It’s time to face the facts. Relocation is a relatively common occurrence in the modern world of sports. The fact that owners can buy and sell teams with relative ease and the drive to earn larger and larger profits makes the stability of a team in certain regions more of a question that it should be at times. Case in point, only this summer the Atlanta Thrashers were relocated to Winnipeg, Canada because the owners felt that Atlanta was no longer a profitable market for hockey. Only 16 years ago, Los Angeles lost two teams as the Raiders moved back to Oakland and the Rams relocated to St. Louis. Now, there are rumors that the Minnesota Vikings will move to Los Angeles after being in their current stadium for 29 years. Before I offer some thoughts on the possible relocation of the Vikings, let me offer a summary of what exactly is going on.
During the 2010 season, the roof of the Metrodome (the Vikings stadium) collapsed after a heavy snowfall. The Vikings were unable to repair the roof forcing Minnesota to play games at the University of Minnesota and at Ford Field in Detroit (during the Vikings’ game in Detroit, tickets were free to the public to try and fill the stadium up). This brought national attention to an issue that has been building for quite some time in Minnesota. The lease that the Minnesota Vikings signed in August of 1979 is set to expire at the end of the 2011 season. Normally, teams will resign the lease for their stadium on a fairly regular basis; however, team owner Zygi Wilf no longer wants the Vikings to play at the Metrodome. Wilf wants the Vikings to have a new stadium located in suburban Arden Hills, Minnesota.
To be honest, the Metrodome is consistently ranked as one of the worst stadiums in the NFL, and it is currently the eighth oldest stadium being used by an NFL team. Wilf has been consistently asking the Minnesota legislature to pass a bill allowing the new Vikings stadium to be located in Arden Hills. However, the Minnesota legislature have consistently refused to accept the Vikings stadium proposal despite the fact that Ramsey County (the county that Arden Hills is located in) has already approved the stadium proposal. Instead, the Minnesota legislature wants the stadium to be located in downtown Minneapolis. The current stadium proposal calls for an $884 million dollar stadium and $173 million dollars for infrastructure, parking and environmental costs. The Vikings have agreed to pay $407 million (39% of overall costs), but the Minnesota legislature does not think this amount is sufficient. They want Wilf to drastically increase the amount that he will contribute to the stadium if it is to be located in Arden Hills. Wilf, however, is adamantly opposed to a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, claiming that he will considerably reduce the amount of funding he is willing to contribute to a downtown stadium. Essentially, the MN legislature and Wilf are at a stand-still, and because the MN legislature is no longer in session, they will not return until January 2012. So, it is very likely that the Vikings lease will expire with no solution in sight. Meaning that the Vikings will be free to move if they so desire.
So, what will happen if the Vikings move? Well, first off, it is fairly common knowledge that the only city in the United States that can profitably support a NFL franchise is Los Angeles. The means that the Vikings really have only one city to go to: LA. If this was to happen, it is incredibly likely that the divisions will require some shuffling. Unlike college football, reshuffling of the NFL divisions is a very delicate process. However, most individuals assume that if the Vikings were to move to LA, there are two likely scenarios. Scenario one would see the Vikings join the NFC West and the St. Louis Rams join the NFC North. This scenario involves the least amount of turnover in the divisions, but doesn’t make the most sense geographically. Scenario two will require the Vikings to join the NFC West, the Rams to join the AFC South and the Colts to join the NFC North. This scenario causes the greatest number of teams to move but also makes the most sense geographically speaking. Without going into a tedious amount of detail, these two scenarios of realignment seem most likely.
Another factor to consider is the Vikings current fan base. Many might not know that long before the Vikings moved to Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota was a stamping ground for the Green Bay Packers. The remnants of the Packers long-standing fan base in MN are still visible when the Packers play in MN. It is not uncommon for half of the downtown Minneapolis stadium to be filled with Packers fans. True, this is partly because MN is very close to Wisconsin, but this is also because MN used to be a part of the Packers nation. So, if MN moves to LA, it might be fairly safe to assume that MN will once again belong to the best sporting franchise in existence.
A final factor to consider if the Vikings were to move to LA is the precedent it would set. Sports franchises are often based on tradition and the fact that sports franchises move so frequently seems to devalue a team’s tradition and history. Fans associate with a team because they know their history and they feel a part of a team’s traditions. This feeling gets muddled when teams uproot and move to new markets. Yes, the Vikings need to be profitable to remain in operation, but the team should also remain in an area where they have an established fan base. What kind of precedent will a Vikings move to LA set for teams like the Dolphins and the Jaguars, teams that have long complained about poor fan support and long expressed a desire for possible relocation?