The last major relocation in one of the three top professional sports leagues happened in 2008, when the now-revered Seattle SuperSonics packed up shop and moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder. The Thunder’s move became a model for relocation dreams in every league. The Thunder, equipped with the once-in-a-generation talents of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, took the NBA by storm and could have easily been a winning dynasty if not for the likes of LeBron James’ Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors.
Teams like the Oakland Athletics, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills threatened to relocate in those eight years, pointing to Oklahoma City’s success as a model to follow. The Thunder instantly cultivated a devoted fanbase and success on the court. Durant, despite leaving for Golden State, is arguably still the most influential athlete in the Midwest.
Now, eight years later, the American sports landscape has been shaken by the move of not one but two teams to Los Angeles in the span of one year. The St. Louis Rams, led by billionaire owner Stan Kroenke, who had a dream for a massive stadium, funded the Rams to move back to Los Angeles to eventually play in a $2.6 billion stadium just outside of Los Angeles. Now, one year later, the Chargers announced plans to join the Rams in LA and to eventually share the Inglewood, California, stadium together.
There was just one problem. No one in Los Angeles wanted another NFL franchise. Both the Rams and Raiders left Los Angeles in the 1990s after declining ticket sales and failures to fund stadium renovations. In the 20-plus years since each franchise moved, Los Angeles has continued to serve as one of the hubs of entertainment culture.
When the Chargers announced the team’s move, the decision was met with anger and frustration from fans around the country. The Chargers are no longer in San Diego, leaving a midsized city with one professional team and several broken promises from its beloved NFL franchise.
San Diego at least has a solid economic foundation to support itself in the wake of the move. Cities like Oakland, on the other hand, may collapse when the Raiders go through with their plans to move to Las Vegas. The Raiders and Oakland Athletics have been actively seeking a new stadium, and the Warriors recently announced plans to move across the bay from Oakland to San Francisco, which puts Oakland, an economically struggling city, in a particularly difficult situation.
A similar situation nearly unfolded in Buffalo. Buffalo, which has slowly but steadily grown economically in the past 20 years, nearly lost the Bills when the team was put up for sale. Some ownership groups hoped to move the team to Toronto, one of the largest cities in the U.S. or Canada without a NFL team. Losing the Bills wouldn’t just hurt Buffalo’s economic development; it would change the culture of a city ready to be a desirable market.
Relocation doesn’t just change the culture of a team. It changes the lifestyle of a city and its residents. But no matter how much fans want teams to put the city’s best interests at the forefront, sports are a business that will thrive in any market.