Late last Tuesday night, news came from across the pond that an agreement had been reached amongst NFL owners for the St Louis Rams to move back to Los Angeles, a city they had previously left in 1995. In addition to this, the San Diego Chargers were also offered the chance to relocate back to the City of Angels within the next year – should they choose to do so – while it was confirmed that the Oakland Raiders would very much be staying put.
To many Britons, or indeed most places outside of North America, this idea that a team can just up sticks and move is a rather alien one. The uproar surrounding such an endeavour in Britain would be monumental. One need only to look at the ongoing furore related to Hull City’s proposed name change to Hull Tigers, or the backlash experienced by Vincent Tan when he decided to make Cardiff City wear red home kits rather than blue, as recent examples that many sports fans do not like change. In comparison to moving a team roughly 2,000 miles across the country, these alterations seem rather insignificant.
The main question on most people’s lips appears to be, ‘why?’. Why give Los Angeles a team – potentially two – when it has a proven track record of failing to make the most of them? Both the Rams and the Chargers, along with the Raiders, have all called LA home at various points in their histories, and yet they still decided to move away.
There are a number of answers to this question, depending on whom you listen to, but the one that most consistently crops up is that a move has huge financial benefits for both the NFL and the team’s owners. Los Angeles is America’s second biggest city, but this potential audience is currently largely untapped in the eyes of the NFL, while other leagues all possess money-making franchises there.
It is understandable then that the league would be keen to expand into such a potentially lucrative arena, while owners are also attracted to the opportunity of lining their already bulging pockets.
Furthermore, a purpose-built, state-of-the-art stadium is set to be constructed, with hopes that it will be ready by the beginning of the 2019 season.
Combine this with the excitement of the Los Angeles fan base, who see the Rams’ relocation as a sort of homecoming (despite the Rams originating from Cleveland, but we shall ignore that) and it seems the perfect scenario for those involved.
Even the players are excited, and why not: they are getting to play in Hollywood!
Of course, that leaves the Rams fans of St Louis, who now find themselves lost and confused about what to do when next season rolls around. Do they keep supporting the Rams, who have links to their city and players they know? The team whose owners dumped them for a prettier, newer girl? Or do they find a new team and hope that the same fate will not befall them again?
Easier said than done when the closest team is over a three and a half hour’s drive away. At a crossroads, there is no envying these fans. Yes, they have had some good times, arguably witnessing the greatest period in Rams football thanks to The Greatest Show On Turf, but now those memories are bittersweet, tinged with the taste of betrayal and regret.
Betrayal of the owners and the NFL, coupled with regret that they could not have done more to save their beloved team. St Louis is a city at a loss, and San Diego could be in a similar situation soon.
It is a scary reminder that no matter how hard you cheer in the NFL, the clink of dollars will always sound more appealing.
Image courtesy of Keith Allison.