Considering that I have already written an article on the competing stadium bids in Los Angeles that are currently being considered in an effort to draw an NFL team back to the City of Angels, I figured that it might be a good idea to discuss a list of potential teams that could make the jump to L.A. Each of the options listed below have very real problems with their current home situations and would likely benefit from a move to Los Angeles, but they likewise all have major barriers and could negatives consequences that might potentially block any such move.
For the sake of convenience, I will just order the teams by alphabetical order. Additionally, due to the amount of subject material and number of teams that will be discussed, I will be splitting this up into three parts. Today’s entry will cover the first three potential teams, tomorrow’s entry will cover even more relocation possibilities, and the final part providing a round-up and synopsis will be posted on the day after that.
Current Hometown: Orchard Park, New York (suburb of Buffalo)
2010 Franchise Value: $799 million (28th out of 32 teams)
The Buffalo Bills are an unfortunate franchise. Despite managing to put together an AFC dynasty in the early 90’s that saw them appear in four consecutive Super Bowls, the franchise has unfortunately never won the Super Bowl in their over four decades in the league (though they did win two AFL championships prior to the NFL-AFL merger). Since their fourpeat failure to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, the Bills have been experiencing a long and harrowing decline into mediocrity. Playing in the very tough AFC East against the perennial New England Patriots, the sometimes high-quality Miami Dolphins, and the recent upstart New York Jets, the Bills have been squeezed into the cellar and have not made it into the playoffs in this new millennium.
Despite boasting one of the most loyal and passionate fanbases in the league, the Bills have additionally suffered as economic downturns have hurt their already fairly small market, eating away at the revenues that the team can raise. To make matters worse, in a desperate effort to bring in some money, the team has scheduled five regular season home games to be played in Toronto from 2008 to 2012, raising speculation and fears that the franchise was testing the waters for a potential move to Toronto. Despite their beloved owner’s assurances, there is still wide-spread concern that the Bills could very well move in the near future, and many even fear that there will literally be nothing holding the next generation of the team’s ownership in Western New York once Ralph Wilson passes away.
Pros: Playing in a small market and in an old stadium, the Bills obviously have to be considered a major candidate for relocation to Los Angeles. The prospect of playing in the second largest media market in the nation, in a brand new stadium (whether it ends up being the Los Angeles Stadium in the City of Industry or Farmers Field in downtown L.A.), the Bills would undoubtedly receive a massive economic boost if they jumped from Buffalo to the City of Angels. Additionally, and I hate to bring this up, but the age of the team’s owner is also a factor, as his heirs could very well be looking into possibly liquidating the team for the franchise’s hundreds of millions of dollars in value once Ralph Wislon passes away, something which the principals behind both stadium projects in L.A. could very easily afford.
Cons: Despite their issues, the Bills fanbase is extraordinarily energetic and would definitely put up a major fight if the team tried to leave. Additionally, based on their own already-existent fanbase in Ontario, if the Bills really were contemplating relocation, Toronto seems like it would be a much better fit for the team. Finally, a move from the Eastern Time Zone to the Pacific Time Zone would likely result in a need for the league to reorganize their current divisional alignment, as it would be very unlikely to think that the NFL would want to have an eastern division with a franchise in California… although, now that I think about it, having rival teams from New York, Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles all in the same division might very well be a very attractive prospect to the NFL…
Current Hometown: San Diego, California
2010 Franchise Value: $907 million (24th out of 32 teams)
The San Diego Chargers might, at first glance, seem like a very odd relocation potential. After all, despite their habitual early season troubles, the Chargers have been regular playoff contenders over the past couple years, highlighted by the fact that they won the AFC West four straight seasons from 2006-2009. Additionally, they have an extremely solid core of talent, centered around arguably the best active quarterback in the league right now that doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring, Phillip Rivers.
In spite of these obvious pluses though, the Chargers have built up a reputation as being underachievers come playoff time. Despite reaching the AFC Championship following the 2007 season, the franchise has onlyo reached the Super Bowl once in their entire existence, and have yet to win it. Their poor early season play coupled with their inability to reach the big game in the playoffs has somewhat hurt their draw, leading to empty seats that you wouldn’t expect to find in a regular playoff contender like the Chargers.
Having a naval battle at Qualcomm when it floods would actually be pretty awesome. (Ulpiano Checa, 1894 painting)
To make matters worse, the Chargers view their current home, Qualcomm Stadium, as being horribly out of date and not very pleasant for the fans from an atmosphere perspective. Most recently, during the lead up to the scheduled college Poinsettia Bowl that takes place annually in San Diego, Qualcomm was severely flooded following heavy rains, making national news for having temporarily taken on the appearance of lake prepared to host a veritable Roman naumachia (naval battle). While the game went off mostly without a hitch after the million or so gallons of rain water were pumped out of the stadium, the damage from the rain is still being investigated.
