Relocation is a (usually unfortunate) part of the sports world. The NFL is no stranger to that with three teams — the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders — all picking new homes in the last few years. SB Nation NFL is looking at the fallout and ramifications of team displacements throughout NFL history, and what moves could be coming next in a relocation-themed week.
Let’s establish one thing right away: No NFL team is loading up the moving trucks any time soon.
The dust has settled on a flurry of relocation chatter in the last five years or so, and now the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders all have (or will soon have) new homes. With those situations resolved, there are now no immediate stadium crises to fix.
The cities of San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis probably won’t get replacement teams — not in the near future, at least — and there isn’t any huge prospective city lying in wait like Los Angeles was for two decades.
Eventually that’ll change. Stadiums will get old and leases will inch closer to expiration. The NFL is already prepping for that with “stadium credits” — essentially allotted money for constructions and renovations — reportedly a key issue in early collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
And at some point, when stadiums are in need of a replacement, a new city will emerge as a prime candidate to woo an NFL team. Hell, even Hartford, Conn. stepped up as a possibility back when the Los Angeles Rams decided to leave Southern California in the 1990s.
So which NFL team is the likeliest to pack up and leave next? I have a few guesses.
Franchise relocations always happen because of stadium issues, and the Bills are at the top of the list of teams in need of a new place to play. New Era Field, previously known as Rich Stadium and Ralph Wilson Stadium, opened in 1973.
Only five teams — the Rams, Bears, Packers, Raiders, and Chiefs — are currently playing in older venues. The Rams and Raiders are scheduled to leave those stadiums behind after the 2019 season, while the other three have had significant renovation investments.
New Era Field had a $130 million renovation in 2012, but that pales in comparison to the funds that went into the stadiums in Chicago ($632 million in 2001-03), Kansas City ($375 million in 2007–10), and Green Bay ($295 million in 2001-03 and $312 million in 2011-15).
For the Bills to stay at their current home, they’d need that kind of cash infusion. The likelier solution is a new stadium altogether.
“I think the answer is probably a scaled-down version of some of these palaces that are being built around the country,” Bills owner Terry Pegula told reporters during the NFL owners’ meeting in March, via The Buffalo News. “The thing [Rams owner] Stan [Kroenke] is building in LA is amazing, Jerry Jones’ facility in Dallas. So we need to do something that’s Buffalo style.”
That’s about as perfect of an answer as Bills fans could possibly hope to hear. Pegula sounds like an owner committed to staying in Buffalo, and he seems realistic about making it happen without lavish demands. It’s part of the reason he was awarded the franchise in the first place after the death of former Bills owner Ralph Wilson.
“Ralph would have been pleased with the sale of the team to the Terry Pegula family, who has been so committed to Buffalo and the Western New York region,” then-controlling owner Mary Wilson said in 2014.
It’s all a genuinely good sign for Buffalo, but the little red siren came later in Pegula’s chat with reporters in March.
Asked if he would be willing to foot the bill for a new stadium, Terry Pegula said, “I don’t know.”
There’s the rub. Despite Erie County already setting aside $500,000 to begin saving for the cost of a new stadium, that’ll be a drop in the well.
The still-under-construction stadium in Los Angeles is approaching a $5 billion price tag. Even though the Bills won’t need nearly that much, the last NFL stadium to cost less than $1 billion to build was the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, and that opened back in 2008.
So if the city of Buffalo balks at the idea of pledging a large amount of taxpayer money for a new stadium, it’s very plausible that another city would step in with an offer of its own. Most recently, Las Vegas offered a record $750 million in taxpayer money to the Raiders when the city of Oakland was hesitant to foot the bill for a new stadium. Toronto, given its ties and proximity to Buffalo, could be one possibility.
Until the Bills figure out where they will play and who will pay for it, a long-term future in Buffalo isn’t a sure thing.
The Jaguars were once the poster child for poor fan support. In 2009, seven of eight home games were blacked out on local TV because they couldn’t sell enough tickets. Things have changed since, however. Tarps that covered upper deck seats have since been removed, and the Jaguars are now in the middle of the pack in attendance numbers.