In the wake of the Raiders moving to Las Vegas, it’s not like the NFL is the only sports entity looking to make a buck. We live in an age where the NBA is selling ads on its jerseys, MLB has company logos on its socks, and the NCAA basketball tournament of “unpaid amateurs” is worth $1.1 billion a year to TV partners.
It’s that the NFL goes to the greatest lengths to convince us this is not the case. The league is simply terrible at being honest. We live in a wildly cynical era as it is. We don’t expect power brokers to be transparent. We expect all of this to be tainted in some way. And even with such a low bar, the NFL continually looks like the greediest and sketchiest gang on the block.
Take Roger Goodell. No seriously, please take him. He has adamantly stood by the league’s official stance against sports gambling, suggesting the integrity of the game was in peril if it was connected to wagering. Las Vegas wasn’t even allowed to bid on hosting the Pro Bowl. But the moment Sin City was willing to cough up $750 million, the league put it’s hands out so fast it may have torn a rotator cuff.
In his presser following the league’s 31-1 vote to allow the Raiders to leave Oakland, Goodell stated, “We work very hard and never want to see the relocation of a franchise. That means exhausting our options and doing everything we can to get a solution in an existing market.” But this is the ultimate lie.
Two years ago, I wrote about smelling a rat in the the league office. Before the Rams, Chargers and Raiders decamped, Robert Kraft called the shot. This was Babe Ruth-esque. “I know that Roger (Goodell) and I and a number of the owners who care about the long-term health of the NFL,” Kraft said, “feel it’s very important for our future to have at least one – if not two teams – in downtown L.A.”
Oh, and look at what happened a few years later. Coincidentally the league now has two franchises heading to Los Angeles, one of them even half-heartedly. Sorry, the jig is up. How could a league “never want to see a relocation,” yet somehow be bullish on planting two franchises in a new market? The NFL isn’t expanding, because the 32 owners don’t want to share with a newbie their annual piles of cash. Even if they were to agree to it, they wouldn’t ever put two expansion franchises in the same city. Kraft basically left the playbook outside the locker room. This was the gameplan all along. So behind the scenes the NFL is manipulating where it sets up its oil derricks.
The league feels the Bay Area is covered with one team (the Niners), that San Diego is unimportant as long as L.A. has squads, and that St. Louis is a small market that will never be as passionate about football as it is about its Cardinals. Los Angeles provided the opportunity of glitzy Super Bowls and the league’s West Coast headquarters. Vegas gives them another sexy Super Bowl site, and a foot into the next financial windfall of legalized sports gambling. This was a chess match ten years long, and during which the league has pushed its franchises around the board. Guess what the fans were? Pawns.
The NFL didn’t exhaust all possibilities to get deals done in St. Louis, San Diego or Oakland. The power brokers deemed those markets unimportant and unnecessary. There have been at least five stadiums built or massively renovated in the last 15 years that used primarily or entirely private funding. Boston, New York, Miami, San Francisco (Santa Clara) and Los Angeles all built their own facilities. Guess what all those markets have in common? The NFL wanted to be there. The Patriots, Giants and Jets, Dolphins, Niners and Rams ownership found ways to build billion dollar stadiums with their own money, or non-tax payer funds. In Miami’s case, this is why Stephen Ross voted “no” on the Raiders move. He sunk $500 million of his own cash into renovating his stadium (which was built entirely by owner Joe Robbie personal financing in ’87) to stay in South Florida and attract Super Bowls.
It can always get done if the NFL wants it badly enough. This is a league with a publicly stated goal of $25 billion in revenue annually. That’s the Gross Domestic Product of El Salvador. Think about it: The NFL is closing in on generating what El Salvador makes in a year. And that doesn’t even seem that crazy. But how can we possibly make the money work in Oakland?! All of those cities that built new stadiums without public assistance are massive population centers and necessary markets to have for an influential, dominant league. So instead of picking apart and attacking the civic shortcomings of the St. Louis, San Diego, or Oakland proposals, let’s see this for what it is: The NFL was manipulating a way to get out of those places. Which is why the NFL’s company line about relocation being a last resort is total garbage. It’s like a mafia don putting a hit out on a gangster and then sending flowers to the family. “We are so sorry for your loss.”
To underscore just how far the league will go to lie to us look no further than its galling marketing slogan, “Football is Family.” The league has absolutely no shame. It is suggesting its bond with you runs deeper than just another consumer product. They are telling you there’s a trust there, a lineage, a tradition that drills back generations. They are promoting there’s something intrinsically unique about this league, so much so you should consider them family. But this is a business, a cut-throat, no-nonsense, unemotional business. There’s nothing family about this. They are spending your college fund on a retirement home in Boca.
If you simply take some time and listen closely you can hear exactly how they’re going to make their next dollar. Robert Kraft mapped out for us the plan to L.A. and now he’s doing the same with London. Kraft is bad with secrets. He says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next five to seven years we have a team there. Maybe sooner.” You think that’s expansion? Fat chance. This will be the next team to relocate, likely the Bills or Jaguars or another smaller market the league deems unnecessary. This is not family, unless your parents will sell you for stock options or auction Grandma off for a decent real estate deal. The NFL says it cares about fans, but it just stuck a finger in the eye of three fan bases within a calendar year and told them, “We had no choice. We had to steal your lunch money.” They are lying to us daily. This is a con. And we need to wake up to it.
D.A. hosts 6-10 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.