The Raiders’ planned move to Las Vegas would badly hurt the franchise for many reasons, chief among them is the dubious notion that there is a “global Raiders brand” led by an army of nationwide fans that “travel well.”
There’s just one problem with this oft-stated opinion about the Raiders’ popularity: It’s totally false.
Like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster — it’s one of those things that’s often talked about for fun but doesn’t actually exist.
When placed under greater scrutiny, in fact, not a single metric factually supports the concept of the so-called “global Raiders brand.”
I bring this up because this formerly innocuous delusion shared by NFL execs and non-Bay Area fans is not so harmless anymore, as it’s been used to justify the team’s impending and surely regrettable relocation. NFL owners have said the Raiders could build a fan base in Las Vegas, which would be visited and augmented by fans in Los Angeles and other communities outside of Nevada.
Simply put, this type of thinking is foolish — even nonsensical — especially when used to defend Mark Davis’ plan to backstab East Bay fans for a second time.
As a longtime Oakland football fan, I wish I could agree with Davis and the NFL. Unfortunately, none of it is true. Yes, the Raiders have some fans nationwide and in Southern California, but not as many as you might think. And certainly not as many as do the league’s true marquee franchises: Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Philadelphia.
Statistics in several categories show that the Raiders don’t have enough fans outside of Northern California to consistently and fully support the team. That was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt during the Raiders’ 13 floundering seasons in Los Angeles, where they steadily decayed from 1982-94.
The same likely will be true in Las Vegas. Actually, it might even be worse.
Pick any category that might indicate the Raiders are one of the nation’s most popular NFL franchises, and you’re going to be disappointed. The numbers aren’t there in the team’s national TV ratings or in player jersey sales.
And they’re not there in social media, where the Raiders fail to crack the Top 10 of the most-followed NFL teams on Facebook and Twitter. As of this writing, the Raiders have 1.59 million Twitter followers. Sounds good enough, until you realize that ranks them 14th among NFL teams. The Raiders’ number of Twitter followers, in fact, is fewer than half than that of the Top 4 teams: New England (4.35 million), Dallas (3.77 million), Pittsburgh (3.41 million), and Philadelphia (3.40 million).
For Facebook, the Raiders have just under 3.39 million followers, ranking them 11th among NFL teams. Again, the Raiders’ total here is significantly lower than that of Dallas (8.64 million), New England (7.04 million), and Pittsburgh (6.44 million).
Hmm, maybe Raiders fans compete better in TV viewing. Is that true?
Nope, the Raiders also don’t fare very well in the NFL’s nationwide TV ratings, according to SportsMediaWatch.com. In fact, just three Raiders games in 2018 ranked among NFL lead leaders in national ratings and, each time, it was a nationally broadcast night game with little to no competition from other games.
Even then, the best national rating the Raiders could muster was 5th place among all televised games in Week 16, with the Christmas Eve Monday Night Football game against Denver. The Raiders’ next two highest TV ratings placed them 6th with their Thursday Night Football loss to the 49ers in Week 9, and 7th place for their Week 1 loss to the Rams on Monday Night Football. The Raiders’ national TV ratings for their other 13 games last season fared even worse.
One of Al Davis’ favorite slogans was “The Will to Win.” But when it comes to the Raiders on TV, not enough people nationwide have the will to watch.
This lackluster trend continues when we look at recent jersey sales. Exactly zero Raiders made it into the Top 5 of NFL player jerseys sold in the past five years — from 2014-18. In fact, zero Raiders made it into the Top 10 in both 2014 and 2015, according to NFL.com and the NFL Players Association. That ignominious streak ended in 2016, when then-Raiders star Khalil Mack was 8th in jersey sales, and quarterback Derek Carr and Oakland’s own Marshawn Lynch landed in the back end of the Top 10 the following year. But they never cracked the Top 5. And jersey sales saw a return to sluggish form in 2018, when no Raider players landed in the Top 10.
The players who’ve consistently sold the most jerseys play for NFL teams that have the highest TV ratings and the most social media followers — teams like New England, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. Raiders players, in contrast, don’t consistently rank high on these lists.
