Power to the People
NFL teams leaving long-time homes for new, usually larger, markets
This week, the Raiders became the third team in the last 15 months to get approval to move to a new city. The Rams got permission to move from St. Louis to Los Angeles in January 2016. A year later, NFL team owners allowed the Chargers to move north to L.A., too. As of this week, the Raiders – for the second time in franchise history – are leaving Oakland, now headed to Las Vegas.
Nine NFL teams have changed their home city since 1982, when the Raiders left Oakland for L.A. In 1984, the Colts left Baltimore in moving trucks in the middle of the night, thus announcing their relocation to Indianapolis. The Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988. Both the Rams and Raiders bolted Los Angeles in 1995. The Rams went to St. Louis, while the Raiders returned to Oakland. The Oilers left Houston for Tennessee, playing in Memphis in 1997 and Nashville, their intended home, in 1998.
The moves are driven by the ability to maximize profits. For the most part, the more modern the stadium and its amenities, the greater chance the team owner has to make bank. However, the most recent team moves have created some conundrums. In 2016, the Rams played in the Los Angeles Coliseum, their temporary home until construction of their $1.86 billion stadium is completed in two years. The team sold 70,000 season tickets last year. That put pressure on the Chargers to relocate to their new market as soon as possible, even if it meant playing on uneven ground. The Chargers will play at the 30,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., home to Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy, until they join the Rams as co-tenants of Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park in 2019. And while the Raiders are hoping to play in Las Vegas in 2019, they appear like they will stay in Oakland until they leave the Bay Area for Sin City. Talk about an awkward situation. Raider fans aren’t exactly known for being polite and accepting. Is the league and team ownership, led by Mark Davis, sure they want to subject themselves and their employees to the wrath of fans they’re leaving behind?
Up until the Saints returned to the Superdome in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, they were constantly mentioned among those most likely to move. The Saints and the state have a deal through 2025 and are talking about an extension, but the team is also profitable and has tens of thousands of people on a waiting list for season tickets. There’s not much doubt that they’ll be the New Orleans Saints for the foreseeable future, but having nearly a tenth of the league teams change homes within two years begs the question of how many more teams might threaten to leave their current cities for better deals.
Of the current top 10 cities in the United States based on population, three (San Antonio, San Diego and San Jose) do not currently have an NFL franchise; while two (New York and Los Angeles) have four teams. There is natural concern for small market cities and cities with poor fan support that they will lose their team if the owner(s) have an opportunity to make more money elsewhere. Even though St. Louis proposed raising as much as $400 million in state and local tax money to go toward a $1.1 billion riverfront stadium, the Rams left.
But with the income potential in Los Angeles, it’s hard to blame ownership. In its annual “The Business of Football” team value rankings, Forbes estimated the St. Louis Rams to be worth $1.45 billion, 28th in the league. A year later as the Los Angeles Rams, the franchise’s value doubled to $2.9 billion and it became the 6th most valuable team in the NFL. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Chargers and Raiders when the 2017 list is released in the fall.
Even though Jacksonville has the 12th largest population in the country, fan support for the NFL’s Jaguars hasn’t met expectations. As such, speculation about a potential move has surrounded the Jags for years. After the Rams returned to Los Angeles, whispers arose about the Jaguars taking up St. Louis on their riverfront stadium proposal and temporarily to the dome the Rams jettisoned.
But St. Louis isn’t alone as a potential NFL host. Football fans in Chicago, the third largest city in the U.S., are asking why they can’t have a second team. San Antonio, long considered to be an eventual NFL city, has nearly 1.7 million residents and experienced greater than 10.7 percent population growth between 2010-2015. Toronto is asking American Football to become an international game by finding a home in Canada. And let’s not forget the league has been flirting with London and Mexico City.
It will be interesting to see how these three franchise moves affect the league, both internally and externally over the next few years.
The NFL is not likely to expand beyond 32 teams. Its franchises are commodities. As a result, they will go to those who will support and pay for them. While bigger markets give the opportunity for more customers, success on the field is the primary driver of a successful bottom line. Americans may root for the underdog, but we love winners. That’s a lesson the Saints took a long time to learn, and once they did, it’s created a hell of a fun and financially successful symbiosis.
NFL franchise moves since 1982
Team Move Year
Raiders Oakland to Los Angeles 1982
Colts Baltimore to Indianapolis 1984
Cardinals St. Louis to Arizona 1988
Rams Los Angeles to St. Louis 1995
Raiders Los Angeles to Oakland 1995
Oilers Houston to Memphis 1997
Oilers Memphis to Nashville 1998
Rams St. Louis to Los Angeles 2016
Chargers San Diego to Los Angeles 2017
Raiders Oakland to Las Vegas 2019
Top 10 U.S. cities
Rankings based on 2015 census population estimates
Rank City 2015 2010 Census % Change NFL Team(s)
1 New York 8.55 million 8.18 million +4.6 Giants, Jets
2 Los Angeles 3.97 million 3.79 million +4.7 Rams, Chargers
3 Chicago 2.72 million 2.7 million +0.9 Bears
4 Houston 2.3 million 2.1 million +9.3 Texans
5 Philadelphia 1.57 million 1.53 million +2.7 Eagles
6 Phoenix 1.56 million 1.45 million +8.1 Cardinals
7 San Antonio 1.47 million 1.33 million +10.7 NONE
8 San Diego 1.39 million 1.31 million +6.7 NONE
9 Dallas 1.3 million 1.2 million +8.5 Cowboys
10 San Jose 1.03 million 945,942 +8.6 NONE
49 New Orleans 389,617 343,829 +13.3 Saints