For the section covering the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers, please go HERE.
For the section covering the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and St. Louis Rams, please go HERE.

Six potential candidates for relocation to Los Angeles have already been discussed, but I have saved what would have to be considered the biggest surprise for last.

Vikings
Current Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
2010 Franchise Value: $774 million (30th out of 32 teams)

The Minnesota Vikings have to be the biggest dark horse in the potential LA relocation candidates in discussion.  After all, they’re part of the historic NFC North, share iconic rivalries with the Chicago Bears and especially the Green Bay Packers, and have been playing professional football in the Twin Cities for a half century.  Despite the fact that they have never won a Super Bowl, the Vikings still remain a widely followed franchise, with their fandom covering a massive swath of the upper Midwest and Great Plains.  Vikings fans are energetic, involved, and loyal, reliably packing their home field during good times and bad.  Additionally, the team is usually well-followed on the road, with at least a decent amount of purple supporters in the stands no matter where they play.

However, in spite of all these problems, the Vikings have several major problems with their current situation, nearly all of which revolve around their home stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  Despite providing for an excellent home field advantage due to its loud stadium noise, the Metrodome is incredibly outdated by modern standards, which limits the earning potential of the team.  This is especially evident by their shockingly low franchise value.  If you asked a hundred NFL fans how the Vikings ranked against the rest of the league in regards to franchise valuation, I could just about guarantee you that none of them would’ve guessed that they’re the third lowest valued team in the NFL.  To be honest, I don’t even think that any would have even assumed that they were even in the bottom ten!  The Metrodome’s drawbacks recently came into the limelight during the 2010 season, when heavy snow in Minneapolis caused the Metrodome’s roof to puncture and collapse, videos of which spread like wildfire across the internet.

This collapse forced the Vikings to play their last two home games of the year at alternate sites, losing both and putting to rest even their most far-fetched postseason hopes.  It also signified an exclamation point to the continued negotiations that the team has had with the state of Minnesota over the potential to build a new stadium for the Vikings.  Hoping to emulate the deal the Minnesota Twins of the MLB received for the partial funding of their new Target Field, the Vikings are seeking public assistance in the construction of a new stadium.  While they have had agreements with the local government in the past, any and all public funding plans have fallen apart as the state legislature has expressed continued unwillingness to spend public funds on a new football stadium and the locals are uncertain about public support for funding yet another private sports facility.  Additionally, the team’s ownership has stumbled at times as well, no more so than in 2005 when they effectively forced nearby Anoka County to pull out of a public funding agreement when the Vikings announced that their planned stadium would be an open-air facility without any roof, significantly cutting back on the potential avenues for revenue in an attempt by the team to save money.  While the Vikings seem to have learned from this mistake, as their current plans are calling for a retractable roof facility, they appear to be no closer to gaining state funding for a new stadium than they were five years ago.

Pros: With all of this in mind, the Vikings have a compelling argument for considering a move to Los Angeles.  Despite their long-standing and historic status, they are one of the lowest valued franchises in the league.  Even with their fan support, they just can’t seem to get public funding for a new stadium that other teams have received, notably Minnesota’s own Twins, making the ownership feel an intense sense that they’re being unappreciated by state and local politicians.  Both of these issues would be solved instantaneously in Los Angeles, where the team would have a choice between two competing (and attractive) stadium options as well the whole-hearted support of state and local politicians.  Additionally, the Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011, meaning that there would be no possible financial ramifications of leaving the Minneapolis area if push came to shove.  All of these factors weigh heavily in favor of moving to Los Angeles.

Cons: In spite of all that however, moving such an iconic franchise out of the Midwest seems almost unthinkable, especially when their fanbase is so thoroughly energetic in their support of the team.  More likely, the Vikings will follow the example of the Colts by using a threat to move to L.A. as a bargaining chip to try to force the state legislature to finally come around and provide partial public assistance in funding a new facility.  Such a threat would almost assuredly result in a massive outcry and outpouring of demand that the team stay in the Twin Cities, which would definitely weigh heavily against the state legislature if they continued to refuse public assistance to the team’s construction plans (as well as against the Vikings moving forward with a threatened move).

So, there you have it, the seven teams that could potentially be considering a move to Los Angeles… the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings.  These teams have been reported by various media outlets and by the people behind the competing stadium plans themselves as the most likely candidates for relocation to L.A. over the past couple years.  Obviously, not to say that another team couldn’t jump in and make a surprise move to the City of Angels, or that all of the teams listed over the course of the past couple days are truly considering such an action, but these seven have to be considered the most likely candidates.

