With the Seattle Supersonics Gone, Who’s Next on the Move?
In American professional sports, franchise relocation is inevitable. The Seattle Supersonics’ move to Oklahoma city is just the most recent.
Due to financial problems, poor stadium deals, lack of fan support, and more opportunities for success in bigger markets, there are several current major sports teams that are primed to move. The following teams have the highest chance of moving (the Nets' move Brooklyn does not count because it is in same metropolitan area):
1) Memphis Grizzlies (NBA)
The Grizzlies have struggled with fan support since they moved from Vancouver. It is hard to blame the fans for not caring, because other than three first-round sweeps from 2004-2006, this team has been dwelling in the depths of the lottery and irrelevance.
Being in the NBA’s smallest market limits growth of a fan base, and team owner Michael Heisley has taken losses financially from the team. With the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City, the Seattle market is now up for grabs.
2) Nashville Predators (NHL)
Hockey is irrelevant in the Sunbelt region, and the Predators are struggling financially as a result. Despite sporting a competitive team, the team lacks fan and corporate support. The owner may be arrested for financial shenanigans, and this team is constantly rumored to be bought by Canadian investors and moved to Hamilton, Ontario.
3) Buffalo Bills (NFL)
The Bills have agreed to a $78 million deal to play at least one home game in Toronto for the next five seasons. That revenue annually is twice as much money as they will make from the rest of their home games.
Buffalo (the third-smallest market in the NFL) is a declining city both economically and in terms of population, while Toronto is the largest market in Canada and the eleventh-largest market in North America. In order to sell out the stadium, the Bills have the lowest ticket prices in the NFL and could charge significantly more in Toronto.
Ralph Wilson is the only factor keeping the team in Buffalo and after his passing, a move to Toronto seems most likely.
4) Florida Panthers (NHL)
South Florida fans are known to be flaky to begin with, and average less than ten thousand per game. Combining that with an unpopular sport (hockey) and a team that has not been relevant since the turn of the millennium equals apathy towards the team and likeliness of relocation.
Like the Nashville Predators, the Florida Panthers show the failure of Gary Bettman’s strategy to market hockey in the South. Financial losses and potential fan support in places such as Kansas City, Hartford, or hockey-crazed Canada will ultimately lead to a relocation (unless Bettman remains stubborn about his southern strategy).
5) New Orleans Hornets (NBA)
The Hornets' recent success, the 2008 NBA All-Star Game, and the star power of Chris Paul may just keep the Hornets in New Orleans. Nevertheless, Hurricane Katrina has decimated the population of New Orleans to only a fraction of what the city used to be.
As a result, New Orleans' media market is the third-smallest in the NBA, and is an economically poor city and a high poverty rate. New Orleans is struggling to financially support both the Hornets and the Saints.
6) Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)
The Jaguars despite their recent success compared to Tampa Bay and Miami, will always be third or fourth fiddle (if you include Florida Gators college football) in the state of Florida. They struggle to sell out Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and are scrambling to gain corporate support and sponsorship due to small size and lack of major businesses in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars were ranked 28th out of 32 teams in NFL revenue last season and do not even have a naming rights deal for their stadium. For any struggling team, the lure of Los Angeles is always there—and for the Jaguars who struggle despite having a winning team, a move to L.A. could solve these problems.
7) Tampa Bay Rays (MLB)
Despite their recent rise from worst to first, people still do not really care about the Rays. They have the fourth-lowest home attendance in baseball and average only 50 percent capacity, while having the second-lowest road attendance of any team in baseball.
Tropicana Stadium is the worst ballpark in the major leagues and a recent $450 million waterfront stadium plan has been canceled by the team.
8) Sacramento Kings (NBA)
Arco Arena is the oldest stadium in the NBA, and the Kings have struggled to negotiate a new stadium deal with the city of Sacramento. Las Vegas is an attractive destination, as the Maloofs can market the Kings with their Vegas assets such as the Palms Hotel. Las Vegas also is a large market with no other professional sports teams, and the Kings will have plenty of support from both local fans and tourists.
The NBA already has experimented with Vegas’s viability with the 2007 NBA All-Star Game. However, the state of Nevada will have to outlaw betting on NBA games, which seems very unlikely in the near future. Las Vegas also lacks an NBA-caliber arena.
However, if the city accommodates the NBA’s requirements, count on the Kings being there. Imagine it—the Las Vegas Kings of Spades.
9) Phoenix Coyotes (NHL)
The Coyotes' story is similar to both the Panthers and the Predators, as the Coyotes struggle to sell hockey to its desert clientele. The lack of playoff appearances does not help their cause. However, a fairly new stadium in Glendale gives them a stronger chance to stay in Phoenix.
10) San Diego Chargers (NFL)
The Chargers are trying to replace Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, and ownership has no interest in moving to the team to a suburb such as the proposed site in Chula Vista.
Also, a new $800 million stadium is being privately constructed in the City of Industry (Greater Los Angeles), and the Chargers owners have connections with Ed Roski, its builder. The temptation to occupy America’s second-largest media market may be too much to keep the Chargers in San Diego, and cause a move back to where they played their inaugural season.
Other Potential Teams: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Thrashers, Minnesota Vikings, Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals, L.A. Clippers, OK City Team (long run), New Orleans Saints, Oakland A’s.
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