Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Top 10 Teams Likeliest to Move

On May 12, 2011, I did "The Top 10 Major League Sports Teams Likeliest to Move." Things have changed, and the article requires an update.

At #7, I had the Buffalo Bills. The change of ownership has let to a re-commitment to staying in Western New York. There are currently 4 sites being bandied about: Downtown near the First Niagara Center (the Sabres' arena), Lackawanna, West Seneca and Batavia. The Lackawanna site and the West Seneca site (slightly) would be closer to downtown than their current stadium. Batavia would be 43 miles away, about as far as the new 49ers stadium is from downtown San Francisco, so that probably wouldn't be a good idea. But it now looks like the Bills are staying put.

At #6, I had the New York Islanders. They have since moved into the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. So they're finally secure for the long term. And, while it's not in either Nassau or Suffolk County, geologically speaking, Brooklyn (like Queens) is on "Long Island."

At #3, I had the Phoenix Coyotes. They have since been renamed the Arizona Coyotes, and had their ownership situation straightened out, and their finances are in the process of following. They will remain at their current arena in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale for the time being. The fact that Gary Bettman is still NHL Commissioner and is still committed to the Sun Belt does help: With the Atlanta Thrashers moving to become the new Winnipeg Jets, he's not going to let a team move to Quebec City or Hamilton, or even Hartford. Maybe Seattle.

At #1, I had the Sacramento Kings, who came thisclose to moving to Anaheim in 2013, and to Seattle in 2014. Now, they have a new arena that will open in time for the 2016-17 season.

Oddly, I did not have the St. Louis Rams, who just moved back to Los Angeles, and played their 1st game under their old/new name last night, and will play their 1st home game in L.A. since Christmas Eve 1994 this coming Sunday. At the time, over 5 years ago, hardly anybody saw that coming.

With things as they currently stand, it's considerably easier to move an indoor team (NBA or NHL) than an outdoor team (MLB or NFL). This is because it takes a lot more time and a lot more money to build a 40,000-or-more-seat stadium around a 360-by-160-foot football field, or a baseball field that's considerably wider and requiring at least 400 feet to center field, than it does to build a 20,000-or-less-seat arena around a 200-by-185-foot rink (which would contain a 94-by-50-foot court), even after all the political hurdles have been cleared.

Note that by "likely to move," I'm saying that they could do so within 5 years -- in other words, by the time the baseball season of 2021 comes to an end, or the football, basketball or hockey seasons of 2021-22 begin, the team will have moved from one metropolitan area to another.

But this list does not include teams that are attempting to move within a metropolitan area, as has every New York Tri-State Area team except the Knicks and Rangers since 2007; as the Atlanta Braves are moving from downtown Atlanta to suburban Cobb County for the 2017 season, and as the Golden State Warriors are moving from Oakland to downtown San Francisco for the 2019-20 season.

Top 10 Major League Sports Teams Likeliest to Move

10. Miami Marlins, MLB. Not on this list in 2011, because a new stadium was being built that opened in 2012. On the other hand, they're owned by Jeffrey Loria, who caused the Montreal Expos to be moved to become the Washington Nationals.

Reasons why Loria might move, after getting all that taxpayer support for his new stadium? The stadium is lousy. It's not one of those 1990s-2000s "retro ballparks" that looks like an old-time stadium. It's a garish retractable-roof stadium that looks proper in Miami, but would look stupid almost anywhere else. The location is bad: Built on the site of the Orange Bowl, it's in a dodgy area west of downtown. And South Florida has never proven it would support even a winning baseball team: While the Marlins packed the Dolphins' stadium 67,000 strong for the postseason in 1997 and 2003, the Fish's regular-season attendance has never been notable.

One big problem with moving an MLB team: There's nowhere to go. The only city with an MLB-ready stadium and no team in it is Montreal, and Loria would never go back there, nor would he be welcomed back.

New Orleans has the Superdome, but its post-Katrina renovation eliminated its capability to host baseball. Charlotte just blew their chances with their new downtown ballpark, which seats only 10,200 for their Triple-A team and is not expandable. None of the other serious candidates even comes close to having even a good temporary stadium ready.

Essentially, a city would have to build two ballparks: Enough addition to a current stadium to amount to an entirely new stadium, as a stopgap measure, and then another stadium from scratch. Even with the 2007-11 recession in the rearview mirror, that simply isn't practical. So unless a team owner wants to move to Montreal (and Loria sure doesn't), that makes it unlikely that an MLB team would move at all.

And, most likely, they are markets too small to host an MLB team anyway: Portland or Orlando would rank 24th in market size in MLB; Charlotte, Sacramento or Vancouver 28th; Salt Lake City, Columbus, Indianapolis, San Antonio or Las Vegas 29th; Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklhoma City or Memphis 31st and last.

