Oakland group proposes NFL’s first black owned team

A group of predominantly African American business owners and community leaders has proposed to the NFL that it brings a franchise back to Oakland, and becomes the first Black ownership group in the league’s history.  

The push to bring back football comes as two other sports teams got their starts in The Town, a city that has long been at the forefront of activist movements. The prospective group is looking to capitalize on a passionate fan base left seeking a new franchise following the recent departures of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors (now based in San Francisco) and NFL’s Raiders (now based in Las Vegas).  

These are the fans who booed their team off the field after losing its final game in Oakland — out of passion for losing the franchise altogether. They were largely the ones who spent two hours before every contest putting on a gameday persona, only to get priced out of the Las Vegas stadium. And the ones who said the families they built from tailgating every home game for the past two decades got “ripped apart.” 

Ray Bobbitt (L) is part of a group lobbying the NFL for a team in Oakland.

Does group have financial muscle to grab NFL’s attention?

In a letter sent to the NFL, the African American Sports & Entertainment Committee proposes a privately financed expansion team and suggests the league should consider the current national moment and lend its support to the initiative.

The group came together in an informal manner approximately three months ago to discuss starting a new team in Oakland. The process accelerated following the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. 

In the letter, the group thanks NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his public video addressing the national tragedies, and says is it “encouraged” that Goodell said he is listening to the Black community. In light of that, the group says that there is “no better location — symbolically and pragmatically” than Oakland for the new endeavor.

“It would just be fitting for us to be able to display the rich culture and history of Oakland and the Bay Area from the standpoint of sports and entertainment,” Ray Bobbitt, AASEC member and Oakland business owner, told Yahoo Sports. “We feel like Oakland is just a unique opportunity for us to reinvent sports from the standpoint of it not being institutions that serve the community by only entertaining. But we also would like to design a scenario where we can have consciousness of how you can use it as a permanent economic vehicle and really make major change within our community.”

The group said the NFL confirmed it received the letter. The league didn’t respond to Yahoo Sports’ request for comment.

The proposal includes plans to form an education partnership with UC Berkeley and Stanford University, as well as a sports and entertainment museum at the stadium to display Oakland’s long history of producing stars in their respective fields.

The AASEC detailed three ownership models in its proposal, as current NFL rules require the principal owner to put up at least 30 percent of the purchase price in cash. Bloomberg estimates a buyer would have to pay at least $600 million initially to land a team at current valuations. Teams also have a $350 million debt limit. 

“We didn’t want our proposal to be able to be disqualified immediately,” Bobbitt said. “We wanted to really force dialogue of what they committed to on TV to the public, which was their participation in economic equality which is one component of social justice.”

The first option entails securing a Black principal owner with the financial resources necessary to satisfy the NFL’s ownership requirements. The second option suggests that the NFL could allow for exceptions to its current policy in two areas: allowing the principal to borrow more funds than is currently permissible or allowing the principal to enlist additional (NFL-approved) investors to secure funding.

The third option suggests a community-based ownership model similar to the Green Bay Packers. 

“We feel like, at this moment, based on economic inequality, the African American community probably couldn’t reach some of the requirements the NFL has now,” Bobbitt said. “So this would be an appropriate moment to make some concessions for us.”

Exiting teams don’t paint full picture of Oakland’s viability

It seems counterintuitive that another team would try to stake its ground in Oakland after the exits of the Warriors and Raiders. Even Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s are in a years-long battle to stay in The Town. But the city has quietly remained a sports mecca for socially oriented teams, despite perceived hostility from local government.

Professional soccer team the Oakland Roots launched in 2018 with the realization that a new team couldn’t just “park a bus” in the city, co-founder Edreece Arghandiwal told Yahoo Sports last fall. 

“In a community like Oakland, you have folks that are tremendously polarizing, and have diversity in body and in color, in respect to arts and in culture and, and things of that sort,” Arghandiwal said. “You can’t just throw money at those types of communities.”

So Arghandiwal and business partner Benno Nagel, both Oakland natives, set out to use soccer as a “vehicle for change.” Their team, which plays at Laney College, sold out every game of its first season, averaging just under 5,000 attendees. 

Another football team, the Indoor Football League’s Oakland Panthers, was gearing up to launch this spring before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Marshawn Lynch is a part-owner. The team’s name is an homage to Oakland’s involvement in the Black Panther movement of the 1960s.

The Panthers were set to play at Oracle Arena (the Warriors’ longtime home), offering an affordable family experience, as opposed to the steep prices that come with NFL games. 

“We just felt like this was a great opportunity and a great facility, and the timing was right and in a good media market,” team president and former head of the Oakland Alameda Coliseum Authority Scott McKibben told Yahoo Sports in October. “This is a market that sponsors and media TV broadcasters have a real interest in.”

Bobbitt’s group feels similarly. 

AASEC’s letter cites a 2016 NFL-commissioned study that concluded that Oakland is ranked third among NFL markets in projected economic growth, and that its GDP alone is expected to be larger than San Francisco’s in the next 10-15 years.

“There’s a misperception of the city government’s interest,” Bobbitt said. “I think that they actually have always wanted sports teams here, and I think the primary reason the two sports teams that actually left is because the city was unwilling to give public funds — that really was the determining factor behind stadium development and arena development.

“I think Oakland, to their credit, was a city that said, ‘Hey, we have so many other issues that we can’t spend money like that.’ ”

So, in comes the privately funded plan. The proposal builds on a recent trend in Bay Area stadiums and arenas, like San Francisco’s Chase Center and Oracle Park.

“By no fault of the community and no fault of the fans did [the Raiders and Warriors leaving] have to occur,” said Bobbitt, who led an effort to keep the Raiders from leaving by lobbying the City of Oakland to sue the NFL for damages. “So that’s why we fought so much.”

Yahoo Sports