None of the massive popularity and revenue, which has made the National Football League not only the nation's most favored sport, but also the country's No. 1 television attraction, would exist without the bond with fans. This fan support is about to be disregarded in the next off-season by the prospective moves of franchises in San Diego and Oakland. More than fifty years of loyal support by the fans in Oakland and San Diego is about to be sacrificed to the clear priority of state of the art stadiums and bottom-line franchise value.
The NFL needs to take a harder look as to whether these moves jeopardize the tender bond that fans have with their teams and ultimately hurt the league's brand.
Although they are private businesses, franchises claim to have a quasi-civic relationship with their cities. Teams advertise that the team is "your Oakland Raiders" or "your San Diego Chargers" with an implied obligation of fans to be loyal -- attend games, watch on television, buy branded products -- in good times and in bad. Very often, public tax money or bonds are used to build stadiums, motivated by the argument that these teams give a city enhanced status and economic benefit. If teams are allowed to leave a city, it breaks the compact. When the Rams left Los Angeles in 1994, my 8-year-old son Jon was heartbroken and incredulous. He thought of the Rams as a perennial institution in Southern California, like the Pacific Ocean or Disneyland. Other hearts are about to be broken.
In the new paradigm of the NFL, every stadium that is more than 15 years old is deemed to be obsolete. Even though the structure of these older stadia are solid and could be played in for years, the NFL is supporting the effort of every team to get a new stadium. Why? Because new stadia have large numbers of luxury boxes that create revenue. They have "premium" seating areas which can be sold for a premium. These stadia enable the sale of naming rights, signage, have superior signage and sponsorship opportunities, employ jumbo scoreboards, have in-stadium entertainment zones.
Playing in a state of the art stadium not only drives yearly revenue, it can exponentially enhance the valuation of a franchise. The Rams sat at the bottom of the valuation of franchises in the league before their move to Los Angeles. Some experts feel the Rams valuation has more than doubled since the move.
Let's be clear, the formula for attracting or retaining a team is the same. A strong civic leader marshaling the effort, with a public/private partnership, with one clear venue is necessary. That situation never existed in Los Angeles and that is why it took 22 years to get a team back in the nation's second largest market. It was the NFL and Stan Kroenke that engineered the move. The NFL should step in and lead the effort in San Diego and Oakland, cities that lack the requisite problem-solving ability. The league owes it to the extremely loyal fans of those cities.
Certainly Las Vegas is deserving of a franchise. It should come through expansion, not at the cost of breaking loyal Raider hearts. Los Angeles is not marching with torches and pitchforks demanding the Chargers leave San Diego. We are just adjusting to having one (losing) NFL team back. The area has two MLB, two NBA, two NHL and two soccer teams at the pro level plus UCLA and USC.
If loyal fans learn that attending games and watching on television and buying memorabilia is not enough to keep a team, it will break the bond between pro teams and their fans. The NFL needs to re-prioritize and stop moving franchises around. I regret that young St. Louis fans had their hearts broken, but the Rams had a 50-year relationship with Los Angeles that never should have permitted the move in the first place. Stewardship of the NFL brand should motivate action to help these two teams stay in their present market with state of the art stadiums.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.