9. Florida Panthers, NHL. Not on this list in 2011. The problem isn't the arena itself: It opened in 1999, is in good shape, and has the luxury boxes that team owners crave for their revenue generation. The location is an issue: It's 37 miles northwest of downtown Miami, and 13 miles west of downtown Fort Lauderdale. And if you don't have a car, forget it: It takes 4 conveyances and 2 and a half hours to reach it by public transit from the former, 2 buses and an hour and 10 minutes from the latter. If they thought it was being built at or near South Florida's population center, boy, did they guess wrong.

The Panthers were 25th in NHL attendance last season, and 26th in percentage of capacity filled. The idea that "All those old people who used to live in warm-weather cities will come to watch their new team play their old team" works even worse in Sunrise, Florida than does "All those people working for the federal government in Washington will watch the Nationals/Wizards/Capitals play their hometown teams." While the "Hockey can't survive in Florida" argument is being smashed in Tampa, it's very solid in South Florida.

With the Panthers having played exactly 13 Playoff games in the last 16 years, they won't be missed. And with Seattle wanting an NHL team very badly, and new arenas having recently gone up in Quebec City and Kansas City (the one in Las Vegas having already gotten an expansion team), the Panthers' moving is very possible.

One bit of good news for the fans they have now, however few they may be: There has not yet been a serious rumor about them moving. Ownership may not have looked into it; or, if they have, they may not have contacted any other cities.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA. Not on this list in 2011. Minneapolis already lost the NBA's Lakers in 1960, and the ABA's Muskies in 1968 and Pipers (who had been in Pittsburgh the season before) in 1969. The T-Wolves nearly moved to New Orleans in 1994, but the NBA owners blocked the move. The Twin Cities have about 3.8 million people, and among cities with teams in all the Big Four sports, only Denver has fewer. The region simply can't support 4 teams.

And with both the Twins and the Vikings having gotten new stadiums, the Wild being enormously popular in their new arena, and the T-Wolves playing unsuccessful ball (only 1 trip to the Conference Finals in their 287 seasons) before sparse crowds, in an arena that went up before the sports-venue design revolution inspired by Baltimore's Camden Yards, this makes the T-Wolves the odd team out.

Seattle wants a replacement for the SuperSonics, who were moved to become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. Kansas City has a new arena. Either one is a possibility for an NBA team looking to move. Other possibilities are unlikely: Some don't have a new arena or a plan for one (like Cincinnati), others don't have a big enough population base (Cincinnati again, also Pittsburgh and Columbus). And while Vancouver has both, they didn't put up a fight when the Grizzlies were moved to Memphis in 2001.

7. New Orleans Pelicans, NBA. Not on this list in 2011. The arena opened in 2002, so that's not the problem. The problem is the population base: Having given the Hornets name back to Charlotte, they're in a small market that got a lot smaller after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The city can really only support 1 team, and, after the way the Saints helped bring the city back, they're not giving up on the Saints. The Pels have great support among the people who show up, but there simply aren't enough of them.

6. Memphis Grizzlies, NBA. #9 in 2011. Although they've won 4 Playoff series in the last 5 seasons, and the FedEx Forum is a relatively new arena (2004), the Memphis area was hit really hard by the Bush Recession, and then by the 2011 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), and why Memphis has never been seriously considered for an MLB team. It's actually a 2-pronged reason: Not enough people, and not enough money among those people.

The Memphis metropolitan area has only got about 1.4 million people, which ranks them 30th and dead last in the NBA, and would rank them last in MLB and the NFL, too. (Don't even think about putting an NHL team in Memphis: Even if Elvis Presley himself were actually still alive and involved, they couldn't sell that sport in that city.)

Indeed, Memphis has the smallest population of any U.S. city with a major league team in any sport. (Canadian cities Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and, should it get a replacement NHL team, Quebec City have fewer.) And, socked in the southwestern corner of Tennessee, bordering both Mississippi (to the south) and Arkansas (to the west), 2 of the poorest States in the country, they really can't support a major league team.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars, NFL. #8 in 2011. 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. When I first did this in 2011, the Jags were the 1 team out of the 32 that had, over the last couple of seasons, regularly had trouble filling its stadium. They are no longer the only one.

The Rams (and possibly also the Chargers) moving back to Los Angeles, and the Raiders' rumored move to Las Vegas, cuts down on the possibilities. And if the Raiders do move to Vegas, the Jags aren't taking their place in Oakland. (Nor is any other team.) They might become the 2nd team in L.A. They might go to St. Louis, if a plan to replace the Edward Jones Dome gets approved (allowing them to, as the Rams did at Busch Memorial Stadium until the Dome opened, use the Dome as a stopgap facility).

The Citrus Bowl in Orlando has been renovated, and when Orlando City moves to their soccer-specific stadium next Spring, there will be a vacancy there. If San Antonio can renovate or replace the Alamodome, they also become a possibility. (The Saints played "home games" there after Katrina flooded the Superdome.) Sacramento doesn't yet have a stadium, but they've been talking about building one.

4. Tampa Bay Rays, MLB. #5 in 2011. The Rays are no longer challenging for the American League Eastern Division title. Their per-game attendance is exceeded by NBA, NHL, and even some MLS teams. It wasn't even good when the team was. If local fans aren't willing to support a good team in a bad stadium in a bad location (in St. Petersburg, and not exactly downtown St. Pete, either), why would they support a bad team in a good stadium in a good location (say, in or close to downtown Tampa)?

The Tampa Bay region has nearly 2.8 million people, more than the metropolitan areas of MLB cities Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee, and not much less than St. Louis. But if you take into account the retirees and their fixed incomes that often keep them away from the ballpark, the area simply doesn't have enough people support a major league team 81 times a season. Team owner Stuart Sternberg has already looked into moving to Montreal, and has already said that he'll sell the team if he can't get a new stadium.

Above and beyond how stupid a stadium Tropicana Field is -- and, keep in mind, it was designed and built before the Camden Yards revolution -- Tampa Bay should never have been granted an MLB franchise, and there's already murmurs about moving up Interstate 4 to Orlando. Or maybe they'll become the new Montreal Expos. After all, as weird as it is, the Olympic Stadium up there is a better place to watch baseball (or anything else) than The Trop, where the lease runs out after the 2018 season.

3. Oakland Athletics, MLB. #2 in 2011. 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, Finley 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, heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, who kept the team in his native Bay Area.

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 over 50 years old, and modernization efforts (like building luxury boxes) have only taken the place so far.

The A's have tried to work out deals to build a new stadium at the Coliseum site, and in neighboring Fremont. Wolff said he had 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 -- 1/3rd the distance from downtown San Francisco to downtown San Jose -- in 1968, but current Giants owner Larry Baer refuses to give the South Bay up now. A 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling seemed to put a permanent kibosh on the deal, at least in that form.

Despite the current plan, which is to try to get a stadium in the Port of Oakland area, the A's may not be long for the East Bay, or any other part of the Bay Area.

2. San Diego Chargers, NFL. #4 in 2011. The MLB Padres managed to get out of 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 they were rumored to be going back up Interstate 5 to the far larger Los Angeles well before the movement to bring the Rams back got any momentum.

Now that a deal for a new stadium is in place in Inglewood, the talk of the Rams groundsharing with either the Chargers or the Raiders has gotten bigger. The fact that the Raiders are now making overtures to Las Vegas increases the Chargers' chances of being the 2nd L.A. team. (Or, given how the Rams bombed against the San Francisco 49ers last night, maybe the 1st!)

When a deal to move to L.A. for this season turned out not to be all that close, Chargers owner Alex Spanos made a public commitment to San Diego -- but only for the 2016 season. If you think the Chargers will still be playing in San Diego when what's currently named City of Champions Stadium opens in Inglewood in September 2019, then you've got more faith in both Spanos and the city government of San Diego than I do. The Bolts are still likely to, well, bolt.

1. Oakland Raiders, NFL. In 2011, I had them only at #10, but wrote, "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."

Indeed, in 1987, only 5 years after moving into the L.A. Coliseum, Al was talking to the city of Irwindale, 20 miles east of downtown L.A., about building a stadium there. (For comparison's sake: The Coliseum is 4 miles southwest, the Inglewood site of the Forum and the stadium now under construction for the Rams is 10 miles southwest, the Rose Bowl is 10 miles north, UCLA's Pauley Pavilion is 12 miles west, and Anaheim is 28 miles southeast.) So, in 2011, putting the Raiders on the list, if not particularly high on it, made quite a bit of sense.

Well, Al died a few months after my initial post on the subject, and his son Mark now runs the team. He is already making plans to move the team to Las Vegas, and has even made legal moves to own the name "Las Vegas Raiders" every which way. Nevada is known as the Silver State, and he has publicly said he wants to make it "the Silver & Black State."

Since we know the Warriors are moving back across the Bay, and the A's may also not be long for Oakland, it may be that the East Bay, which, from April 1968 to April 1976, had teams in all of the big 4 sports (the A's, the Raiders, the Warriors, and the California Golden Seals), will have none by the time the Warriors' Chase Center opens in October 2019.


Jesse Faulk said...

In regards to Memphis, with a population around 650k, there are a bunch of cities with smaller populations and pro sports teams (Sacramento, Oakland, Tampa, Green Bay, Seattle, Buffalo, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Kansas City, St. Louis, Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore) and while some of these have larger metro areas (Oakland, Miami and Atlanta in particular), many of them have metro areas below 1.4 million, particularly Green Bay which is about a quarter of that size.

Uncle Mike said...

Wrong. The only one in the U.S. with a smaller metro area is Green Bay, and they're a special case, because of A, the NFL's revenue-sharing system; B, their 1960s success which means that, half a century later, they still have a massive season-ticket waiting list; and C, their tie to the Milwaukee market, which probably does more to save the Brewers and the Bucks than it does to help the Packers.

You think I didn't research this? I know what I'm talking about.