December 14, 2018
Oakland Sues NFL, Claims it Violated Own Rules in Approving Raiders’ Move to Vegas
This season hasn’t been very kind to the Oakland Raiders. With a 3–10 record, the franchise is mired in last place in the AFC West. Jon Gruden, in the first season of a 10-year, $100-million coaching contract, has seen the team regress while under his watch. The team’s best player, linebacker Khalil Mack, was shockingly traded for mere draft picks. General manager Reggie McKenzie was fired.
This series of unfortunate events has gone on and on and, now, on once again: The city of Oakland has sued the Raiders, along with the 31 other franchises and the NFL itself, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The city argues that Raiders owner Mark Davis, along with other NFL owners and league officials, have formed an illegal “cartel.” This so-called cartel is accused of violating federal antitrust law and California civil laws by attempting to facilitate the Raiders’ planned relocation to Las Vegas in 2020. The cartel’s members are allegedly motivated not by a desire to promote genuine competition for NFL franchises, but instead by the selfish prospect of receiving a cut of a massive relocation fee.
The city seeks unspecified damages that could amount to many millions of dollars. The possibility of a massive penalty is heightened by the fact that damages under antitrust law are automatically multiplied by three. To be clear, even if Oakland’s lawsuit is successful it would not block the Raiders’ planned move. However, it could make the move a lot more expensive for Davis and the NFL.
Oakland’s complaint centers on the contention that the league and its teams unlawfully conspired to harm the city in order to secure illegitimate profits. The 49-page complaint was written by 14 attorneys, including James Quinn of Berg & Androphy, Clifford Pearson of Pearson, Simon & Warshaw and Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker. Quinn is highly-regarded in the sports law community and, of particular relevance to Oakland’s lawsuit, he has defeated the NFL in court. In 1992, Quinn served as lead counsel for a group of players in McNeil v. NFL, where Quinn proved that NFL-imposed restrictions on free agency were unreasonable and in violation of antitrust law.
Oakland’s complaint attempts to shine light on what the city depicts as inside dealing among NFL owners on matters of franchise relocation. For instance, the complaint stresses that the Raiders have paid $378 million to the 31 other franchises as part of a relocation fee. The complaint insists that this fee “served no legitimate process” and was in reality designed to bribe owners into voting yes on relocation.
The complaint also stresses that the NFL failed to follow its own procedural requirements as set forth in Article 4.3 of the NFL constitution and bylaws. As discussed above, Article 4.3 stipulates that relocation requires the support of three-fourths of owners. It played a crucial role in litigation between the Raiders and the NFL in the early 1980s, and the legacy of that role is now crucial to Oakland’s lawsuit.