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SAN ANTONIO — Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis and two top lieutenants met recently with several San Antonio officials to discuss the potential of moving his NFL team from the Bay Area to the Alamo City, sources familiar with the matter have confirmed.
On July 18, Davis met with the officials, including Henry Cisneros, then-Mayor Julián Castro, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Mario Hernandez of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, and both Richard Perez and David McGee, the president and chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, respectively.
San Antonio has often been used as a bargaining chip for pro sports franchises trying to negotiate better deals in their own respective cities, but sources have characterized Davis' interest in San Antonio to be at least somewhat more serious. He is clearly perturbed with his current situation in Oakland, where the team's lease expires after the 2014-15 season.
Cisneros, who led the charge to build the Alamodome when he was mayor, has been described by sources as the architect of the meeting.
Davis and his associates reportedly spent two or three days here, visiting the Alamodome and other places. They also took an aerial tour of the city in a helicopter, arranged by developer Marty Wender.
With some upgrades, the Alamodome could be ready for a 2015-16 NFL season, though it would be a temporary home at best. The city has set aside funds to add suites to the 21-year-old dome, now home to the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners football team and the San Antonio Talons arena football team.
If the Raiders moved here, though, Davis is expected to seek a new stadium within a few years, after the team had proved itself in the Alamo City.
Davis told San Antonio civic and business leaders he isn't seeking a “Jerry Jones-type facility” and prefers “a small, intimate” stadium that he can place “a statue of his father in front of,” a source said.
But even if San Antonio ponies up an enticing deal and Davis ultimately decides to relocate here, the two sides would still face an uphill battle. San Antonio only ranks in the mid-30s in the nation's top television markets and NFL owners — including the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans — would have to vote on the deal. And whether the NFL would allow the team to leave the sixth largest media market for the 37th remains unclear.
Any team desiring to relocate would need the blessing of 24 of the league's 32 owners. Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of communications, had little to say on a potential Raiders relocation.
“We don't have any information about (Davis' meeting in San Antonio), so there is no reason for us to comment,” he said Tuesday. “We have received no applications from any of our teams to relocate at this point, so there is nothing for us to respond to.”
Though San Antonio ranks 37th in the country's top television markets, the Raiders have a significant Hispanic fan base and Davis apparently believes his team would do well in South Texas.
It appears that his meeting here has been in the works for at least a couple months. A source familiar with the talks said he had heard a couple months ago that the Raiders were interested in San Antonio. But the details of Davis' visit indicate that he could be interested in San Antonio more than just as a bargaining chip in Oakland. While here, the Raiders owner had separate discussions with Spurs owner Peter Holt and Red McCombs, who both showed interest in having a stake in the team if it were to move here. A source indicated that the beleaguered Wheatley Heights sports complex on the East Side could serve as a potential training facility, and Davis also looked at open land during his visit.
Though Holt is apparently interested in NFL in San Antonio, others in the Spurs organization aren't. There are concerns, a source said, that the Raiders, whose colors are also black and silver, could pull away from the Spurs' fan bass — and their pocketbooks.
Through the years, NFL and Major League Baseball teams seeking new stadiums have flirted with San Antonio but none of those talks ever came to fruition. In the NFL, the New Orleans Saints, the Minnesota Vikings, the Arizona Cardinals, the San Diego Chargers and others reached out to San Antonio either directly or through the media. The MLB's Florida Marlins even sent representatives to San Antonio to meet with County Judge Nelson Wolff and other county officials in 2006.
In 2005, Saints owner Tom Benson had serious talks with then-Mayor Phil Hardberger about relocating his team to San Antonio in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Saints made the city their headquarters after the storm damaged New Orleans' Superdome and even played three regular season games at the Alamodome, but then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue convinced Benson to return the club to the Crescent City.
Finally tired of being used as leverage for teams to gain better deals in their markets, Wolff and other leaders decided after the Marlins left that they would only negotiate with teams that had the relocation blessing of their respective leagues.
In 2011, the city and county commissioned California-based Premier Partnerships, sales and marketing firm focused on “revenue optimization” of sports initiatives, to conduct a feasibility study. The consultant determined that San Antonio could support the Arena Football League and lower-division soccer but not teams in the MLB or NFL.
The report said, among other things, that San Antonio fell short on the number of Fortune 500 companies and median household income. Its authors recommended that San Antonio “should continue to build its sports landscape and take a 'wait and see' approach with larger professional leagues.”
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