The NFL’s stance regarding Los Angeles has pivoted from luxury to necessity for one primary reason: The well of taxpayer money for stadium construction and renovation has gone drier than ever.
While there’s a chance the pendulum could swing the other way at some point in the future, the current cycle feels more than temporary. If so, and absent efforts by local leaders to finagle public money without elections that are likely to fail if they ever happen, teams that want their stadiums to be replaced will either have to find a way to do it with private money in their current locations — or they’ll have to move to a city where they can.
Which means that the league inevitably will be looking at the bigger cities, where a greater concentration of fans and a greater opportunity to consistently fill a venue would mean a greater flow of cash that would be used to pay for the stadium.
For starters, get used to the idea of two-team markets. The norm in New York since the merger, L.A. (which went from two teams to none 20 years ago) eventually will have a pair of franchises sharing a stadium in Carson or Inglewood. And Chicago already has made noise about an NFL equivalent of the Cubs/White Sox dynamic. If/when the time comes to replace Soldier Field, the Bears plus another team would be in much better position to pay for a new stadium without public funds than the Bears alone.
Major international cities would also become more viable without American tax dollars, especially if the citizen in foreign countries would be more willing to allow public money to be used to lure the NFL. It’s been known for years that England could eventually host one, and possibly two, teams. Toronto remains in the mix as well, despite the failed Bills experiment there.
And is it a coincidence the NFL suddenly is interested in returning to Mexico? More than 100,000 fans showed up there a decade ago for a game between the Cardinals and 49ers. With or without public assistance, the pesos would be plentiful for building a swanky new home for a Mexican NFL team.
Three cities with NFL teams currently aren’t in the top 50 U.S. television markets, based on the 2014 Official NFL Record & Fact Book: Buffalo, Green Bay (Milwaukee is No. 34), and New Orleans. Jacksonville ranked 48th, and Kansas City (No. 31) and Cincinnati (No. 35) trailed greater Orlando (No. 18), Sacramento (No. 20), Portland (No. 22), and Raleigh-Durham (No. 24). If it’s going to take private money to build stadiums, market size becomes far more important to finding private money.
Although the size of a market hardly becomes a guarantee of future relocation (the Packers surely will never leave Green Bay, and the Bills seem to be destined to stick around Buffalo), it becomes a major factor if a franchise hopes to finance a new or renovated stadium and can’t get money for nothing from the politicians.
The cycle still could shift, especially if the abandonment of San Diego, Oakland, and/or St. Louis serves as a wake-up call to other cities that could face losing their teams in the future. For now, though, NFL teams that want new or improved stadiums will have to pay for it themselves — which will make markets with more people and more money necessarily more attractive.