OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Oakland on Tuesday sued the National Football League and the Raiders in federal court over the team's "illegal" move to Las Vegas, accusing the NFL of leeching off host cities to bankroll new stadiums and threatening to relocate teams when funding falls short.
The city claims the NFL violated federal antitrust laws by approving the Raiders' move to Las Vegas in March 2017, and wants triple the amount of damages it says the move will cost in tax and other city income the team generates and in the diminished property value of the Raiders' current East Oakland stadium.
"The Raiders’ illegal move lines the pockets of NFL owners and sticks Oakland, its residents, taxpayers and dedicated fans with the bill," city attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement announcing the complaint. "The purpose of this lawsuit is to hold the defendants accountable and help to compensate Oakland for the damages the defendants’ unlawful actions have caused and will cause to the people of Oakland."
The lawsuit comes after intense lobbying to keep the Raiders in Oakland where the team was formed in 1960, which included a city-backed offer by NFL Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott to help build the team a new $1.3 billion stadium.
Oakland promised to chip in $200 million in infrastructure improvements, paid for with private bonds secured by taxes generated by the stadium. But it refused to earmark money for the project from its general fund.
Las Vegas counter-offered to build a $1.4 billion stadium with $750 million in public funding and a retractable roof. Having long lobbied Oakland for a new, custom stadium, the Raiders enthusiastically accepted Vegas' sweetened terms. The relocation was approved shortly after by all but one of the NFL's 32 teams, who Oakland also named as defendants Tuesday.
According to Parker, the NFL violates team-relocation policies favoring host cities to enrich itself, routinely threatening to relocate teams if public funds aren't allocated for new stadium construction. Moreover, Parker says, team owners are incentivized to sign off on illegal relocations to pocket the relocation fees paid out each time a team moves.
Team owners, Parker says, have received a total of $1.47 billion in relocation fees in recent years. Their votes to let the Raiders move to Las Vegas, she says, garnered them a total of $370 million alone.
"In violation of the antitrust laws, the NFL is using its cartel status to undermine competition and generate fortunes for themselves, all at a significant cost to taxpayers," Parker said, adding that demand for public financing "has pushed cities like Oakland out of the marketplace for professional football teams."
In a statement, Oakland Councilmember at Large Rebecca Kaplan called the relocation payments "an improper bribe" meant to "pit cities against each other."
"This is a wrongful system, and they should not be allowed to keep those bribes,” she said.
Oakland filed the lawsuit in conjunction with the law firms Pearson, Simon & Warshaw in Sherman Oaks, and Berg & Androphy in New York.
Berg & Androphy's Jim Quinn said in a statement that the NFL "has a long history of misusing its tremendous market power in violation of antitrust laws."
"This time," he said, "the NFL defendants violated their own bylaws in their effort to cash in on the Raiders’ move."
Representatives for the NFL and the Raiders did not return emailed requests for comment Tuesday.
The lawsuit doesn't seek to stop the Raiders from moving to Las Vegas, where they're reportedly slated to begin playing in 2020. It was authorized in July by the Oakland City Council 7-0, with one abstention by Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney.