The Oakland Raiders had their lowest non-strike home attendance since 1967 on Sunday which continues a downward trend from 2009. The coming game against the San Diego Chargers marks their tenth consecutive blackout.
During the 2009 season they had three games where they couldn't crack 40,000 mark in attendance. In fact, out of the 8 home games they only bested 50,000 once and that was the sold out home opener. The season ended with a total of 354,276 in attendance. That figure was the lowest attendance figure for the Raiders since they returned to Oakland in 1995 surpassing the previous low of 375,499 that was set in 1997.
Not to be outdone, through the first quarter of the season they are averaging 40,307 in attendance which projects to an abysmal 322,456 or 64% of capacity. Adding the Charger game on Sunday should make it a more accurate barometer of the overall attendance trend, since the division games tend to be the biggest draws. Opening with a weak non-conference opponent in the Rams after a disappointing loss didn't get them off to a strong start. However, when it comes down to it, regardless of the schedule bot the team and the fans share in the blame for this pathetically low attendance.
The Raider Nation prides itself on being the best fan base in the NFL, echoing the mantra “Win, Lose, or Tie, I'm a Raider until I die.” However, as the losing streak took on epic proportions the attendance has plummeted. The attendance fell off the table between the 2008 and 2009 falling 23.5% in a single year.
The most obvious difference between 2008 and 2009 was the economic meltdown that began in late 2008. Northern California was at the center of the real estate foreclosure crisis. Whilst this is a definite factor, the fact that most of the other teams throughout the league are selling out and having their blackouts lifted, says that this is not the crux of the problem.
What else was it about 2008 that could have caused the attendance to fall off the table?
The 2008 season began a chain of events that resulted in an implosion of the fan base by the end of the 2009 season. All but the most hard core of Raider Fans have stopped coming to games, and it is reaching a cross-roads for the franchise.
29 wins and 83 losses in the past seven years have taken their toll on the fan base. However, it has been more than the losses that have led to the current state of fan rebellion. The beginning of the current complete malaise started in the offseason between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. During that time, a rumor had come out that then-coach Lane “Lance” Kiffin was going to quit to take a job late in the season. Following the season, a three ring circus took root around the Raiders. There were new rumors coming out daily that Kiffin was going to be fired, or that Al Davis told Kiffin to quit, and Kiffin refused telling Davis to fire him. This uncertainty continued through the scouting combine in February. As the 2008 season dawned, Kiffin remained the head coach, and the Raiders expectations were high after a number of high profile free agents had been added over the offseason. The Raiders were pasted 41-14 by the Broncos in the season opener and recriminations flew between Kiffin and then-defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. In an embarrassment to fans and the organization, Kiffin had his historic firing by the light of the overhead projector during the week five bye.
The firing of Kiffin tore through the Raider Nation like a shotgun blast. Those who supported the narrative that Al Davis doesn't give his coaches the power to coach felt vindicated. Even those who are the most ardent Raider fans were taken aback in the manner in which it was handled. His subsequent actions have shown Kiffin to be a snake in the grass, but combined with the play on the field, this turned more people off. Kiffin's replacement Tom Cable did not inspire the faith of the fan base and a blowout loss to the New England Patriots in the penultimate home game led them to their second non-sellout of the season to close the year.
The 2009 offseason was not nearly as chaotic. There was what was seen by most fans as an uninspiring coaching search that ended with Cable having the interim dropped from his title. He seemed earnest enough and said the right things, but with his lack of experience as a head coach and low profile around the league as anything but a line coach, many in the Raider Nation were disappointed with that choice.
The frustration was exacerbated by the selection of Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree in the draft, and the constant reports coming out of camp about the lack of performance by quarterback JaMarcus Russell. The Raiders sold out their opening game, which was a heartbreaking last second loss to the San Diego Chargers. They followed that up with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs and were 1-1, came home for a game against Denver, and that would be the beginning of the current streak. The loss against Denver set into motion the disintegration of the Raiders offense and the end of the failed JaMarcus Russell experiment. Not even the replacement of Russell with Gradkowski could get the attendance to approach 50,000 let alone the sell out level of 61,000.
The 2010 offseason brought almost universal praise praise for the Raiders moves. The reports coming out of camp were generally positive. They had a 3-1 preseason, then melted down in the season opener, and did not come close to selling out their home opener the following week, missing the mark by 13,000 tickets. After a heartbreaking road loss, they set yet another low for attendance.
By 2008, the fans broke out in open rebellion against the team talking about boycotts. Since then, the Raiders haven't been able to reach the 50,000 mark. There was also a fan purchased billboard that appeared along Interstate 880 expressing frustration that called on Al Davis to hire a general manager.
The lack of attendance is understandable against the backdrop of losing and revolving door of coaches. However, by failing to appear, they are sending a clear message to Davis that Oakland is not supporting the Raiders. The Raider Nation thumps its chest with proclamations of loyalty, but when the rubber meets the road, the only loyalty that matters is showing up at the Stadium on Sundays to support the team.
Its very simple economics, to maintain their fiscal health as a franchise, the Oakland Raiders need butts in the seats. If the seagulls keep outnumbering fans, the Raiders won't be staying in Oakland beyond their current lease which expires after the 2013 season.
If the Raiders return to Los Angeles, move to Las Vegas, Omaha, or the moon, Raider fans will be able to look back on these attendance woes as the reason.