SBJ/February 20-26, 2017/Finance

Banking interest revives Raiders’ Vegas plans

The Oakland Raiders are close to securing bank financing from lenders including U.S. Bank, potentially reinvigorating the team’s effort to secure a stadium in Las Vegas, sources said.

The move comes with NFL committee meetings scheduled for March 6-8 in Palm Beach, Fla., when key owners will review the Raiders’ Vegas plans, once thought almost surely sunk after key financial backers Sheldon Adelson and Goldman Sachs pulled out.

“As for financing, I think the deal will find financial institutions pretty eager to get in,” said one source close to the NFL. Bank of America, which has lent to the Raiders in the past, is also expected to be part of the debt syndicate. Bank of America is also the NFL’s lead bank.

One of the top banks in the emerging deal is U.S. Bank, which has lent to several large stadium projects, including those for the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons.

“We are not going to have a comment on the situation at this time,” Bill Mulvihill, vice president in U.S. Bank’s sports group, wrote in an email.

Bank financing does not necessarily cement a Vegas relocation. The team must still secure a lease with the stadium authority, a process that already bitterly soured the relationship with casino magnate Adelson, who had once pledged $650 million and shepherded the state’s approval of $750 million in tax money for a $1.9 billion stadium.

Adelson put out a blistering statement Jan. 30 after he said he felt doubled crossed when the Raiders filed a lease without his apparent knowledge (his spokesman just last week said the Raiders were trying to pick his pocket). The lease called for $1 a year in rent, gave non-game-day events to the team, and barred UNLV from having its name on the field during its own games.

Given Adelson’s power in Las Vegas, finance and league experts have privately speculated that no one would want to lend to the Raiders, but that does not appear to be the case.

Asked about funding, Raiders team President Marc Badain wrote in an email that he stood by comments he made before the stadium authority board. He told the Nevada agency that the team would secure private financing.

When Adelson pulled out, many at the NFL were not surprised because the league would not allow him to own equity in the team nor the stadium given his casino ownership. Goldman Sachs managing director Greg Carey told owners at a January committee meeting that the Wall Street lender would step in if Adelson pulled out.

But less than a day after Adelson balked, so did Goldman, apparently spooked by the vitriol. Adelson’s Sands Corp. is a big Goldman client.

That sequence left many in the NFL assuming it was back to square one in Oakland. Now that mood has shifted somewhat and there is optimism that Las Vegas could occur.

In fact, the league is not even insisting that the Raiders have their key financing and lease terms nailed down by the early March meeting when the finance and stadium committees meet.

The committees might tell the Raiders to achieve certain goals to ensure a recommendation, but that apparently can wait until the March 26-29 full ownership meeting, when a relocation vote could occur.

Given that the Raiders are planning to play as a lame duck for at least two more years in Oakland, it is not necessarily imperative that a vote occur even by the late March meeting.

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