Oakland lawsuit vs. Raiders, NFL begs potentially league-shaking question


The City of Oakland finally did Tuesday what it threatened long ago to do -- it has sued the Raiders and the NFL under federal antitrust and breach of contract statutes for damages in their relocation to Las Vegas -- damages that will include unnamed but vast amounts of money and presumably even placing the team name and branding in the city's control rather than the team or the NFL.

This would seem like folly with a side of what-difference-would-it-make, given that the team already is leaving, but it actually goes more directly to what the city, and the city and county of St. Louis, has claimed about the relocation policies of the NFL and their practical impositions. Namely, that the game was rigged from the start and the Raiders paid to help rig it.

The questions, in other words, are whether rigging the game actually is illegal, and what the price for rigging it should be if it is.

The Raiders are leaving for Las Vegas in 2020, though they have threatened to go earlier if they were sued by the city. And while this lawsuit does not specifically try to prevent the move, it does attack the methods by which the Raiders secured the votes allowing them to move, specifically the $378 million relocation fee that the other owners would not have received if the franchise didn’t relocate.

And it will set a price for that relocation, one that almost certainly will include the team’s nickname and logo as part of the bargaining.

The Raiders’ response always has been to say they would leave Oakland at the end of this season rather than negotiate a lease extension if the lawsuit were filed, and though the team hasn’t affirmed that threat as of this writing, one presumes they already are trying to see if the NFL will allow them to play next year in San Diego, San Antonio or Santa Clara, the last of which is the least appealing option to the 49ers and Raiders.

There is a similarly argued set of lawsuits winding tortuously through the courts in Missouri regarding the Rams' relocation to Los Angeles and the methods by which it was approved. So far, the city has won a series of motions to prevent dismissal of the main lawsuit, but no trial date has yet been set. One of the lesser suits, to reimburse seat license holders in St. Louis, was settled last week for $31 million in payments and fees.

This would be the precedent Oakland would want to establish -- if St. Louis wins, that is. In the meantime, the argument in Oakland could make the Christmas Eve game against the Denver Broncos the last game ever here if Mark Davis carries out his threat to decline any new lease with the Coliseum.

And the branding, though seemingly trivial, would be aimed toward one of the most valuable assets the Raiders are taking with them to Nevada. The Raiders under any other name would sound like an expansion team, and could conceivably undercut some of the transient fan base’s desire to associate with a team that doesn’t have the name to cling to.

[RELATED: Oakland's lawyers don't hold back in explaining decision to sue]

But since it seems profoundly unlikely that the NFL would permit another team to move to and play in Oakland, especially after a lawsuit attempting to break the league's power over its franchises and even appropriate their iconic property, this largely is a test of Davis' willingness to fight further for what he thought he already had won.

In other words, the immediate impact of this filing could occur as soon as 13 days from now, when the Raiders play their Week 16 game against the Broncos, and almost certainly will last for years -- no matter what the Raiders might be called in the future, or where they will be called it.

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