Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Top 10 Teams Likeliest to Move

Two National Hockey League teams are attempting to secure their futures, but I'm not sure how secure that will be.

The Phoenix Coyotes extended their lease at Arena, in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, through the 2011-12 season. (The building was originally known as the Glendale Arena.) The 'Yotes, besieged by bankruptcy, are thus given an additional year to find a new owner.

And Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano announced a plan for a new arena for the New York Islanders, to replace the Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum, currently the 2nd-oldest in the NHL (behind the nearby and once-again-being renovated Madison Square Garden).

On August 1 of this year, a referendum will be held. If it passes, a new arena and a new baseball stadium, intended to lure a minor-league team (possibly the Long Island Ducks, currently playing in Suffolk County's Central Islip), will be built next-door to the Coliseum, opening in time for the 2015-16 season, at which point the building once nicknamed "Fort Neverlose" during the Isles' early-1980s dynasty, will be demolished to make up for some of the parking that will be lost due to construction.

But if the referendum fails, then, when the lease at the Nassau Coliseum runs out with the close of the 2014-15 season, the Islanders are probably gone. And Nassau County residents are already whining about their taxes getting raised (if, that is, the referendum passes).

Might the Isles still move? The 'Yotes are more likely to.

Top 10 Major League Sports Teams Likeliest to Move

Note: This does not include the New Jersey Nets, who have already announced their intention to move to Brooklyn for the 2012-13 NBA season. It also does not include teams that are moving from one building to another in another part of their current metropolitan area.

10. Oakland Raiders, NFL. They've done it before, from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982 and back to Oakland in 1995. As long as Al Davis is still alive and running the team, you never know.

9. Memphis Grizzlies, NBA. Although they just won a Playoff series for the first time in franchise history (they were the Vancouver Grizzlies from 1995 to 2001), and the FedEx Forum is a relatively new arena (2004), the Memphis area was hurt really hard by the Bush Recession (to say nothing of the current Mississippi River flooding).

There's a reason the NFL and NHL both put teams in Nashville rather than Memphis (though the Oilers/Titans did play one season in Memphis while the Nashville stadium was being built).

8. Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL. Although it has the highest population of any city in the State of Florida, Jacksonville has the smallest metropolitan area of any city in the NFL, and the Jags are the one team out of the 32 that has, over the last couple of seasons, regularly had trouble filling its stadium.

7. Buffalo Bills, NFL. Ralph Wilson is the only original American Football League owner left, but he's not from Buffalo (Detroit), and is already committed to one home game per year in nearby Toronto. If he moves the Bills, expect a revolt in Western New York. Expect Tim Russert to roll over in his grave.

Granted, Rich Stadium is not a great facility, it's almost 40 years old, and it's way out in the suburbs (Orchard Park), and the Buffalo area has lost a lot of people and a lot of industry in the Bills franchise's lifetime. But if a way can be found to save the NHL's Sabres (and it has, twice), the Bills can be saved.

6. New York Islanders, NHL. Right now, your guess is as good as mine as to whether that referendum will pass.

5. Tampa Bay Rays, MLB. The Rays are challenging for the AL East title for the 3rd time in the last 4 years, but they're averaging just 16,311 thus far this season. Last year, 22,758. The year before, the season after making the postseason for the first time, 23,147. And the year before, when they won the Pennant, and the Bush Recession hadn't fully kicked in, 22,259.

If you take away the retirees and the fixed incomes that often keep them away from the ballpark, the Tampa Bay area simply can't support a major league team 81 times a season. Never mind how stupid a stadium Tropicana Field is: Tampa Bay should never have been granted an MLB franchise, and there's already murmurs about moving up Interstate 4 to Orlando.

4. San Diego Chargers, NFL. The MLB Padres managed to get out of Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium, north of downtown in Mission Valley, and into the downtown Petco Park. But the Chargers have been unable to get a new stadium built, and, just up Interstate 5 in the far larger Los Angeles, a lot of people would like to restore NFL football.

But L.A. can't seem to get a stadium built, either, and the alternative is either the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (on the edge of the South Central ghetto) or the Rose Bowl (north of the city in Pasadena), and both of those were built in the Harding Administration (1923 and '22, respectively). Neither of these legendary stadiums has the luxury-box capacity for a 21st Century L.A. NFL team. That may be the only thing keeping the Chargers in San Diego. If an agreement to build an L.A. stadium is reached, or if another city makes a viable offer, the Bolts may, well, bolt.

3. Phoenix Coyotes, NHL. If they don't get a buyer by one year from now, they're probably gone. But not back to Winnipeg, where they played as the Winnipeg Jets from 1972 to 1996. More likely to another Sun Belt city. What NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants, he gets, and he hates Canada and thinks the Sun Belt is where the money is. Never mind that Winnipeg has a new arena.

2. Oakland Athletics, MLB. No franchise in all of major league sports has had to face the question of moving more. After the 1954 season, they were moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City. When Charlie Finley bought them in 1960, he explored moving them to Miami, Louisville, Dallas and Denver, before moving them to Oakland.

