It is the longest of goodbyes, an iconic franchise leaving town but in a kind of suspended animation as the fan base does a slow burn toward anger and heartbreak.
The Raiders aren’t escaping in the dead of night, as the Colts did when they left Baltimore for Indianapolis. Nor are they facing a skeptical fan base, which openly wondered whether Al Davis would be allowed to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1981.
The Band-Aid cannot be pulled off quickly, as was the case when Davis returned the Raiders from Los Angeles to Oakland in 1995, because there is as yet no place to call home in Las Vegas.
So it’s possible the Raiders, who received NFL approval to move to Las Vegas on March 27, will remain right where they are for another three years. There has never been an exit like it. Reggie McKenzie, the Raiders’ general manager who moves with the speed of a tortoise, could get to Sin City on foot quicker than the time it will take his team to move there.
“Nobody really knows what this is going to look like,” said Andy Dolich, the Bay Area-based sports business consultant. “What’s it going to feel like if you’re the ultimate lame duck of all lame ducks?”
It appears there will be no mass exodus of the fan base. Raiders officials say the season-ticket base is holding steady at 50,000, and those who gave up their tickets after the Vegas vote were quickly replaced off a waiting list the club says numbers 20,000.
(Despite the waiting list, the Raiders have no plans on removing the tarp from the East side structure known as Mt. Davis and freeing up 11,000 seats, citing game day experience related to security, parking lot space and concessions).
Contrast the tickets sold with 1980, the year Al Davis signed an agreement to move from Oakland to Los Angeles. It had been rumored for two years, and regular-season per-game attendance dropped from 54,559 to 49,336 in a season where the Raiders won a Super Bowl.