Pros: The Chargers have most of the features that you would expect to see from a team contemplating a move. A fanbase not as loyal as they believe they deserve, an outdated stadium that badly needs to be replaced, and a potential nearby relocation site that would be many times larger and more profitable than their current home. And the team has more or less admitted that they would consider relocation if a planned (though unpopular) 2012 ballot measure to allow for public funding of a new stadium doesn’t go through. With the measure, as of right now, unlikely to even appear on the ballot in 2012, much less pass, you have to consider the Chargers as a very likely candidate for relocation, especially as they were actually originally founded in Los Angeles and could label the relocation as a triumphant homecoming even though almost no one remembers the short days they spent in L.A.
Cons: While the franchise would undoubtedly benefit from the short move to L.A., they would kiss all potential SoCal support from outside the L.A. area goodbye if they ever abandoned San Diego. Additionally, despite some of the problems that San Diego has had, it still remains a large market that the NFL would likely not be willing to let go of so easily. Finally, the threat of moving to Los Angeles could very well be used to drum up support to pass the ballot measure to fund a new home for the team in San Diego, much in the same way that the Colts owners did following a visit to Los Angeles prior to receiving public funds for the construction of their new Lucas Oil Stadium.
Current Hometown: San Francisco, California
2010 Franchise Value: $925 million (22nd out of 32 teams)
The second, but not last, California team to make the list, the San Francisco 49ers are also another seemingly odd potential relocation target. After all, the franchise has an incredibly rich tradition as the oldest major professional sports franchise on the West Coast. They had two all-time great quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, as well as arguably the greatest single NFL player in history, wide receiver Jerry Rice, on their roster of Hall of Fame 49ers. Additionally, the Niners are tied for second with most Super Bowl wins in NFL history at five with the Dallas Cowboys and behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers with six Lombardi Trophy wins. Finally, they have a rich and ingrained tradition in the Bay Area, being as much of a part of San Francisco as just about any other institution in the region and have a passionate fanbase spread across much of California.
So why include the 49ers on this list? One reason… their stadium. Candlestick Park, despite being an iconic and historic landmark, has not weathered the passage of time very well. While not the oldest stadium in the NFL (Lambeau Field in Green Bay is 3 years older and Soldier Field in Chicago is over 35 years older), Candlestick remains the oldest park to have not received major renovations. So, while Lambeau has weathered the passage of time phenomenally due to several upgrades, and Soldier Field was practically completely rebuilt in 2003, Candlestick more or less remains the same as it was in 1960, aside from changes that were made in the 70’s to allow baseball to be played there.
As a result, 49er ownership have been pushing hard for the construction of a new stadium over the past several years. While San Francisco voters did approve a $100 million bond to publically finance the construction of a new stadium in 1997, a series of screw-ups by the franchise and the firm contracted to design a new stadium prevented the plan from every really developing. The 49ers again seemingly dropped the ball in 2006 as part of San Francisco’s attempted bid to become a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The construction of an Olympic Stadium that would become the new home of the Niners was paramount in this plan, but the team refused to agree to city requests regarding the location of the stadium and size of the Olympic Village, eventually leading to the outright cancellation of not only the new stadium plan, but also of the entire Olympic bid, much to the anger of the city and local residents alike. This lead to a massive outcry against the Niners ownership and, coupled with reports that they were considering moving elsewhere in the Bay Area, even resulted in discussion on the floor of the California legislature to pass a bill barring the 49ers from building a new stadium within a hundred-mile radius if they ever left San Francisco (though this bill failed to pass).
Pros: Despite their long history, the 49ers have in recent years built up an obvious antagonistic relationship between themselves and their hometown. As a result, they have been looking for chances to move out since even before the aborted Olympic bid was dead. While they have in recent years looked to nearby Santa Clara for the construction of a new stadium, the team has yet again been running into a series of delays that have prevented their plans from moving forward. This is in spite of the passage of a public bond to partially fund a new $937 million stadium for the franchise and tentative plans to begin construction in 2012. If delays continue to hamper their plans in Santa Clara, the possibility of potentially moving to San Francisco instead with two competing stadium options on the table could be viewed as a very attractive alternative.
Cons: If leaving their historic San Francisco environs was bad, then completely abandoning the entire Bay Area would be catastrophic. A potential move for such an iconic franchise would be vehemently opposed, not only by local residents and fans, but also by elected officials and other civic leaders as well, which could very likely put enough pressure on the team to prevent a move from taking place. Additionally, Santa Clara has already shown a willingness to work with the team in funding a new stadium closer to their own backyard, so a move to Los Angeles at this point in time honestly does seem very unlikely, even if just used as a threat to try to get more concessions from the local government.
Tomorrow, I will continue this story with part two, which will cover more potential relocation targets. Stay tuned!