The saga of the San Antonio Raiders was dramatic, even if it was ultimately disappointing. In 2014, word was that the Oakland Raiders were exploring their options about where to relocate if a stadium deal in their hometown couldn’t be arranged, and that San Antonio was at the top of their list. The first part of that sentence was true. The second part, alas, was not. It became clear throughout the course of the negotiations that the Raiders weren’t considering San Antonio particularly seriously. The city was only being floated as a potential suitor in an attempt to get the team’s current home to pony up taxpayer funding for a new stadium. In January 2017, the Raiders officially announced a forthcoming move, scheduled for 2020—but to Las Vegas, a city less than half the size of San Antonio.
There shouldn’t be much left to say about the Raiders and San Antonio, but news out of Oakland this week brings the city back into the conversation—albeit in a decidedly temporary fashion.
The City of Oakland plans to take the Raiders (and the NFL) to court in an antitrust suit over the team’s decision to move. The Raiders, in response, are signaling that they will opt out of the team’s year-to-year lease at the Oakland Coliseum for the final year they’re slated to play in the city. That puts Oakland in a position where the potential to win a lawsuit (which could be worth as much as $500 million) could make them lose out on the Raiders’ rent (about $3.7 million), as well as the tax and tourism benefits of hosting eight regular season NFL games that year. From Oakland’s perspective, the prospect of standing up for angry fans—as well as the potential lawsuit payout—makes that a risk worth taking. Oakland city councilman Noel Gallo told the San Francisco Chronicle that the suit “is going to happen.”
So the Raiders could be scrambling for a place to play in the near future. Their stadium in Vegas won’t be ready until 2020 at the earliest, and the Bay Area doesn’t have a ton of great alternatives. Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where the 49ers play, would be asking a lot more than the $3.7 million the team pays in rent to the Coliseum (the 49ers pay $25 million per year), and the Raiders have already indicated that they aren’t up for sharing back in 2011. California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley would require negotiations with a small city that’s already overwhelmed with traffic. Stanford would be the same problem, but worse.
Outside of the Bay Area their options broaden—but not by a lot. Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, where UNLV plays its home games, would make sense to get a head-start on being the Vegas Raiders, but it would require the team to play in a 40,000-seat facility that desperately needs upgrades to be NFL-ready. San Diego County Credit Union Stadium—formerly Qualcomm Stadium, where the Chargers played their games before moving to Los Angeles after the 2016 season—is a stronger contender, as an NFL-capable stadium without a primary tenant on Sundays. But the issues that made the Chargers leave—namely, that the stadium is more than fifty years old and in need of upgrades—would still exist for the Raiders, even on a one-year basis, and the NFL doesn’t want a third team in the Southern California area competing with the newly-established Rams and Chargers in L.A.
And then there’s the Alamodome. The venue has hosted NFL games—the Saints played there the season after Katrina—and its recent entrance into the NCAA Final Four rotation has brought with it sufficient updates to make it a viable NFL stadium. There’s no local team to compete with, nor even the lingering memory of a recently-departed team like San Diego has. San Antonio would still very much like to prove itself a viable NFL market, whether for the next team to move (the Bills? The Jaguars?) or a potential expansion team. Hosting the Raiders would be an easy decision for San Antonio, giving the city another chance to demonstrate to the NFL (and MLB, and MLS, and every other league that city officials have tried to court) that the Spurs and the Final Four aren’t flukes, and the seventh-largest city in the country is ready for real consideration.
The city and the team have some existing relationship because of the 2014 negotiations, and San Antonio’s success playing a temporary home to the Saints in 2005 proves they could do it. In 2017, the idea was clearly being floated by people within the Raiders organization.
FYI on #Raiders: Depending on how things turn out in Oakland in 2017, don't rule out San Antonio as a possible temp venue next couple years
— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) March 28, 2017
All of this is pure speculation at this point, but it’s seeming increasingly likely that the Raiders are unlikely to play the 2019 season in Oakland, at least. Given the dearth of options, San Antonio has to be on the table—even if it’s only possible as a short-term solution for either the city or the Raiders.