All that being said though, is the likelihood of these teams moving all equal?  Of course not.  Some teams have smaller problems than others, and some are likely only interested in using L.A. as a threat to try to get public support for new stadium construction.  I believe that this is likely the case for the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers, whom I truly believe are committed to remaining in the Twin Cities and the Bay Area respectively.  If either of these two teams are the ones that make the jump, I would honestly be quite shocked.  On a similar note, I likewise believe that the Bills are committed to the Buffalo area so long as their current owner remains alive, nixing the possibility of relocation for hopefully at least a few more years for this franchise.  On top of that, due to their presence in southern Ontario, if they were truly considering a relocation, Toronto seems like it would be a more likely home for them than L.A., although certain issues might arise from the Canadian government trying to block an NFL move to protect their Canadian Football League (potentially a topic of discussion for a later blog post).

Additionally, I believe that the troubles experienced by the St. Louis Rams are temporary, even with their recent and dramatic loss in value.  They have a young stud in the guise of Sam Bradford and are on the cusp of returning back into the playoffs, which would be a strong tonic to their financial woes in bring back the big bucks.  On top of that, despite the questions I previously brought up in their new owners commitment to remain in St. Louis, his Missouri connections are very deep and I don’t think that he’d be willing to move out of the area within the first couple years of his ownership of the team, which is the time table I’m looking at (as are the backers of the competing stadium plans in L.A.).  I’d say that the Rams are more likely to move than the Vikings, 49ers, and Bills in the immediate future, but that their relocation potential is lower than the remaining three teams.

That leaves us with three teams remaining, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers.  Even with their improvements in attendance over the past season, the Jaguars have some of the most questionable finances in the league, exist in a relatively small market surrounded by more entrenched competitors, and still have reason to doubt their fan support.  The Raiders have an oddball owner, a hated and mostly incompetent team management staff that has made mistake after mistake when it comes to roster and draft decisions, play in a horrible stadium, and have a history in the L.A. area as well as a still sizable fan presence in the city.  The Chargers, despite their success on the field, play in a stadium they want to replace and believe that they aren’t supported by the fans as much as they should be.

However, even among these final three, their chances still are not equal.  I’d highlight the Chargers as being the biggest wildcard among these three teams.  I believe that they are likely more interested in staying in the San Diego area, as they are in the process of shopping around the surrounding region for a potential home and partner for a new facility.  More likely than the Jaguars and the Raiders, I think that they’d be more interested in threatening to move to get what they want in their current surroundings versus actually moving.  However, while I’d rank them as being less likely than the Jags and Raiders, I wouldn’t put them on the same level of unlikelihood as the 49ers and Vikings.  The Chargers, more so than any other team listed, probably have the most variance in their options.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved or if they stayed, but they are not even close to being the most or least likely candidate for relocation.  Like I already said above, they will be the wild card and will be entirely dependent on if they can get San Diego-area public financing for a new stadium.

That leaves us with the Jaguars and the Raiders, the two teams I’d identify as being the most likely candidates for moving to the City of Angels.  Both teams have serious financial problems, with the Raiders having more management and stadium issues plaguing them while the Jaguars are mostly troubled by their questionable market size.  These very real issues have weighed heavily on both franchises over the years, to the point where they have to be considering their options in L.A. and are undoubtedly being courted by the competing stadium plans.  The Raiders would seem to have a less of a league barrier to a move, as a relocation would not necessitate a divisional realignment as would likely be necessary if the Florida-based Jaguars set up shop in California.  However, I’d also rank the inherent structural problems of the Jaguars as being greater than the Raiders, effectively evening their chances.

However, just like how neither team could move and this entire conversation could be for naught, more than one team could make the jump as well.  With competing stadium plans, both development groups could very well push for a team of their own and still likely be profitable competing in a two-team Los Angeles area, much in the same way that the region already supports two baseball teams, two hockey teams, and two (perhaps three) basketball teams.  Additionally, the backers of the City of Industry bid have already expressed their intention to try to draw two NFL teams to share their facility in the same way that the Jets and the Giants share a home in New Jersey.  Despite that, I’d honestly have to say that two L.A. teams is a pie-in-the-sky dream for Los Angeles fans, especially when you remember that the last time the City of Angels had two NFL teams they both abandoned the area within a few months of each other.  More likely than not, if the NFL returns to Los Angeles in the near future it will just be one team…

… and if I were a betting man, I’d lay money on it being either the Jaguars or the Raiders.

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