In recent days, news has broke of two NFL teams filing to relocate. The first was when the San Diego Chargers moved to Los Angeles officially on January 12th. The move has been a nightmare for a franchise that was perceived rather well throughout the league. It’s new logo was promptly torn apart by fans and fellow sports franchises alike.
To fix that, they’ve changed it twice now, and while this new logo is much more well-liked, the Chargers are being perceived as weak for changing it so often. To top it all off, the Chargers will be playing in the measly 30,000 seat StubHub Center in the LA suburb of Carson. Even worse, the franchise has been ostracized from both San Diego AND LA, as Clippers fans booed the Chargers logo at a recent game.
One more move that is not nearly as close to finalized is the Raiders potential move to Sin City. The Raiders filed for relocation earlier this week, and a vote will be taken this Spring on whether the Raiders will move. Owner Mark Davis, son of NFL legend Al Davis, still faces major hurdles if he wants “to make the Silver State the Silver and Black State”, in his own words. Firstly, Commissioner Goodell and quite a few owners much prefer the Raiders staying in the East Bay. On top of that, the Raiders’ fancy new stadium on the Strip has not even broken ground yet, meaning even if they can leave, they’ll be forced to stay in the East Bay until their stadium is built or use the antiquated and tiny Sam Boyd Stadium on the outskirts of Vegas. Nevertheless, most people seem to agree the Oakland Raiders will be the Las Vegas Raiders very soon.
The “Big Four” professional leagues in North America (NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB) have seen incredible stability in recent years. Before the Rams moved to Los Angeles in 2016, there had only been two relocations in the previous ten years across all sports. In 2008, the Seattle Sonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder, in a painful move that still rings in the state of Washington. In 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers became the second incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets. This move was much smoother, as the franchise moved from a Southern fanbase that cared little for hockey to a rabid fanbase in Canada.
Now, the NFL and NHL are starting to enter a more unstable era, with the MLB and NBA likely not far behind. In 2016, the NHL added their first expansion team since 2000, with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights will play for the first time during the 2017-18 NHL season.
Numerous NHL teams are strongly considering a move to Quebec, namely the Arizona Coyotes and the Carolina Hurricanes. On top of that, the NHL may not be done expanding, as it strongly desires a Seattle franchise and is patiently waiting on a hockey arena in the city.
While the NHL is certainly entering an era with many relocations and expansion, the NFL is likely entering an even more unstable time. Before the Rams moved in early 2016, the previous relocation had been 1997, when the Houston Oilers became the Tennessee Oilers and eventually the Titans. However, in the three years of 1995, 1996, and 1997, the NFL saw FOUR relocations, including the Oilers. In 1995, both LA teams fled; the Rams for St. Louis and the Raiders back to Oakland. In 1996, the original Cleveland Browns, a famously unlucky franchise, moved to Baltimore as the Ravens and promptly became a perennial AFC powerhouse.
Now, we seem to be entering a similar era as the mid-to-late 90s in the NFL. Four expansions and four relocations in the span of 7 years was incredibly chaotic, but it happened. Now, we’ve seen two relocations in as many years with another one probably soon on the way. These three moves have all been in the West, but now the spotlight will likely shift east. The Jaguars and the Bills have long been considered relocation favorites. The Bills will very likely move to Toronto if they move at all, while the Jaguars are seen as more of a wildcard. Either way, the NFL is entering another era of chaos, and there is one driving force behind all of it: money.
While most people agree that you can’t buy happiness, one thing you can buy is a stadium with a ton of luxury suites and amenities. For NFL owners, that’s about as close to buying happiness as they can get. The best part for them is, they don’t have to spend much money on it. Most of the bill goes to the taxpayers of the franchise’s home in almost every scenario. There are no owners in the NFL who actively enjoy leaving their home. However, relocation is an effective way to call the city’s bluff. If you threaten relocation, the city has a choice. Either levy taxes to pay for stadium improvements, or call the franchise’s bluff right back. Most of the time, a threat of relocation is enough to bully the city’s fans and government to help build a new stadium. When it isn’t, the franchise will almost always pack up shop and move to their new home.
As much as we, the fans, love to watch sports or pretend we have real control over our favorite teams, franchises aren’t in our cities to make friends. They’re here to make money, and that’s understandable. These are the owner’s businesses, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to make moves for sentimentality sake. That doesn’t mean that relocation is a nasty business. Relocation instantly tears part of a city’s culture apart and it loses one of it’s main sources of tourism. This has proven true for San Diego, and we’re not even a week into the Los Angeles Chargers era.
When you thought of San Diego, you usually thought of the incredible beaches or the huge US Naval presence there. However, there’s also a strong chance you thought of the team with the bolt on their helmets. I visited San Diego in late 2015, when it was a toss-up between the Rams and the Chargers/Raiders in the LA sweepstakes. Despite the lopsided vote against funding a stadium, this was a city desperate for it’s team. It wanted it’s beloved “San Diego Super Chargers” to stay in its home of 55 years. It wanted to believe they were just as good as their perceived “big brother” up the coast on the 5. Now, because of money, all of that has changed to hate. The Chargers may be going through a nightmare right now, but it’s nothing compared to the torment of some of the biggest fans in San Diego.