Mark Davis, who inherited the franchise after his father’s death in 2011, has seemed obsessed about reuniting the Raiders with Los Angeles. First, his 2016 attempt to move the Raiders back to L.A. failed when NFL owners rejected him. But that hasn’t cooled Davis’ ardor for Tinsel Town.
“They’re talking about the fight for Los Angeles,” Davis told the Los Angeles Daily News’ Vinny Bonsignore in August 2017 — five months after the NFL approved the Las Vegas move. “And Raiders fans have been telling me we already won that fight, and that the Rams and Chargers are fighting for the No. 2 and 3 spots. … I think we already won that battle.”
Wow. That’s like Napoleon saying he kicked ass at Waterloo.
This brings us to one of pro sports’ biggest misconceptions: That Los Angeles is “a Raiders town” teeming with a lot of Silver and Black fans who can’t wait to buy PSLs and support the team in the under-construction Las Vegas stadium.
Sorry, the numbers just aren’t there for the Raiders in Los Angeles. They never were. That’s why Al Davis was trying to move the team back to the East Bay as soon as 1989, after just seven seasons in L.A., before officially returning to Oakland in 1995.
As an aside, I mean no offense to Los Angeles. When the Raiders bailed on the city, I know it left a scar on their small but vocal group of boosters. East Bay fans know how badly that feels, and I’m certainly not trying to add to their pain. L.A. fans have done a great job supporting the Dodgers, Lakers, and USC football.
But the Raiders? Not so much. Poor attendance and fan misbehavior plagued the Silver and Black in L.A. The Raiders drew fewer than 50,000 fans at L.A. home games on dozens of Sundays during their 13-year stint in the Southland, even drawing a paltry 37,000 or 38,000 on a few occasions.
Today, more than 20 years after the Raiders left L.A., perhaps SoCal fans support them in other ways. For example, how did the Raiders fare with Los Angeles TV ratings in 2018?
Not good, according to L.A. sports anchor Fred Roggin, who posts weekly NFL ratings on social media. The majority of Raiders TV broadcasts last year failed to crack the NFL’s Top 5 in SoCal, according to Roggin.
Besides the hometown Rams and Chargers, Dallas and New England consistently earned big TV ratings last season in L.A. Not coincidentally, those are the same franchises who have big numbers on social media, national TV ratings, and player jersey sales.
The Raiders showed up in Roggins’ TV rankings in a middling sort of way — finishing worse than Kansas City and higher than Chicago, but tied with Green Bay, Minnesota, and a few others in terms of weekly top rating placement. Not great and not awful. Just meh.
Raiders fans in L.A. also have failed to represent at the ballot box. In January 2016, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he preferred the Rams over the Raiders and Chargers, as all three teams were vying then to move to SoCal. Garcetti then jabbed the Raiders, saying the city’s crime rate decreased each year after the Silver and Black deserted Tinsel Town in 1995. Garcetti later said he was “half-joking.” (But only half.) Later that month, Garcetti got his wish when the NFL awarded the L.A. market to the Rams and Chargers, shutting out the Raiders.
Did an army of Raiders fans in Los Angeles punish Garcetti at the ballot box for his negative comments and for keeping their beloved team out of the Southland? Nope. Garcetti was reelected mayor in 2017, garnering a record 81.4 percent of the vote in a landslide victory. Garcetti had publicly rejected the Raiders and L.A. voters still rewarded him with record-setting support just a year later.
If Los Angeles fans didn’t support the Raiders in their own back yard a generation ago, and they don’t have a critical mass of fans, voters, and TV viewers moving the needle now, then why does Davis think the Raiders have won “the battle for Los Angeles?” More importantly why is he literally banking on these fans to travel nearly 300 miles to support them at 10 home games a year in Vegas?
In reality, there aren’t enough Raiders fans in L.A. There never were. The same could be said for any region except for Northern California, which is the only area to fully and consistently support the Silver and Black over a long period of time.
I think I know where misperceptions started about “the global Raiders brand.” One of the late Al Davis’ quirks was the grandiosity with which he promoted the Raiders. It wasn’t enough to merely highlight the franchise’s great won-loss record from 1963-1985, he had to go big and call the Raiders “The Team of the Decades” and “Pro Sports’ Winningest Team.” Part of his hyperbolic dogma included repeated declarations about “making the Raiders a global phenomenon.” Some of Davis’ grandeur bordered on self-parody but a lot of Raiders fans, including me, bought into it.
