ESPN senior writers Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham tell the unlikely story of how Mark Davis secured the Raiders move to Las Vegas in “Sin City or Bust.”
What do you think NFL fans will find most interesting about what you uncovered?
DVN: How the Raiders owner Mark Davis and powerful casino mogul Sheldon Adelson forged an unlikely and odd partnership that was rocky, fraught with distrust and finally broken up, with Adelson feeling betrayed by Davis not once, but twice. Despite all that — and with the vital help of Jerry Jones — Davis was able to pull off a long-shot relocation to Las Vegas with nearly unanimous support of his fellow owners.
What was the most challenging aspect throughout your reporting?
DVN: The NFL’s power moves are an enormous challenge to cover in a deep way; owners and league executives rarely disclose what happens behind closed doors and during their private conversations. And yet in this piece, Seth and I report on the Raiders relocation’s most important moments, including discussions in league meetings, during private phone conversations and what happened at the first meeting between Adelson and Davis. All these moments reveal precisely how and why this historic decision was made.
SW: I think the hardest thing about this story was trying to dig deeper as the story was unfolding. Our goal is to not only provide readers with a memorable story, but a new story. We know that it lurks beneath the surface but getting it is always a challenge.
What kind of impact do you think this will have on future NFL relocation deals?
DVN: This is the third approved franchise relocation in 15 months, unprecedented in the modern NFL era. I won’t be surprised if we see more franchise moves in the next few years. Some owners will find a move to a new stadium irresistible because it turbocharges a team’s valuation, as the Raiders’ planned move has already done. And all 32 NFL owners get paid handsomely every time a team moves.
SW: I don’t know, because I don’t think there will be many future team relocations. London is pretty far off on the horizon, if it ever happens. But I think Vegas will be a template for a new kind of NFL whereas “Jerryworld” and the Rams new stadium will be the last of the idea of a stadium being a beacon of sorts.
What were you most surprised to learn?
DVN: So many things surprised me, but I think I was most surprised by Mark Davis’ stubborn skill in pursuing and landing Vegas for the Raiders. The son of the legendary late Al Davis, Mark Davis, at 61, is easy to underestimate. In December 1998, Mark Davis registered the internet domain name LasVegasRaiders.com and renewed it every year for $8. After finishing third and last in the LA derby, he turned his attention to Vegas, a longtime pipe dream. He relentlessly pursued it, scoring the biggest package of public money for a new stadium in US history, and shrewdly outmaneuvered Sheldon Adelson, the most powerful man in Nevada. Not bad for an owner who few owners respected or took seriously just a few years ago.
SW: I loved learning all kinds of details, but I think the key takeaway is still the most salient: Mark Davis used his lone asset to get a new stadium, and in the process got 31 owners and the league office behind him. His Hall of Fame father never did any of those.