Twenty years passed without an NFL team moving. Now, three have secured permission to pack up the Mayflowers in less than 15 months.
So who’s next? While there’s a chance another generation or longer may pass before a move occurs, it feels like the NFL currently remains in the early morning hours of a new phase of franchise relocations. As stadiums currently in use become obsolete based either on technological advances or a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses dynamic (fueled by the carrot of hosting Super Bowls), teams will continue to want cutting-edge facilities until the blade is so dull it couldn’t cut cream.
The shift away from public money complicates matters for teams in smaller markets. If taxpayer funds aren’t available when it’s time to build a new stadium, owners will have to ask themselves two questions: (1) is there a city that will cough up significant public money to lure an NFL team there?; and (2) if we’re going to pay for a stadium in our current market, should we simply pay for one in a larger market?
The Bills could be the next team that slides into the free-money-or-find-a-new-city analysis, but others won’t be far behind. Consider this fairly ominous quote from Bengals owner Mike Brown.
“If we didn’t have the stadium we have today I don’t think we would have been able to stay in Cincinnati,” Brown said last week in Arizona, via Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We would have had to move because the numbers wouldn’t have allowed an NFL team to be supported.”
The Bengals wouldn’t have that stadium if they didn’t have taxpayer money and a sweetheart lease that runs through 2026. If taxpayer money isn’t available when the lease expires, does this mean the Bengals will move? And will they be alone when the time comes for the stadiums built within the last 20 years to be replaced?
“Our situation is akin to the teams that were in the stadium development game at the same time we were: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Baltimore, every team in our division, for example,” Brown said. “I don’t think they are all going to move. I hope none of them move.”
Under the current make-billionaires-pay-for-their-own-buildings climate, it will be hard for the NFL to go four for four in the eventual AFC North effort to shake public cash from the trees. With plenty of other teams likely to be in the same boat sooner than later, the relocation of the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders isn’t the end but only the beginning.