Patriots owner Robert Kraft took an unscientific poll of Raiders fans before voting on Vegas move
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft disembarks Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on March 19. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP)
Even at a resort filled with billionaires, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his blue blazer were extra recognizable. But, over the weekend along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, Kraft was able to be a little more incognito.
In Los Angeles for a friend’s birthday party, Kraft headed to the Santa Monica strand to walk to Venice Beach. He did so, he said, anonymously.
“There were about 10 people with Raider shirts on. I quizzed them. They didn’t know me from Adam,” he said of his stroll. “I said, ‘How do you feel?’ and only one of the 10 cared about the team moving.
“Wherever they go, it can be vibrant.”
This, hopefully, wasn’t the kind of scientific evidence the 31 owners who voted for the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas used Monday morning.
“In the end, we’re in a very competitive league, and you can’t compete at the highest level if you don’t have a first-rate stadium,” Kraft said. “And, I think that’s what, really, this is all about.”
The Raiders, the third NFL team to announce a relocation in the past two seasons, and their fan base’s strength might’ve been used to argue against keeping the team in Oakland.
Kraft remembered the Raiders were the opposing team the first time the Patriots sold out a home game under his ownership.
“We were playing them, and I realized, ‘What a strong fan base,’” he said. “They have a unique fan base that is very loyal to them, will travel with them.”
Kraft, who had his own thoughts about relocating before opening his own stadium in 2002, said the choice was clear for the Raiders.
“The Raiders have been, since I’ve come in, have been at the bottom of the league in terms of revenue,” he said. “I think it’s been difficult for them to do everything they want to do for their football operations. I think they’ve worked very hard to try to make things work up there and it hasn’t worked out. Now, they have an opportunity to be a very solid, vibrant team.”
Kraft said Las Vegas, which would be one of the NFL’s smallest markets, is the perfect place to house an NFL team such as the Raiders.
“I think Las Vegas as a destination for visiting teams will be very strong. I think every visiting team market … that’s something they’ll have to work with, to try and sell out as best as they can so they can control the home-team crowd,” he said. “But I think it’ll be a wonderful venue and a wonderful market. Unique. It’s one of the only small markets that could be in that category.”
Kraft said he feels empathy for the fans of teams that move.
“What’s the distance between Oakland and Las Vegas?” he asked, suggesting those fans could make the eight-plus-hour drive.
If he quizzed the ones left behind in the Bay Area, he might get some answers he wouldn’t like.