Raiders fans have many strengths but dealing with reality is not one of them. And when the Silver and Black started losing more than winning, the team’s perceived popularity became the only thing we had. Many clung to it, long after it stopped being true.
Since 1986, the Raiders have earned just seven postseason appearances in 33 seasons and produced only one winning team in the past 16 years.
In light of those embarrassing results, Raiders fans have turned to the only thing they felt they could brag about — invading an opponent’s home stadium. And, sure, sometimes that’s accurate.
But the same can be said of 49ers fans when in Arizona, as well as Packers boosters when in Santa Clara, and of Cowboys and Steelers fans nearly everywhere their teams play. Even the Buffalo Bills, not considered a marquee team, reportedly had 20,000 fans invade Jacksonville for a playoff game a year ago.
In today’s NFL, it’s not that special anymore to send thousands of your team’s supporters to an opposing NFL stadium. When Raiders fans boast that they “travel well,” they’re crowing about things that a lot of other NFL fan bases already do. In other words, none of it is anything to actually brag about. (I mean, the team’s slogan was never “Just show up, baby.”)
Yet the chest-pounding bluster over this continues because Raiders fans have little else about which they can boast.
To be clear, I’m not saying the Raiders are among the least popular NFL franchises. But I’m definitely saying they’re far from the league’s most popular, in terms of mass fan support. The collective data ranks them as above average, at best. Slightly better than middle of the pack. Mediocre.
The NFL does indeed have a few marquee franchises that are decidedly more popular than others. But the Raiders are not one of them. Not on social media. Not in player jersey sales. Not in TV ratings across the nation or in Southern California. Not at the ballot box. Not even especially so in opposing teams’ stadiums.
All of which begs the questions: If the Silver and Black truly have a worldwide fan base, then where are they? In short, where is this “global Raiders brand” we hear so much about? Looks like it doesn’t exist.
Sometimes, clinging to false beliefs is harmless. But this particular delusion could be destructive for a number of parties because Mark Davis is basing his decision to uproot a $2 billion franchise and take on more than $1.2 billion in debt on meritless assumptions about the team’s fan base.
Obviously, the team’s Vegas move is undeniably bad for Oakland fans, who will get kicked in the teeth and lose their NFL franchise — again — over a set of lies about the team’s brand. It could also be a problem for the NFL, which might lose money from yet another failed relocation. (See “Chargers, Los Angeles.”)
And it likely will harm Nevada taxpayers who are giving $750 million in public money for a stadium that, based on Raiders history, seems destined to embarrass its hometown with small, lackluster crowds for NFL games.
Lastly, this move will hurt any Raiders fan who just wants the team to win and thrive. That’s because the Mark Davis era has been defined by failure stemming from poor decisions just like this — destructive moves made by an impulsive, uninformed, and sometimes spiteful owner.
The hallmark of a Davis decision is that it almost always makes the Raiders franchise worse. This is the same owner who hired Reggie McKenzie — after just one interview with one candidate — and then watched a previously 8-8 team go through years of consecutive losing seasons. This is the same owner who will waste millions of dollars by paying McKenzie and former head coach Jack Del Rio to sit on their respective couches through the 2020 season. This is the same owner who paid Jon Gruden the most expensive head coaching salary in league history and watched his team get worse and finish last season with a terrible 4-12 record. This is the same owner who fired Greg Papa, one of the NFL’s best game announcers, just because Papa publicly disagreed with one of Davis’ maneuvers. Davis then replaced him with 79-year-old Brent Musburger, who by all accounts was a major step down for radio listeners.
So, I’m not surprised that Davis and the NFL decided to move the franchise to Las Vegas because, in part, they believe in the delusional notion of the “global Raiders brand.”
Like a lot of Davis decisions, it’s based on fiction, and it’s going to badly hurt the Raiders franchise and embarrass what’s left of its fan base.
Chris De Benedetti writes a regular sports column for the Express.