Could the Oakland Raiders — currently homeless in 2019 — play their home games in London next season?
According to Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, it’s at least a possibility.
Let’s start with some background. The Oakland Raiders’ lease on the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum has run out, and the new stadium being built for the Raiders in Las Vegas will not be ready before the 2020 season. That leaves the Raiders without a home for the 2019 season.
All other things being equal, the Raiders would prefer to remain in Oakland in 2019 — except there’s a little problem: in early December, the city of Oakland filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the Raiders and the NFL over the team’s move to Las Vegas, attempting to recover tens of millions of dollars to pay off the remaining debt on renovations to the Coliseum.
“I personally want to play in Oakland,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said in a November ESPN interview. “I absolutely want to play in Oakland. We have a completed lease sitting with the city council, that all they have to do is agree to it and we’re here next year.”
“Emotionally, I would say, why would I give them $3 (million), $4 (million), $5 million in rent that they’re going to turn around and use to sue me?” Davis said of the then-potential lawsuit. “But, at the same time, if they’ll have us, I can’t turn on the fans. I can’t do it. And this is terrible negotiating I’m doing now. I’m going to get killed. But that’s just the way I am. But, if in fact it does get ugly, and can’t be bridged, we do have options.”
One the lawsuit was filed, the team announced that it would not return to the Coliseum in 2019 — which is why the Raiders’ final 2018 home game against the Broncos on Monday night was so fraught with emotion; it could easily have been the final game the Raiders will play in the Coliseum.
But where would they play next season?
Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Raiders were in preliminary discussions to play their 2019 games in AT&T Park — home of the San Francisco Giants baseball franchise. The Chronicle story said that it would be January before a deal could be reached for that facility, and also quoted Davis and Raiders team president Marc Badain.
Speaking to Las Vegas’ Fox affiliate on Thursday, Raiders owner Mark Davis said the team has “options” for where to play in 2019 and will “look at those when the season’s over.” Raiders president Marc Badain told the TV station the team will “talk to a few potential options that minimize the disruption of the football team (and) provide a good experience for the fans.”
Those options could include Reno, San Diego, Glendale — and even Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco. In mid-December, KGO-TV in San Francisco reported that city officials were preparing for the possibility the Raiders might want to share that stadium with the San Francisco 49ers — even though they had not heard anything from the Raiders.
According to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Raiders will have to have something figured out before February so that the NFL can begin its scheduling process. So that’s a lot of uncertainty for a situation that will have to be resolved in the next six weeks.
Enter Jay Glazer.
In a short segment aired on Sunday morning, Glazer reported that the possibility that the Raiders could play their home games in London next season is on the table.
Oakland Raiders ➡️➡️ London Raiders??@JayGlazer explains how the Raiders could be playing their home games across the pond next year. pic.twitter.com/COd3eYh5F9— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 23, 2018
“London is now an option for the Raiders; it’s being discussed for them to play next year,” Glazer said. “They’re still trying to figure it out. Other owners have brought it up to the Raiders, [and] the Raiders are discussing it.”
The Raiders were already one of five teams slated to host an international game in 2019 — four of them to be played in London, and one in Mexico City. Could it really be possible they could play seven more in London?
The scheduling alone would at first appear to be impossible, but according to Glazer, what’s being discussed is that the Raiders would have two four-game homestands in London separated by two four-game road trips. That would mean the Raiders would have to have a practice facility in the London area, plus one in the United States — presumably their existing facility in Oakland.
And it would also mean that a lot of NFL teams — including the Kansas City Chiefs — would have to travel to London in 2019.
Putting aside the logistical issues the Raiders — and their opponents — would have to face under such a plan, it makes sense on one level. Given the substantial effort the NFL has put into its international outreach, you have to wonder if a one-year trial for a London home team might be useful to the NFL. Could a franchise build a fan base in London by playing all of its home games there for a season? Strictly as a laboratory experiment, you can see the value the NFL might see in such a plan.
But on the other hand... why London instead of Mexico City? If the Raiders were to play their home games in Mexico City — while continuing to use their existing practice facilities in Oakland — the logistical problems would be greatly reduced. Mexico City would be less of a strain on both the Raiders and their opponents — if for no other reason than the teams wouldn’t be traveling across nearly as many time zones. And the NFL could still have the benefit of a laboratory experiment on what happens when an NFL team plays a full season in another country.
To be sure, after the bizarre incident this season where the Chiefs-Rams game was moved to Los Angeles at the last minute after the Estadio Azteca field in Mexico City was discovered to be in poor condition, it could be that the NFL considers it too much of a risk to commit to eight full games there in 2019.
So then we have to consider another possibility: that the league is floating this idea as a means of getting the city of Oakland and the Raiders back to the negotiating table. As it now stands, the two sides seem to be an at impasse. The city filed suit, knowing full well that if they did so, the Raiders wouldn’t come back to Oakland in 2019. The Raiders made good on their promise to back out after the suit was filed.
Could the threat of playing their home games 5,000 miles away get the Raiders do the sensible thing — for the franchise, its 2019 opponents and its fans? If the Raiders are unable to make a deal for another venue in the next few weeks, the pressure will be on. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.