By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Oakland Raiders supporters are among the most passionate in the National Football League but their loyalty will be put to the ultimate test if the team win a bid to relocate to Los Angeles for the second time.
With the Raiders and city of Oakland far apart regarding stadium plans, team owner Mark Davis is looking to move his team to the second largest market in the United States as part of a joint proposal with the San Diego Chargers.
"I think the Raiders feel like they have the most transportable fans in any sport," Robert Boland, director of the MBA and master's sports administration program at Ohio University, told Reuters.
"And (if they relocate) they would be reconnecting, not with their core fans, but with a richer base of fans, demographically wealthier and more able to support a team in Los Angeles."
It's an all-too-familiar scenario for the team's fan base -- known as Raider Nation -- as the franchise left Oakland for Los Angeles after the 1981 season before returning in 1995.
Davis has long stated his desire to keep the Raiders in Oakland, where they began playing in 1960 as a member of the American Football League, but the team's current home has been a point of contention for years.
The Raiders, who play in the aging O.co Coliseum, are the only NFL franchise to share a home with a Major League Baseball team and the 49-year-old stadium has been plagued with plumbing and power issues for years.
But the Raiders' lease expired at the O.co Coliseum and with little expectation of getting a new stadium in the Bay Area, the team is focused on heading back to Los Angeles, where the NFL has not had a team since the Raiders and Rams left 20 years ago.
Oakland have not enjoyed a winning season since 2002 but that has not dampened an extensive fan base widely known for a distinctive team culture that sees many attend games wearing masks and outfits in the team's silver and black colors.
The Raiders and Chargers are proposing to share a stadium in Carson, about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, while the Rams owner is backing a venue in Inglewood, roughly 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
"It's the manifest revenue capabilities that Los Angeles holds both in terms of the market and then in terms of a new stadium development," Boland said of Oakland's desire to move.
"So the idea for them is that whether it would be the Carson project developed with the Chargers, or even a partnership with the Rams, the Raiders are well equipped to step into a much bigger market, one they abandoned."
To relocate, a team needs approval from 24 of the league's 32 owners and a resolution could come as soon as the Jan. 12-13 NFL owners meetings in Houston.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)