The Convention Center housed The NFL Experience this year, among other things. The proposed Coliseum City would be much like that as there would be hotels and shopping areas all connected with the Coliseum.

Not every city can do this – more and more stadiums are being built in smaller cities outside of the cities that bear their name.  For example, New England’s stadium is in Foxboro, MA and both of New York’s teams are housed in New Jersey.  This makes it more complicated for media and fans who want to participate in activities in both the stadium area and the city and who have to shuttle back and forth.  This would be the same situation for either the 49ers or the Raiders should they share a stadium in Santa Clara. This will be important should the Raiders get the new stadium in Oakland.

Know who you are and play to your strengths.  When Miami or New Orleans hosts – which they both do frequently – you know what you’re going to get: parties, beautiful weather, and beautiful people.  Indianapolis hasn’t tried to match their party scene, instead focusing on the family – to rave reviews.  When visitors checked into their hotels, many were greeted by hand-written greeting notes from some Hoosier children.  Reporters that came to the city early were treated with a Q & A with children explaining what they like about living in Indy.  Indy also presented fans that arrived early with 32 Indy cars – one for each NFL team painted in team colors, a nod to Indy’s racing history.

Have things to do. With Colts’ owner Jim Irsay being a giant music fan, it becomes no surprise that Indianapolis has chosen to fill up the schedule with back to back concerts – on two stages, within a couple of blocks from each other.  There is also an 800 foot zipline that gives fans a view of the downtown, the NFL Experience and the Kinect NFL Play 60 FanDome – which allows kids and adults to get some of their recommended 60 minutes of daily activity playing Xbox Kinect against each other.  Indianapolis also has made their bus system free for everyone this week so visitors can bus to other locations – like the world’s largest children’s museum, just north of downtown.

Make more NFL activities available. For the first time, fans could get tickets to go to the Super Bowl Media Day.  Fans could also get tickets to go onto Radio Row, to watch the many national radio shows broadcast.

The moral of this is Oakland residents would be wise to look at the bigger picture when deciding on whether to fund a new stadium. While the renovations of the current Oakland Coliseum were spendy, those renovations did nothing to improve the community or bring in money from the outside. And another renovation would also not produce positive results. The Super Bowl is a perfect example of the kind of infusion of funds and national attention the city of Oakland needs.

–Asher Mathews is a Guest Contributor special to Thoughts From the Dark Side. You can follow him on Twitter @AsherMathews.