But he wasn't satisfied, and in the 1977-78 off-season, he reached an agreement with Marvin Davis, the oil baron who was supposedly the basis for the character of Blake Carrington on Dynasty, to move the team to Denver. But that deal fell through, and a year later, he came close to moving the team to New Orleans. That didn't work out, either, and he made one more attempt to sell the A's to Davis and Denver, before finally selling out to Walter Haas.

The A's current owner, Lew Wolff, wants out of the Oakland Coliseum, and it's hard to blame him: Although it was once a great place to watch a baseball game, the construction of the football bleachers needed to lure the Raiders back (nicknamed Mount Davis after Al), ruined a good facility. 

Even without that, the Mausoleum is aging, and the A's have tried to work out deals to build a new stadium at the Coliseum site, and in neighboring Fremont. Wolff says he has an agreement with nearby San Jose to build a new stadium there, but the San Francisco Giants have territorial veto rights; Horace Stoneham didn't object when Finley arrived 17 miles away in 1968, but current Giants owner Larry Baer refuses to give the South Bay up now. The A's may not be long for the East Bay, or any other part of the Bay Area.

1. Sacramento Kings, NBA. This franchise -- formerly the Rochester Royals, Cincinnati Royals, Kansas City-Omaha Kings and Kansas City Kings -- makes the A's look stable by comparison. The Maloof brothers have already bought the rights to the name "Anaheim Royals" and plan to share the Honda Center with the formerly Mighty Ducks.

(Just as the team couldn't call themselves the Kansas City Royals upon moving there in 1972, dividing their home games between K.C. and Omaha until 1978, they can't call themselves the Los Angeles Kings or even the Anaheim Kings.)

They couldn't get permission to move for the 2011-12 season, so they're committed to one more season in Sacramento, but they say the ARCO Arena (or whatever the hell it's being called now), once as familiar with the concept of an unsold seat as Chris Christie is with the concept of civility, is inadequate, and Sacramento (in spite of having former NBA star Kevin Johnson as Mayor) seems unwilling to build them a new arena.

A move may be understandable; a move to Anaheim is not. Would the Lakers approve this territorial invasion? How about the Clippers? Southern California barely tolerates a 2nd team, so how could they support a 3rd? This would be a stupid move, almost as stupid as when the Clips came up the coast from San Diego in 1984. (Could the Kings move to San Diego? Nope, they've got arena issues, too: Formerly known as the San Diego Sports Arena, the Valley View Casino Center was built in 1966 and seats only 14,500, so that's not an option.

UPDATE: The Chargers moved back to Los Angeles in 2017. The Raiders announced that they will move to Las Vegas in 2019. The Arizona Coyotes (changing the name) lost a deal for a new arena on the Arizona State campus, to be shared with the ASU basketball team. As of Summer 2017, the A's are still in Oakland, but still can't get a new ballpark deal. The Rays can't get a new park to replace their dome, either. And the Jaguars and Grizzlies remain question marks.

However, in spite of their referendum failing, the Islanders remained within the New York Tri-State Area, moving to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2015. The Kings got their new downtown arena in 2016. The Bills now seem committed to Buffalo.

And the next 2 teams to move turned out to be teams that I didn't anticipate on this list. For the 2011-12 NHL season, the Atlanta Thrashers became the new Winnipeg Jets. And in 2016, the St. Louis Rams moved back to Los Angeles, beating the Chargers to it, and, with the Chargers' desire to move already known, essentially forcing the Raiders to look elsewhere (which turned out to be Vegas).


Paul Mendoza said...

Hey Mike - good work on the list. If it was a Top 12, then I'd suggest maybe the Florida Panthers or even the Nashville Predators, because the former has attendance problems and the latter doesn't really say "hockey city" to me.

capt paul said...

Honorable mention to the Minnesota Vikings--despite a proud heritage and avid, loyal fanbase, owners are unsatisfied with the Metrodome, which is long outdated, a point further exasparated by the Dome's roof colapse in December...There were competing plans for a new stadium (with retractable roof) revealed the past few days--one a location in a suburb north of the twin cities, one on the sight of the current Metrodome. Still, far from a done deal to keep the Vikings in Minnesota---Also have been some rumblings about the futures (or lack thereof) of the Atlanta Thrashers and Carolina Panthers in their current markets...

capt paul said...

Aside from the possible relocation plans of the A's in the 70's was another one--during that point, the AL was trying to find a way to put a team in Seattle to quell the city's lawsuit regarding the Pilots moving to Milwaukee--reportedly one plan was for Bill Veeck to sell the White Sox to interests with intentions for moving the team to Seattle. In return, the AL would allow Charlie Finley to move the A's to Chicago to maintain Jr Circuit presence on the South Side. (Finley was from nearby Gary, Ind...) Also, saw an interesting article a year or two ago pointing out that of all single team markets to lose a franchise, all eventually got a new team via expansion or relocation, with the exception of Montreal (which also unlike said cities has yet to make any effort to attract a new team...)

Uncle Mike said...

Well, Captain Paul, you called it a lot better than I did: The Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg!