Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Another NFL Relocation & a Clear Message of Bullying

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You might have thought, or at least hoped, that after the debacles of sending firmly rooted NFL franchises out of their major cities back in the 1990's, only to sweat bringing teams back to those cities years later, that they might show some reluctance to allow franchises to move out of their markets these days.

But you would be wrong.

Back in the 1990's, the Cleveland Browns skipped town and left for Baltimore, where they became the Ravens, and even won a Super Bowl, just five seasons after leaving. But the city of Cleveland retained the rights to the names and colors and records of the Browns, and an expansion team named the Cleveland Browns came back in 1999. The Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee, and eventually became the Tennessee Titans. But Houston got an NFL franchise, the Texans, in 2003. And the Raiders and Ram both skipped out of Los Angeles following the 1994 season. Now, the Rams are right back in Los Angeles, and the Chargers have moved there, too.

Yes, but the only thing is that the heartbreak that the Rams gave to Los Angeles had to be felt in St. Louis, a city that has now seen two NFL franchises leave, and unlike Los Angeles, they only had one at a time. And the Chargers left San Diego, where they had been for decades.

Now, the Raiders are leaving Oakland, and not for the first time. They left Oakland back in 1982 as well, to become the Los Angeles Raiders. Then they moved back to Oakland in 1994. But here we go again, as they are packing their bags once again.

The Raiders are going to Las Vegas. Vegas offered the franchise a glitzy new stadium, while Oakland simply did not. And so, rather predictably, the Raiders are heading for greener pastures in every sense of that word.

But the frequency of their departures out of what seems to be temporary home markets for them makes you wonder if what happens in Vegas will stay in Vegas, or if they will find greener pastures within a couple of decades once again.

Yes, by a vote of 31-1, the NFL approved the move of the Raiders out of Oakland and to Las Vegas. But it will take at least two years, and possibly three, which will make things awkward in Oakland for a while. That could be especially true if the Raiders, who went 12-4 last season, manage to reach a Super Bowl, and especially if they win it.

For his part, Raiders owner Mark Davis, the son of the late Al Davis, seemed to downplay the awkwardness of the situation, and even suggested that the Raiders could win a Super Bowl for the Bay Area again, although one wonders just how enthusiastic their fans in Oakland would be about that, knowing full well that the franchise is skipping town. Davis said:

“The Raiders were born in Oakland and Oakland will always be part of our DNA. We know that some fans will be disappointed and even angry, but we hope that they do not direct that frustration to the players, coaches and staff. We plan to play at the Coliseum in 2017 and 2018, and hope to stay there as the Oakland Raiders until the new stadium opens. We would love nothing more than to bring a championship back to the Bay Area.”

Star quarterback Derek Carr, who was a candidate for last year's MVP award before his late season injury that took him out the rest of the way, expressed far more mixed emotions than Davis did:

“As I sit here and see a vote that takes the Raiders to Las Vegas, I am overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t know how we should feel. I feel the pain of our fans in Oakland. I also see the joy on the faces of our new fans in Las Vegas. As players, we will show up and give everything we have. We will compete and we will do our best to bring a championship to the entire Raider Nation.  

“While I am from California and would have loved playing in Oakland my whole career, I understand the business side of the NFL. It affects us all. Oakland, our team loves you, and my family and I love you. WE will be resilient and WE will stay together because that’s what true Raiders do. WE are loyal, even when it’s hard. WE stick together, especially when it’s tough.  

“So Las Vegas, you can count on us bringing a piece of Oakland with us and you are getting a tough, loyal, and competitive fan base and team. When the time comes, I hope you are ready. For now, it’s about 2017 and our diehards in Oakland. God bless & Go Raiders!”

Not sure how that will play out in Oakland, though.

Al Davis would probably be rolling over in his grave right about now.

You also have to wonder how other fairly small markets not willing to put the kind of big money towards wonderful new stadiums are feeling right about now. Because the fancy stadiums in Phoenix, Dallas, the New York/New Jersey region, and in Santa Clara, California, would seem to suggest that some of the other franchises with relatively old stadiums are vulnerable.

And I'm telling you, that sooner or later, the fans will start to become sick of these kinds of business dealings. What they want is to escape the real world, to escape corporate America, and not be reminded of it. You don't sit home on Sunday and think that you are routing for this corporation over that corporation. But moves like this are a reminder of that essential fact, when everything else is stripped away. Fans do not want to feel like their favorite team is holding a gun to their head, demanding a shiny new stadium, or else.

