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.
The drum beat to relocate the team has quieted in the last decade, too.
Best of all for Jacksonville is that Shad Khan has invested in North Florida since becoming the team owner in 2011. He’s put state-of-the-art scoreboards, swimming pools, and a nearby amphitheater, among other renovations, at TIAA Bank Field.
The bad news is that the stadium could use more upgrades. New Era Field in Buffalo is the only other NFL stadium currently in use that hasn’t been built or undergone at least $300 million in major renovations since 1995. It’s not quite a pressing need for the Jaguars, but it’ll continue to bubble up as they get closer to the 2029 expiration date on their lease with the city of Jacksonville.
You also can’t bring up the possibility of a Jaguars relocation without mentioning London. They currently play one game per year in the United Kingdom, which has boosted attendance in Jacksonville and marketed the Jaguars’ brand internationally.
That makes the the Jaguars an obvious favorite when the NFL talks up London as a candidate for an NFL team full-time. Still, a London franchise looks like a logistical nightmare, and the Jaguars insist it’s not their end goal.
“I know it frustrates Shad,” team president Mark Lamping said in 2018, via ESPN. “You don’t do the type of stuff of that’s he’s doing, you don’t invest the type of money that he’s investing, if you’re planning to leave.”
Like Pegula’s comments about Buffalo, Khan’s giving Jaguars fans positive vibes. There’s a similar issue brewing, though.
The Jaguars are nearing the point when they’ll ask for a lot of money from the city of Jacksonville and the expiring lease will give the team leverage. If the NFL and London are serious about a European franchise — or if a U.S. city comes with shiny new stadium plan — the pressure will be on Jacksonville to fight (and pay huge money) to keep the Jaguars.
Just about every reason the Jaguars could eventually relocate also applies to the Buccaneers.
The Jaguars’ TIAA Bank Field opened in 1995 and the Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium opened just a few years later in 1998. Tampa Bay recently poured about $160 million into renovations while Jacksonville paid around $180 million. The Buccaneers’ lease in Tampa Bay expires in 2028; the Jaguars’ lease expires in 2030.
Most of those factors would seem to paint the Buccaneers as the more likely of the two teams to move — especially considering Tampa Bay has been in the bottom five in NFL attendance in each of the last three years.
The Jaguars’ annual game in London and their push to market outside of Jacksonville may edge them a little higher on the list. But the Buccaneers have ties to England too.
The Glazer family owns both the Buccaneers and Manchester United of the English Premier League. Although they don’t have a yearly game overseas, more games outside of Tampa Bay are exactly what the Bucs attempted to secure while negotiating renovations of Raymond James Stadium. Via USA Today:
The Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), the county-funded agency in charge of the stadium, ultimately rejected the team’s demand for a second regular-season game abroad, conceding a number of preseason games instead.
Currently, the Bucs can play one regular season home game each year away from Raymond James Stadium, but starting in 2018, they will be able to play one regular season home game as well as one preseason home game away from Tampa. They can also play both preseason home games in 2016 and 2017 elsewhere if they choose.
It doesn’t necessarily mean the Buccaneers are angling to get out of Central Florida. They’ll just be asking for money from taxpayers as the end of their lease approaches like the other teams on this list. That can always go south.
The Bengals just celebrated their 50th birthday and they’ve been in Cincinnati since day one. They spent about three decades in Riverfront Stadium and moved into Paul Brown Stadium when it was built in 2000. It’s still the only current NFL stadium to win an AIA Honor Award, recognizing exemplary architecture and has managed to be a top facility despite minimal renovations.
The problem is the Bengals don’t do well in attendance. They’ve ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance for five straight seasons and only outdrew the Chargers in ticket sales in 2018. But the franchise’s recent good faith negotiation with the city of Cincinnati bodes well for its long-term outlook in the area.
Cincinnati wanted to rework its lease with the Bengals to build a concert venue on one of the stadium parking lots. After initial pushback, the team conceded. In the revised lease, the Bengals agreed to set a $42.3 million cap on contributions from the city for repairs and enhancements to Paul Brown Stadium through 2026. It eased up the costs of one of the most team-friendly leases in the NFL.
Now the city is trying to prep the stadium for the possibility of hosting FIFA World Cup games in 2026.
While the lease for the Bengals is expiring relatively soon, all indications are that they have a strong relationship with the city of Cincinnati. More renovations for Paul Brown Stadium could be on their agenda soon, but the Bengals walking out after the expiration of their lease looks, for now, like a long shot.