Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis signed a letter of intent to return the NFL club to Oakland, Calif., yesterday, becoming the first owner of a major sports team to come back to a city he once abandoned.
The move left Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest television market, without an NFL team. And it further diminishes Baltimore's slim chances to land an NFL team, because the next club that moves likely will fill the void in Los Angeles.
But John Moag, head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he is continuing to talk to NFL teams.
"This doesn't faze me," said Mr. Moag, who learned Thursday that the Bengals are expected to stay in Cincinnati rather than move to Baltimore. "I went into this with low expectations, so there really is no serious disappointment."
Mr. Moag also said that Baltimore's offer of a fully funded stadium is still the most lucrative deal presented by any city, including Los Angeles.
Mr. Davis won a court fight to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, opening the door for the Baltimore Colts to go to Indianapolis in 1984 and the St. Louis Cardinals to move to Phoenix in 1988.
Now that the Los Angeles Rams have moved to St. Louis and Oakland is getting the Raiders back, Los Angeles and Baltimore are the only cities to lose NFL teams in modern times and not replace them. It's the first time the Los Angeles area has been without an NFL team since the Rams moved west from Cleveland in 1946.
But it's only a matter of time before Los Angeles returns to the league. If a team doesn't move there in the next year or two, league officials have indicated that they'll put an expansion team there.
Mr. Davis became disillusioned playing at the Los Angeles Coliseum because the luxury boxes he was promised were never built, and he couldn't attract the attendance the Raiders enjoyed in Oakland, where the team had 12 consecutive years of sellouts before heading south.
Though the league backed a plan for construction of a $250 million stadium at Hollywood Park for the Raiders, Mr. Davis didn't want to continue playing at the Coliseum until the new stadium was finished in 1997.
"For the first time, a team that has left town has come home!" Oakland mayor Elihu Harris said after Mr. Davis faxed a signed letter of intent to Oakland officials. "The words Oakland and Raider are synonymous, and for many of us, the words 'Los Angeles Raiders' made us choke. And it wasn't just the smog that made it happen."
This is the second time Oakland has celebrated the return of the Raiders, but city officials say it's for real this time.
Mr. Davis announced in March 1990 that he was returning to Oakland, but the deal collapsed when the city politicians couldn't deliver on the package, which called for public funds to fill the gap if the team didn't meet attendance guarantees.
This is a more modest proposal in which $85 million of improvements to the Oakland Coliseum will be financed by government bonds that will be repaid by ticket sales and personal seat licenses. The deal also includes a $31.9 million loan to help the team relocate in time to play in Oakland this season.
The move must be approved by 23 of the 30 NFL teams. The league called a meeting for the week of July 10, when the owners are expected to approve the move.
In March 1980, NFL owners voted 22-0-5 to deny Mr. Davis the right to move from Oakland. But after two antitrust trials -- the first ended in a hung jury -- Mr. Davis won the right to move to Los Angeles.
This time, Mr. Davis made a concession by agreeing to submit the move to a vote. In return, the league is expected to waive its provision
that teams wanting to move must apply 30 days before the NFL's annual March meeting.
Although the San Francisco 49ers are likely to oppose the move because they don't want to share the Bay Area with the Raiders, the league has no rules preventing a team from moving into another's territory.
In March, the owners voted 21-3-6 to deny the Rams the right to move to St. Louis. A month later, they approved the move, 23-6-1, after the Rams agreed to pay a $29 million relocation fee and $17 million more from the team's share of personal seat license revenue.
The deal with Mr. Davis was approved at a 29-minute meeting of the Oakland-Alameda County Board of Directors yesterday. It must still be approved by the full board and by the Oakland City Council, but that is expected to be routine because there are no public subsidies in the deal.
Although Mr. Davis didn't comment, the team faxed a statement saying, "The Raider organization has chosen to relocate to Oakland. We look forward to a dynamic 1995 season."
The words "Los Angeles" were blacked out on the team's letterhead.
The Oakland Raiders are back.