PHOENIX – Jack Del Rio is an East Bay guy. The Castro Valley native and Hayward High product went to Raiders games as a child, and knows too well how loud Oakland Coliseum crowds can be. He helped create that home-field advantage decades ago, and appreciates it now as Raiders head coach.
The Black Hole and surrounding supporters were felt in losing seasons but last year especially, when the Raiders went 12-4 and won several games in dramatic fashion.
While the Raiders are currently sold out of season tickets for 2017, there's some question about how the fans will react after owners approved relocation to Las Vegas on Monday morning. The Raiders plan to play in Oakland the next two seasons – they have team options on the Oakland Coliseum for 2017 and 2018 -- and would like to play there again in 2019 until a Vegas stadium is completed in 2020.
Will there be a bunch of empty seats? Will there be protests outside the stadium? Or will the opportunity to see a team with championship aspirations keep fans coming?
That remains uncertain, though Del Rio believes Raiders fans will continue supporting their club.
"I can't answer that definitively, but I would say I doubt it," Del Rio said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. "I think we have to play well and earn it. That's where it starts. I'm banking on us doing well. If we do well enough, people will be excited to watch us."
Raiders owner Mark Davis has offered refunds to fans jilted by the move out of town, though those requests weren't immediately high. There's also a waiting list to buy season tickets if they become available.
There will be fans turned off after all this, and Raiders brass doesn't fault them for it.
"There is that element where a certain number where they're disappointed to the point they won't support us anymore. That's understandable," Del Rio said. "We'll have to see what that number is. If it's a lot, we'll adjust that line of thinking. But I would be surprised if that's the case."
Raiders fans are unique, and have shown a willingness to travel for games regardless of record.
"We have some real diehards," Del Rio said. "We draw globally. I'm sure there will be some who are angry and can't get over it; that's understandable. I think there will be a large contingent who are true Raiders fans, and it really doesn't matter where they're playing. They're there and they're fired up."