If You Build It, They Will Come

BadDAWGSky looks at the Los Angeles franchise relocation issue as objectively as a Browns fan can in this Commentate-Off 2K2 Entry, the first of a prospective series entitled "Both Sides Now".

In the movie, "Field of Dreams," Kevin Costner heard the call to build a stadium in a cornfield in Iowa. His call was based on his vision of baseball and his love of family. The NFL, too, has recently heard the call to build a new stadium, in Los Angeles. But the call did not come from the clamor of fans, nor did it result from a vision of the game, unless your vision, like that of the owners, is based only on dollar signs. 


This was my initial reaction to the news about a new NFL stadium in Los Angeles. But, when I calmed down, I decided to take the advice I give to my students in the law classes at the community college where I teach. There are two sides to every question.  So when I sat down to write about this issue, I decided to look at it not just from my view as a Browns' fan who hasn't forgotten how the NFL deserted us with the move to Baltimore, but also to look at the issue from the NFL's view in an attempt to see it in a reasonable light.   When I initially wrote this article, the Anschutz Entertainment Group had plans to build a new stadium.  It announced a few days ago that it would not pursue those plans because of competition with the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl.  But in my view, it's unlikely that the NFL would entice an existing team to a re-modeled stadium.  As Art Modell said, in referring to the Coliseum, "Trying to put a new dress on an old hooker is not the way I want to go dancing."  (Every time I hear anything out of that man's mouth, I am thankful he lives in Baltimore.)


So I listed the reasons for having a team in Los Angeles.  One of the most important reasons is to market the product.  Of course the NFL devotes much time to marketing.  It has to do so to compete with other sports - the NBA, MLB, NHL and now even NASCAR - that threaten its market share. On the plus side, along with cable TV and ESPN, marketing is one of the reasons we get to see football not only on Sunday, but also on Monday and occasionally on Thursday and Saturday.  In the off-season, we even get to see minor-league football played in Europe.  Actually, for fans of this website, there is no off-season. There is just that part of the year when the Browns' are not playing regular season games.


Further, the fans can be fickle.  Let's face it.  Most of us enjoy sports more when our teams win.  I am a much more enthusiastic Browns' fan when the Browns are having a good season. I buy more Browns' stuff, I'm more excited about the games and I spend more time reading about them at Bernie's Insiders.  Browns' fans tend to be loyal regardless of what the record is, but even with Browns' fans, the attendance is better when the team is doing well. The NFL must constantly be on the lookout for new markets with lots of fans if the older markets don't produce winning teams and large numbers of fans.  And though the NFL is more than a business to dawg fans, the NFL is in the business to make money.  It cannot operate without a profit. 


After I thoughtfully wrote down these reasons, I decided that I'd better double check my facts and read more on this issue.  However, the more I read, the madder I got.  Reason was tossed out the window.  It suddenly dawned on me, that I'm a Cleveland sports fan; I don't have to be reasonable.  In fact, I've never been reasonable!  Would a reasonable person be a fan of professional teams that have not won a championship since 1964, whose baseball team last won a World Series in 1948 and whose NBA team has never been to the finals? Does a reasonable person spend hundreds of dollars on a football just because Bernie Kosar signed it?


What made me so angry was that none of the reasons the NFL wants to put a team in Los Angeles has to do with the fans in Los Angeles.  "We all recognize that it's [Los Angeles] the second largest market in the country and it behooves us to have a team there," said Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans.  According to Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, "Putting a team in Los Angeles will be one of the most important accomplishments of the next few years.  Los Angeles is the gateway to all of Asia.  It is the second-biggest city in the country.  The league belongs there."  (I would have thought that one of its biggest accomplishments would be to keep some of the Ravens' players out of jail.)


And in an article by Vic Carucci, at NFL Insider, he bemoans the fact that his childhood team, the Rams, moved to St. Louis in 1995. The original Rams moved from Cleveland to LA in 1946.  How ironic it would have been if the team that is now the Ravens had moved a few years earlier and the Rams had moved back to Cleveland. 


Carucci says that his allegiance to the Rams was not the result of community or family allegiances.  That is where Browns' fans are different.  Our allegiances are based on community and family tradition. Northeastern Ohio is football country. My father was a Browns' fan; my brother, now in Atlanta, is a Browns' fan; my aunt, her daughter - my cousin - and my cousin's son - my godson - are all Browns' fans. We're also in it for the long haul.  Someone once said to me, "I used to be a Browns' fan."  No, you were not.  A true Browns' fan is always a Browns' fan – in spite of Mike Phipps, Paul McDonald and Mike Junkin.


In an article entitled, "L.A. team would make the NFL whole again," Carucci writes that the league is not whole without a "thriving L.A. presence" and that Los Angeles is the place to "hook a new generation of fans."  He goes on to say, "There just was something fundamentally wrong about Los Angeles being without an NFL team.  There still is." Then he lists the NFL teams that would be able, with "varying degrees of escapability" to relocate to Los Angeles.  Among these teams are the Chargers, Vikings, the Saints, the Bills, the Cardinals and the Colts, the latter two having already moved in recent memory.


What is fundamentally wrong is not that Los Angeles is without a team, but that the sole reason to put the team there is based on marketing.  Is there a cry from the fans of Los Angeles demanding another team? No, the NFL wants a team there so it can get a better share of the television market .


What is really fundamentally wrong is that the NFL has no problem with encouraging an existing team to re-locate to L.A. An attorney for the city of San Diego threatened to sue the Anschutz group if it tried to negotiate with the Chargers.  The NFL will ignore the loyalty of the fans to a team and the concerns of a community as it did when it approved the move from Cleveland.


What is fundamentally wrong is that the NFL ignores the history and tradition of the game.  It may be that as a Browns' fan I'm especially sensitive about this issue. (Thanks to the fierce determination of Browns' fans, the new franchise  retained the name and history of the Browns. Of course, because of the audacity of Browns' fans, the NFL made the team pay by waiting until the last minute to award ownership and giving the new team very little start-up time.)  Or it may be that the NFL has no ethics, and thus, no compunction about playing musical chairs with the fans of various cities. Rather than making it a priority to build a fan base loyal to local teams and to support the local community, the NFL owners seem to focus primarily on moving to another city and generating money from luxury boxes and naming rights to a new stadium. 


What is fundamentally wrong is that the NFL is not about sports, but about corporate greed.  In "Field of Dreams," when Kevin Costner's character heard, "If you build it, he will come," he built a stadium because of his family allegiance, his love of baseball and its tradition; the fans came.  In the NFL when the owners hear, "If you build it, they will come," it means the NFL has enticed an existing franchise to relocate. The only sound the NFL hears is the ring of the cash register.

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