In 1995, Fútbol Americano was exploding. Coming out of the debacle that was the 1994 baseball strike, the American public was ready for America's Game to occupy the space held by it's old pasttime.
Something else happened in 1995, too. The city of Los Angeles, second most populated city in all of the United States, lost the football teams that it had.
Yes, you read that right. Teams. Plural. In one year, the Raiders returned to Oakland, and the Rams moved to St. Louis, 261 miles from the Chicago Bears. So it came to be that one of the largest markets in America had not two, not one, but no teams in the NFL.
It's widely believed that the league would like to rectify this, but it's not likely that they would want to expand the league at this time. Thus, this team would have to be an already established team that's looking to move on. There are two teams that could possibly be ready for such a move, and one that actually stands a pretty good shot of exactly that happening. Here's a look at the situations that those teams find themselves in.
Some West Coast Groundwork
There are parties in Los Angeles that want a team. Very badly. For a while now, Majestic Realty, often represented by vice president, John Semcken, has been saying that it will privately finance a new stadium, that could also host soccer and other events. This stadium would be about 15 miles out from the city, and would include a "fun-park" type atmosphere in the lots and the surrounding areas. The hang up for them, as he discussed on the radio a few weeks ago, is that they simply have to wait until they get a team that's willing to move, or a team they can get part ownership in.
Additionally, AEG, the company that owns the Staples Center, amongst other things, has recently announced their own plan for a Los Angeles "events center" that would actually, you know, be in Los Angeles. This "events center" would be part of a large complex that could host NFL, the Super Bowl, soccer, and other events, including concerts. AEG believes very strongly in this deal, and believes strongly that a team is actually interested in coming. A concern for Los Angeles has always been that they were being used as leverage to develop stadium deals in other cities.
"I think it's probably closer than you might think, " Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a member of the league's Los Angeles Stadium Working Group committee, told the Daily News this month. "There's a lot of very qualified people and energy being expended to get that team in the L.A. area."
Take it how you'd like, but generally speaking, when Jerry Jones says something is going to happen--it's probably going to happen.
So how does the NFC North play into it? There are two franchises there who have been caught in the rumors to be moved. (Another rumor-popular team is the Jaguars of Jacksonville, who have had regular problems drawing attendance with up-and-down performance over the past 15 years.)
The Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions have been beset by problems over the last 15 years. Since 1996, they've gone 71-160, with just 2 winning seasons during that time. Additionally, they had the honor--if you could call it that--of going 0-16 for the first time in the history of the NFL. Until very recently, they could almost be considered a guaranteed victory for any NFL team that happened to be average or better.
Recently, though, something crazy has been happening in Detroit. With young talent and decent coaching, they are competitive in game. One more thing they could possibly use would be a change of scenery. The breath of fresh air, and being able to get out from under the weight of the history of the franchise, could be the things they need to really break out.
However, this doesn't seem likely to happen. They recently received a new place to play (2002), and their underdog identity is tied to the city. Additionally, they're seeing an increase in attendance, and a shift towards the right things happening. These are not the kind of situations that usually see a team departing town. The Lions seem like a growing threat, and are likely to remain in their city for the foreseeable future.
The Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings, on the other hand, are in a completely different place. Division Champions for the past two years, they have always been a solid, if ultimately unsuccessful franchise. They're the kind of team that has always given their opponent a run, and generally speaking, have been a good franchise, especially on the field.
But the reason that they're in jeopardy of leaving town isn't necessarily that the on-field product has been underwhelming, but indeed may come down to the business side of things (and what doesn't these days?)
It's no secret that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has been pushing for a new stadium for several years. They have recently stopped sharing the Metrodome with the Minnesota Twins, who just got a new ball park. The hang-up is that Wilf would like the public of Minnesota to fund nearly two-thirds of the stadium. Minnesota legislators, however, are not in the mood or position to approve the building of a nearly billion dollar stadium. Neither are some other members of the public community. From The Minnesota Daily editorials yesterday:
In the past, we've called on lawmakers to make a new Vikings stadium a priority, and we do so again now. But the Vikings should be realistic in their requests. Owner Zygi Wilf must accept that for a solution to be found, the ownership needs to foot a bigger portion of the bill. More private financing is the only fiair answer to this question.
Additionally, there are questions about whether something can be done in time, given that the lease the Vikings have ends after the 2011 season. In the event that a stadium is approved come spring, there'd have to be an additional deal made for the Vikings to continue play until it could be completed, which would not be for several years.
However, the Vikings should really look strongly at a move. The Vikings are ranked 30th on Forbes NFL Franchise Valuation list. A move to Los Angeles would inject a new burst of life into the franchise, and allow them the opportunity to get in on some of the additional lucrative deals that come along with a new stadium (licensing rights, etc.) Additionally, the newly generated revenue from merchandising and increased ticket values will help pad Zygi's wallet, as it were. Given the need to add value, and the strong desire of the NFL to have a franchise in Los Angeles, it seems like a move to Los Angeles would be to the benefit of all parties except the fan base in Minnesota.
So if the Vikings made a move to Los Angeles... what would happen? It would seem the clear answer would be that a divisional realignment would be required. With the Rams in the Midwest, and the Vikings on the West Coast, it would simply require swapping their divisions. The Vikings would get the benefit of playing in the historically (at least recently) weaker NFC West, and the Rams would no longer have to make three separate trips to the West Coast, an unfortunate bit of scheduling that has occurred for them for the past 16 years.
More will be known about what the Vikings plans will be when spring comes, and the movement gets back in front of the legislature. Until then, what are your feelings about a move? Good idea? Bad idea? Let's get some discussion going.