Eventually, I suspect that the fans themselves will begin to turn away from these franchises, if not from the league itself. Already, there may be evidence that the NFL reached it's maximum popularity, and that the only way to go right now would be down. The league has an image problem, with major issues like sports injuries, particularly concussions, hurting the league, as well as there seeming to be a whole culture of violence thing. The league still seems to sweep cases of rape and/or other acts of violence as if these were minor issues or inconveniences, and not major crimes that far outweigh the importance of playing a sport. Already, I personally have lost respect for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise that I used to have enormous respect for back in the 1980's and 1990's based on their incredible past accomplishments. I was never an out and out fan of theirs, but once it became clear that they were keeping their star quarterback, who has not one, but two serious allegations of rape against him, it became impossible to respect them. It serves as yet another reminder that these teams are corporations trying to protect their own image, and it is impossible not to give it pause for thought.

All of these things seem to have caught up with the NFL, and compromised it's popularity and credibility in the public eye. If they keep relocating franchises so freely - and this is the third NFL team to relocate in just over a year now - then this, too, will catch up with them.

Not all that long ago, when I first began to get into sports, and particularly the NFL, this kinds of relocating of franchises was still relatively rare. But I became a fan of the NFL in 1981, and since then, we have seen the Raiders leave Oakland, the Colts bolt Baltimore, the Cardinals leave St. Louis, both the Raiders and Rams leave Los Angeles, the Oilers leave Houston, the Browns leave Cleveland, the Rams leave St. Louis, the Chargers leave San Diego, and the Raiders leave Oakland again. Add to that the threats of teams relocating, such as when there were whispers that the Jaguars and/or Vikings might leave their present locations for the city of angels, and the NFL does not really look all that different than the NFL, where franchise franchises relocating appears to be a constant threat, particularly for struggling teams up north, at or near the Canadian border. Two Canadian teams already left in the 1990's (although one of them eventually returned), while other northern teams in Minnesota and Hartford, also left. One Canadian team was cheated out of the Stanley Cup, eventually losing to one of those southern expansion teams. And the threat of relocating constantly hovered over franchises like the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators, and the Buffalo Sabres. And when you see that the Montreal Expos in baseball relocated and became the Washington Nationals, and the Vancouver Grizzlies and Seattle Supersonics of basketball also relocated to Memphis and Oklahoma, you really get the sense that this is becoming all too common. It is always a threat, and obviously, the fact that a franchise resides in a major market is not security enough, as the Raiders and Rams clearly showed.

This really is not all that rare anymore. 

Except now, it is a grim reality of what might await a community beloved sports franchise. Sure, there are some teams where it really seems impossible that they will leave. Who can picture the Green Bay Packers or New York Yankees leaving town? Who can imagine the Cowboys anywhere but Dallas, or the Steelers anywhere but Pittsburgh? The Lakers are not about to leave Los Angeles, right? 

However, the number of less iconic franchises are far greater than these kinds of iconic franchises with long roots and an extensive history of glory in their locations. Indeed, it is all too easy to picture less immediately iconic teams having the figurative gun held up to their heads, with franchise and league officials demanding these shiny new stadiums and arenas, or else! In some cases, like with the Vikings and the Falcons, stadium deals are secured. In some other cases, like with the Rams and the Chargers and the Raiders, the teams leave. There was discussion about the Bills possibly moving to Toronto. The Phoenix Coyotes always seem on the verge of leaving, and the Atlanta Thrashers already did. There have been discussions in almost all of the team sports about other possible moves, such as the Sacramento Kings possibly relocating. So the threats will keep coming, and most likely, so will franchises relocating.

At least until fans start to get sick of it, and it hurts ticket r merchandise sales and/or ratings. These leagues show no loyalty to anything but their own short term financial interests, and their good public image. But if they keep making these corporate kinds of moves, which are not all that different from corporations relocating headquarters to other states or countries with more accommodating taxes, then the innocent fun that fans still get from these leagues will itself be compromised, which will in turn make these corporate leagues more vulnerable, especially if some smaller leagues, perhaps even farm franchises, start to gain in popularity, as happened in baseball here in the United States, or smaller hockey leagues in Canada. 

Raiders' relocation to Las Vegas reaffirms NFL's cold message to cities  Charles Robinson,Yahoo Sports, March 27, 2017:


Will Oakland support Raiders amid realistic Super Bowl expectations? It could get awkward   Eric Edholm of Shutdown Corner, Mar 27, 2017:

Derek Carr: Raiders “bringing a piece of Oakland with us”  Posted by Michael Gehlken on March 27, 2017:

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