Debating the Rams’ move to LA and its impact on small market teams

Welcome back to Point/Counterpoint, the back and forth sports bar style debate column. This week we are taking on the NFL Rams’ move from St. Louis to Los Angeles this past week and discussing how it affects other teams like Cleveland that are in smaller markets. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Billy Heyen (Staff Reporter): Although there had been speculation for a while of a Rams move, it came as a shock to me as it rolled across the ticker. Being part of the generation where the Rams were always in St. Louis, it will be unusual to see them in a different locale. Sadly, when it comes to sports, a lot of it is business and motivated by money. I think the main focus for cities that want to keep their team has to come down to commitment from ownership and the fans. If the owners want to keep a team in a city and the fans keep going to the games, that support should be enough. Obviously if the financial numbers don’t line up at the end of the year there could be problems, but that should be the basic focus.

JP. O’Hagan (Sports Editor): This week an entire fan base’s biggest fear came true: Their beloved team left them for “greener pastures.” However this was not about the finances not lining up. This was about greed on behalf of management, actually following through on the threats made by small market teams year after year. “We can always go somewhere else if … ” It is a sickening ploy that punishes fans for things beyond their control.

Billy: I do believe you are right to an extent. Men that are mega-millionaires are often the greedy type. If the suits believe they will do better personally in a different market, they will move on if they are not sensitive to the fan base. However, like I already said, I think the best a fan base can do is be passionate and support the team. Surely there will be times when that is simply not enough, but what else can they do? It isn’t as simple as just helping to pay to keep the team in an area; most fans don’t have that kind of money. Their support is the best they can give, and they have to count on the ownership group to remain loyal.

JP: Well something I will point out about the Rams move is that, according to Forbes, the base argument was flawed. St. Louis was in fact able to support all three teams, unlike what was argued. On top of that, the NFL is the only league in the country where most of its revenue comes from national deals and not local broadcasts. Therefore the Rams gained little revenue by moving. Moving beyond a change we can do nothing about, though, how can we count on ownership to remain loyal? It seems as though small markets have two options. They can either pay through the nose for new stadiums, or get screwed when the team leaves.

Billy: If—and it’s a big if—the NFL wants to keep teams in markets that love their teams, there needs to be an effort made to bring in ownership groups who show a loyalty to their locale. I remember when Ralph Wilson passed away, the Buffalo Bills went up for sale. Bon Jovi was a big pursuer of the team; he wanted to move them to Toronto. There was a big pushback from the community, and a wealthy local, Terry Pegula, purchased the team. The owners had recognized moving out of Buffalo may not have been the best move and were very encouraged once Pegula entered the equation. Local ownership groups will not be perfect, but they can eliminate most of the risk of relocation.

JP: That’s a good point and I do appreciate owner groups like that. However what happens in the case of someone like Steve Ballmer beating out similar local ownership groups for the Clippers? I would say there need to be ways for cities and fan bases to ensure that teams remain in town. The Browns left Cleveland in 1996 for crying out loud. These teams often get millions of dollars from fans in the form of tax dollars for new stadiums. There should be ways for these payments to carry the burden of ensuring teams will stay in the cities that support them.

Billy: I do think that potential stadium deals should be longer. Once investments are made by a community, they should be locked in for a while. However, at least in certain situations, moving is somewhat necessary. You have to try to create a system that is as fair to the fans as it is to the players. There is no cut and dry way to do this. The major sports leagues are popular enough that moving from one big city to another should not affect a team too much financially, but teams also consider what places may be destinations for free agents. Some cities are more desirable than others. There just needs to be a balanced system, and I think only allowing owners to vote on movement isn’t enough. Maybe you could have an independent evaluation, or votes of players and staff.

JP: I like that idea of other evaluations. Seems as though we have a solid conclusion. I understand that movement is necessary but I don’t believe that the Rams move, or the possible Chargers/Raiders move is necessary. I guess we do have a conclusion though. Final thoughts?

Billy: I don’t think they are necessary, but I think the draw of LA was too strong for these teams. Hopefully now that LA is occupied, teams with loyal fans bases can stay put for a while.