Even today, hardcore Baltimore sports fans lament the day the Colts left town in 1984 to find a more financially stable future in Indianapolis. While the transition hurt the Colts faithful — until the Ravens replaced the fabled franchise of Johnny Unitas and Don Shula — it was a sign of the times prior to lucrative broadcast contracts, clever marketing, and wide-open play led by big-name superstars. In the case of the Colts, with a strong fanbase and rich history, relocation was not born from foolish team owners and stubborn city governments.
More than a handful of sports franchises represent a bad marriage that stays together for various reasons. The city or the league may have them by the throat and refuse to build a new stadium; the fans just don’t care; the tickets are too expensive; or ownership won’t pay decent salaries for good players. Some of these reasons make sense while others are incredulous.
While we could pick on many teams — if you go by ESPN’s rankings of the top franchises in pro sports — we focus will be on three sad sacks who should pack their bags.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
In its ultimate standings of sports teams, ESPN deems the Jaguars worthy of a No. 32 position for one reasons: Jags tickets are cheap. The average price for a ticket at EverBank Field is $60, which is decent compared to other markets, but still a lot to pay for a terrible team. Currently, the Jaguars are 2-7 in the pathetic AFC South. For the past eight seasons, the team has played .500 football once. Fans have difficulty reliving the glory the team once had in its earliest days when it made the playoffs four of its first five years in the league.
Why do Jaguars need to relocate? By NFL standards, Jacksonville is a smaller city with a base population of 842,000. Yes, there are other cities in the league with smaller numbers, but places such as Pittsburgh, Boston, and even San Francisco have rich sports traditions with long histories and many natural rivalries. Jacksonville houses the AA baseball affiliate of the Marlins (whose name was recently and foolishly changed), an Arena League Football team (the Sharks), and a number of college teams. It is worth noting that NBA Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore graduated from Jacksonville University, but that was 45 years ago.
Let’s look at the data. So far, the Jaguars rank 27th out of 32 teams in the NFL in attendance, which represents a 92.3% of stadium capacity. On the road, those really ugly uniforms and raggedy play lead to Jacksonville being the worst road team draw in the NFL, a tick ahead of Tennessee in that dubious category.
The team does not have a player represented in the top 25 best-selling jerseys; only three athletes on the squad have any name recognition (quarterback Blake Bortles, wideout Allen Robinson, and rookie DB Jalen Ramsey). Yes, the team has some royalty in Prince Amukamara, but that may not be enough to maintain the team’s location in northeast Florida for much longer. Cities such as San Antonio, St. Louis, and Las Vegas either want a new team or one to make up for a recently departed squad. Back up the moving truck.
2. Oakland Athletics
Sigh. The Athletics had been living in no man’s land for the past decade when the team first discussed the idea of relocating to Fremont, Calif., a city south of Oakland in the East Bay. A few years later, San Jose/Santa Clara, with a population that eclipses San Francisco and Oakland, tried to bring the team to that area. However, this move is tied up in legal red tape.
In September 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the A’s-to-San Jose relocation bid. The mighty 49ers relocated to Santa Clara while the A’s floundered in a stadium that ranks as the worst in baseball by a country mile. Once again, the A’s ranked near the bottom of the 2016 MLB attendance numbers with 1.5 million fans brave enough to go the Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum. By the way, the 2016 attendance declined about 260,000 from the previous year.
If/when the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas and Golden State Warriors move to the Chase Center in San Francisco, the A’s will be all by their lonesome. There is no end in sight even though a number of cities would chomp at the bit to take in this once-proud franchise.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Aside from a brief flash of greatness from 2006 through 2013, the Tampa Bay Rays have been a sad baseball team playing in the dumpy ballpark in the middle of nowhere. Few people remember that in 1992, the San Francisco Giants were an eyelash away from moving to Tampa before other team owners stepped in and one Bay Area team stayed where it was.
In 2007, the team changed its name from Devil Rays to just plain Rays to indicate bright sunshine as opposed to an odd-looking fish. Even with a name change, the one thing the team and ownership could not change was its home ballpark, Tropicana Field. The stadium, previously known as the Florida Suncoast Dome, is located in St. Petersburg, Fla., which is a healthy distance from all the main population centers in the Tampa area. The combination of a lease that runs through 2027 has owner Stuart Sternberg frustrated to the point where he is considering selling the team.
Tampa Bay’s attendance is the worst in the majors. With a total attendance of 1.235 million, the team averages a hair over 15,000 butts in seats per game. The Rays have the double whammy of also having the weakest draw in the majors, again dead last in averaging 22,985 per game when away from home. And it shows no signs of getting better.