Officials of the Los Angeles Coliseum asked Congress yesterday to reject any proposed legislation that would exempt the National Football League from antitrust laws or block the movement of professional football teams from one city to another.
The Coliseum, which is suing the NFL over the league's attempts to stop the shift of the Oakland Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, said the economic realities of the sports marketplace should be sufficient to govern any such transfers.
But Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson, arguing that the Raiders are "central to our community, its well-being, its image and national stature," said the NFL had every right to block the transfer. In an effort to keep the Raiders, Wilson said, he has offered Al Davis, Raider general managing partner, an improved lease, stadium boxes, lower rent and stadium improvements.
"The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was built especially for the Raiders," Wilson told the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on monopolies and commercial law. He said it was financed from public bond issues with the understanding that the Raiders would remain in Oakland as long as the public supported the team.
Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark (D-Calif.) said Raider fans have given the team 10 consecutive years of sellout crowds and that the team is one of the NFL's leading moneymakers.
The testimony came as the subcommittee continued a series of hearings that began last summer on the relationship between professional sports and antitrust law and what, if any, legal requirements should govern the transfer of a professional sports franchise from one city to another.
"The greatest public interest will be served by the unfettered reliance on the free enterprise system and a competitive marketplace as it relates to the operation of pro sports leagues," said William R. Robertson, a commissioner of the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Former San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto, who represented the Raiders in the lawsuit against the NFL, argued that the team's lease in Oakland had expired and was fully paid up when the Raiders were offered "manifestly inadequate terms for renewal."
The lawsuit ended in a hung jury, and is scheduled to be retried March 15 in Los Angeles.