Taxpayers footing bill for struggling Raiders team

December 14, 2009 7:32:43 PM PST
It is turning out to be a dismal season for the Oakland Raiders and an expensive one for taxpayers in Oakland and Alameda County. Many are wondering how much it costs to keep a losing team in town.

November's game against the Bengals was a rare victory for the Raiders this season. Fans cheered the win, that is, the fans that actually showed up. It was the team's lowest turnout since 1967 and yet another blacked out home game.

It is far from the sold out games Oakland officials say they were promised in the mid-90s. When they signed on to renovate the stadium to woo the team back to the Bay Area.

"We really banked a lot on the projections and the hype at the time, to be candid, and unfortunately the thing didn't work out the way anybody really expected it to work out," explained Oakland councilman Ignacio de La Fuente.

The city expected Raider fans would buy expensive personal seat licenses and fill the stands but that never happened. The same politicians who voted back then to fund the team's move from LA admit today, mistakes were made.

"If I said that I didn't want this team here, I felt like I'd have been shot on the spot," said Supervisor Gail Steele.

Forbes Magazine says the Raiders, at $797 million, are the lowest-valued team in all of the NFL. Now, local taxpayers are left footing the bill. Every year, Alameda County and the City of Oakland each pay about $10 million on a bond for stadium renovations the team demanded back in 1995. Taxpayers will be on the hook for years to come.

Oakland and Alameda County have been trying to pay off the millions they used to upgrade this stadium for the past 14 years and they have barely made a dent. On the $200 million bond, the city and county still owe $160 million.

Add-on operating costs and salaries and both Oakland and Alameda County so far have paid more than $230 million for the Raiders and that does not include the unknown amount of money they have lost on concession and parking revenues and ticket sales due to poor attendance.

Fans say it is worth it.

"Having a football team in the Bay Area is good for Oakland," said one fan.

"If they start to win, it will fill up," said another.

But, it is all for just ten games a year, at a time when Alameda County has made massive cuts to social programs to balance a $178 million budget deficit. Oakland faced a similar fiscal crisis at $83 million in the red.

For some, the money could be better spent.

"With $10 million a year we could easily get 500 to 600 people in permanent housing for 10 years," said homeless shelter director Boona Cheema. When the team moved to Oakland, Supervisor Gail Steele was worried that a Raiders bailout could hurt the poor. She says it is not the case now.

"If I thought not having the teams would make a difference to all the poor people and all the needs in Alameda County, I would probably think differently," she said. "But, I don't believe that. It's far more complex."

There are what officials call the intangibles, all the locals employed by the Coliseum, the tourism dollars the games bring in and the fan devotion.

"Having games blacked out and having not reasonable attendance affects everything," says Ignaci de la Fuente. "Obviously, they have a job to do to correct that and make it better."

When asked if he ever called Al Davis to ask what is going, de la Fuente said, "No. It's just telepathy."

If only telepathy could win games.


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