Oakland sues NFL, Raiders over 'illegal' move to Las Vegas

The city of Oakland sued the Raiders and the National Football League on Tuesday over the team's "illegal" move to Las Vegas.

City Attorney Barbara J. Parker said the city's federal antitrust and breach of contract lawsuit is seeking damages resulting from the Raiders’ "illegal move to Las Vegas, including lost revenue, money that Oakland taxpayers invested in the Raiders and other costs."

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tweeted, "The NFL's Billionaires Boys Club ditched Oakland out of sheer greed and left taxpayers with millions in unpaid stadium debt. Our community's support and loyalty were met with nothing but bad faith." 

The city of Oakland and California's Alameda County, meanwhile, remain saddled with an estimated $350.4 million, Scott McKibben, executive director of the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum Authority, told the San Francisco Chronicle in March 2017.  Other estimates put the price tag at about $80 million to be paid off by 2025. 

The NFL did not respond for immediate comment. Oakland Raiders President Marc Badain had no comment. Oakland is also suing each of the NFL's 32 teams. 

“The defendants brazenly violated federal antitrust law and the league’s own policies when they boycotted Oakland as a host city,”  Parker said in a statement. “The Raiders’ illegal move lines the pockets of NFL owners and sticks Oakland, its residents, taxpayers and dedicated fans with the bill. The purpose of this lawsuit is to hold the defendants accountable and help to compensate Oakland for the damages the defendants’ unlawful actions have caused and will cause to the people of Oakland.”

Marc Edelman, a law professor at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the city's legal argument will be a “colossal stretch.”

But it's clear the city put a lot of work into the 49-page suit, accompanied by 293 pages of exhibits.

The city's legal argument harkens back to 1984 when a California federal court affirmed that the NFL defendants had misused their "cartel" power in determining when an NFL team may move to a new city, Parker argued.

In response, the NFL adopted express “relocation policies” to guide future team moves, according to Oakland's suit. These policies focus on issues like population, economic projections, facilities, regional balance and fan loyalty in making relocation determinations.  The relocation policies expressly favor host cities like Oakland in any relocation determination, the suit alleges.

Recently, the NFL has allowed football clubs to move even when the relocation is a clear violation of its relocation policies, the suit alleges. Threats of relocation are a central part of the NFL’s practice of demanding public financing for new stadiums, which significantly increase team revenues and ticket prices, according to the suit.

Plus, Oakland attorneys contend, each time an NFL club moves, all the teams share in a relocation fee.  In the last several years, the NFL defendants have shared approximately $1.47 billion in these fees, the suit alleges.  The Raiders alone have agreed to pay over $370 million to the other NFL defendants for their “yes” vote on the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas.

"The NFL’s demand for the public to bankroll new stadiums under threat of club relocation has pushed cities like Oakland out of the marketplace for professional football teams, caused skyrocketing ticket prices, and enriched the NFL owners.  In violation of the antitrust laws, the NFL is using its cartel status to undermine competition and generate fortunes for themselves, all at a significant cost to taxpayers,"  thesuit alleges.

As part of its suit, the city also noted that the Raiders enjoy one of the NFL's most loyal fan bases, nicknamed "Raider Nation," as proof the city had embraced the team.

The lawsuit is not asking the court to prevent the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas or keep the team in Oakland.

The city attorney's office is being assisted by the antitrust law firms of Berg & Androphy and Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, LLP.  The firms are working on a contingency basis, so their fees and costs will be paid solely from any recovery. 

The Oakland City Council voted to authorize the lawsuit on July 24. Two fan groups, We Stand with Oakland and Forever Oakland, led by Raymond Bobbitt and Gregory “Griz” Jones, pushed for the suit.

The Raiders are not slated to move to Nevada until the 2020 season and they have no lease for 2019.

Sports writer Tim Kawakami noted the team said it wouldn't play at the Coliseum if they were sued.

It's not clear if and how the lawsuit will change the team's relocation schedule.