When I was growing up, we had a family friend who had a nice boat in Florida; every time we would visit, we would go out in the Gulf for the day. His boat was aptly named ‘For a Few Dollars More’, which really put in perspective how much time and money go into a big investment like that. To keep is running and in good shape, you have to keep putting in more money. To 30 cities around the country, professional football teams aren’t much different than a boat. Every few years at least one team will either threaten, or be rumored, to move on to a different location. And every few years cities will negotiate with these teams to keep them rooted. With Oakland now losing the Raiders, again, they have made an economically sound decision that is incredibly bitter to swallow. Their beloved franchise is becoming the Las Vegas Raiders.
Look objectively across the landscape of the National Football League, and think how many franchises would never move. The list is small and shrinking every season with the increase in financial support and the growth of the stadium construction industry. The city of Indianapolis built the Colts a brand new stadium in 2008 at the cost of about $750 million. The Rams and Chargers new stadium in Los Angeles is expected to cost over $2 billion and be generations ahead of Lucas Oil Stadium. In less time than people, especially fans, want to imagine these teams will be wanting newer improvements and upgrades while the cities continue to pay for the original stadiums.
What would happen in five years if the city of San Antonio offered to build a $3 billion stadium for an NFL team, would Jim Irsay even think twice before moving the Colts? Would Shad Khan even say goodbye to Jacksonville?
There are about a dozen teams that are most likely never going to leave. Just looking across the league today it would be safe to say these are the well-rooted franchises: Bears, Bills, Broncos, Chiefs, Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles, Falcons, 49ers, Packers, Patriots, Seahawks and the Steelers. And as a Dolphins fan, even I would not have put them on this list until Stephen Ross voted against the move and told the media that it is the team’s responsibility to exhaust every option for the fans before moving. Ross himself paid for the upgrades to the stadium when the taxpayers said no. He invested in the long term instead of looking for a short term move to a new locale.
But most owners aren’t like that. The allure of a new stadium or new facilities that are paid for are just too big of a benefit than fan loyalty. The money is in the television rights and hosting premier events and not in keeping the fans of Oakland happy. The Raiders now move from one of the worst stadiums in the league to what is expected to be one of the most advanced. They move to a city that is built around hosting events with the anticipation from Mark Davis that the Raiders will host the coveted Super Bowl, which means even more money for the franchise.
Teams are so focused on the financial benefits that they strong arm these cities into providing so much without even thinking of the costs. Look at Indianapolis, the taxpayers continue to pay for Lucas Oil Stadium and the city worked out a deal that all of the concession profits go straight to the team instead of the stadium. That forces the taxpayers to have to pay out even longer to be able to pay off the stadium. And the catch, Indianapolis taxpayers are still paying for the Colts original stadium, the RCA Dome. And they will keep paying for both stadiums until 2021.
But most fans don’t care. And if anyone tries to bring up the economics of keeping sports teams, then they make emotional arguments about the importance of the team. I get it, these sports franchises are important pieces of the identity of these 30 cities, but it’s not sacrilegious to question the overall benefit. The mayor of Oakland stood firm and offered city and county dollars for the infrastructure around the stadium and the area, but not for the stadium itself. They wanted to invest in the area and not just the team. And Mark Davis, whose mind was most likely already made up by the flashing lights of Sin City, announced that he would follow the money instead of the legacy.
This isn’t to say that the Raiders should or should not have moved. But with three teams announcing that they are moving cities in less than 18 months, the NFL and the country should be ready to see what the owners value more; consistent respect and hard work from the fans and leaders of their current cities, or the potential to have the biggest and newest stadium in the league.
Make no mistake that after the owners vote to move the Raiders to Las Vegas, dozens of cities across the US (and even in Canada and Mexico) sat up in their chairs and wondered what it will take to keep, or bring, an NFL franchise. They know that the benefits to keep a team are there, but they come at a big cost for many. Even though it may not be the most economical decision to keep these teams, it’s an emotional connection that cities fight hard to keep. For a few dollars more.