Bay Area Relocation? Why the Oakland Raiders Won’t Play in San Francisco Next Season

Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park) in San Francisco, California

The Oakland Raiders sought to play in San Francisco while their new Las Vegas stadium is being constructed.  Here’s why this didn’t happen.

The Oakland (and soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders are looking to lease the Oakland Coliseum for $7.5 million for the 2019 NFL season, with an option to use the stadium for the 2020 season for $10.5 million.  But this was not always the case.  Tensions between the Raiders and the City of Oakland have been growing regarding the team’s move to Las Vegas, culminating in an anti-trust lawsuit against the team filed by the city.  After being sued, the Raiders are seeking to play elsewhere for the 2019 and 2020 seasons while their fancy new Las Vegas stadium is being constructed.

In late December 2018, it was reported that the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco Giants were negotiating an agreement to allow the Raiders to play their home games in the Giants’ stadium, Oracle Park.  This way, the Raiders franchise could cut ties with the municipality of Oakland while still being able to attract a sizable home game crowd.

San Francisco city officials were critical of this potential deal for a number of reasons.  San Francisco Mayor London Breed was against this plan, as it would further complicate the existing move of the Golden State Warriors to the new Chase Center.  Considering that Oracle Park and the Chase Center are in the same vicinity, having the Raiders play in Oracle Park would further increase congestion in the area, especially if the Raiders and the Warriors had games on the same day.

Other San Francisco officials argued that this deal threatened to undercut relations between the Bay Area cities.  District Six Supervisor Matt Haney stated that the threatened move was retaliation against Oakland for its anti-trust lawsuit, and he argued that San Francisco should stand in solidarity with Oakland and not give the Raiders an easy out.

However, local government and public opposition was not the biggest threat that this proposed relocation received.  Rather, the entire deal was contingent on the approval of the San Francisco 49ers, as the San Francisco 49ers have territorial rights to the city of San Francisco.  This remains true despite the fact that the 49ers now play their home games at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

A look at the NFL Constitution and Bylaws explains how the 49ers have essentially veto power over this planned move.  Home territory is defined as the city in which an NFL team is located, plus 75 miles from the outside limits of the city.  Each team has the exclusive right to exhibit NFL games within its home territory.  If two teams share the same city, then they share equal territorial rights.

Most notably, there is a specific provision regarding the San Francisco and Oakland teams stating that each team has the exclusive right to exhibit NFL games in its respective territory.  Neither team has the right to play professional football in the other team’s city without consent of the other team.  Furthermore, the San Francisco and Oakland teams share joint rights of exclusivity to the home territory outside of the city limits of each respective city.

What does this all mean?  Essentially, if the Oakland Raiders want to play a season at Oracle Park, the San Francisco 49ers need to grant permission for them to do so.  If the 49ers refuse permission, the Raiders need to find another home.  Interestingly enough, while permission is needed for the Raiders to play within the San Francisco city limits, they do not need the 49ers’ permission to share Levi’s Stadium, as the Raiders and 49ers share exclusivity over Bay Area suburbs like Santa Clara.  The NFL preferred this option to Oracle Field, though Raiders owner Mark Davis did not share that opinion.

With the 49ers refusing to grant the Raiders permission to play in San Francisco, the Bay Area choices narrowed down to Levi’s Stadium and a return to the Oakland Coliseum.  Ultimately, the Raiders and the City of Oakland have agreed to at least one more year of NFL action at the Coliseum.  Though three public votes are needed before the lease agreement is approved, most notably a vote from the Coliseum Authority, the agreement is unlikely to face significant opposition.

All in all, NFL territorial rights forced the Raiders out of a deal to share Oracle Field with the Giants, and ultimately this is for the better.  There won’t be any worries about intense congestion, awkward stadium sharing, or increased strains on the San Francisco-Oakland municipal partnership.  Plus, Bay Area Raider fans will have at least one (or maybe two!) years left to see their team in their historic home.  While the Las Vegas move is absolutely painful for the Oakland community, this lease agreement at least gives fans more time to see their team play.

Photo Credit: Grant Gibson

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