Few could have guessed that the league's return would become so bloody, bitter and, most of all, emblematic of how power in the NFL truly works. ... The inability of America's most popular sport to occupy the nation's second-largest market since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season had become a running joke. In the past two decades, at least 20 Los Angeles stadium proposals had been designed and junked. An expansion team had been awarded to LA in 1999 but then, mired in red tape, sent to Houston to become the Texans. Many clubs had used the threat of moving to Los Angeles as leverage to build new, publicly financed stadiums. But now, the idea of at least one franchise relocating to LA wasn't just a fanciful notion. It was real. ... Most owners meetings are boring. Some members doze. Groupthink often prevails. Not this time. For hours, the owners argued and traded barbs.
At its peak last summer, a daily fantasy get-rich-now commercial aired every 90 seconds on television. Combined, industry leaders FanDuel and DraftKings plunged more than $750 million into TV commercials, radio spots, digital ads and other promotions. In the weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL season, the two startup companies spent more on advertising than the entire American beer industry. ... Daily fantasy's meteoric rise -- breathtaking for its breakneck speed, avalanche of investors' cash and ever-spiraling valuations -- spurred the two companies' endlessly annoying, record-shattering arms race for new customers and industry dominance. ... The two companies processed a combined $3 billion in player-entry fees in 2015. ... as quickly as it boomed, the industry bottomed. One year after their headiest moments, FanDuel and DraftKings are still not profitable. Both privately held companies' valuations have been sliced -- by more than half, according to some estimates. The companies have hemorrhaged tens of millions of dollars in legal and lobbying expenses. (DraftKings' attorneys fees once ran as high as $1 million per week.) And the fog bank of the industry's uncertain future has made it nearly impossible for either company to raise new money.
It has always been easy to underestimate Mark Davis. After all, he is known for his wacky bowl cut and silver-and-black suits and for managing the Raiders from the bar at a P.F. Chang's. Since his Hall of Fame father, Al, died six years ago, Davis has been an afterthought in league circles, easy to malign and hard to take seriously. ... Adelson considered the Raiders' move a chance to help him shift a windfall of public money away from a competitor's convention center renovation -- and a chance to enhance his legacy by delivering an NFL franchise to his home city, sweetened by a stake in a gleaming, state-of-the-art $1.9 billion domed stadium and, perhaps, a piece of the team. ... What no one could see then is that, after making good on his word by delivering an American-record $750 million in public funds for the stadium and pledging $650 million of his own money, Adelson would end up furious a year later, feeling that Mark Davis -- the goofy Mark Davis who "surprises people if he can roll out of bed and put on his pants," as a team owner says -- had completely and utterly fleeced him.