Relocation. It is a term that sports fans, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest, associate as a threat than with opportunity, the darkest side of pro sports fandom that makes college fans grateful their teams will always be a constant presence where they presently reside.
Yet for all the negative experiences the Pacific Northwest fan base has faced regarding relocation – stolen teams, threats leveraged and failed relocation of other teams – the most recent campaign to land an existing pro franchise, since the city of Portland’s unsuccessful attempt to land the Montreal Expos in the late-1990s, began last week. A group running the website nfltoportland.com has begun making a push for the city of Portland, and the state of Oregon, to land the possibly relocating Oakland Raiders.
With these types of rumors floating around – and Portland still light-years from such a reality as even being a topic meriting serious discussion – the rumor’s lack of immediate death, which usually happens in the first day of a news cycle, has been sustained for more than a week. Football fans throughout the state of Oregon are abuzz about the possibility of the first NFL franchise in the state’s history, and the first professional football of any kind (11-man, that is) since the Portland Breakers of the USFL folded following the 1985 season.
How did this even become a possibility? Here’s a quick primer:
The Raiders lease with the O.co Coliseum in Oakland ended following the 2013 season, although the team and city agreed on a one-year extension. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Raiders owner Mark Davis said, “I don’t want to call it a last-ditch effort, but it does seem to be the last chance that Oakland is going to get,” in regards to the Raiders’ current stadium situation.
With rumors that the Raiders could be heading elsewhere, Portland has been considered one of the cities that would be a viable option for landing the team. A petition posted to Change.org has asked Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber to explore the feasibility of landing an NFL team, and Tualatin mayor Lou Ogden spoke with KXTG radio host John Canzano about his city’s willingness to explore options of building a stadium there.
My thoughts? As many lifelong Oregonians can attest, fans have seen many franchises over the years in different sports consider the possibility to moving to Portland without ever coming close to doing so. The likelihood of a team in the largest professional sports league in the world coming to town, after so many failed attempts to land franchises in smaller leagues, seems . . . implausible.
The only way such a franchise would ever come to Portland would be if it were a product of the unshakable will of a billionaire owner such as Oklahoma City’s Clay Bennett deciding to bring the team to Oregon, against all opposition. For the Raiders, who are making requests for public money, the probability seems low, but stranger things have happened.
So what would happen if Portland and the state of Oregon did indeed land an NFL team? What if the Raiders’ negotiations with Oakland fall apart and they decide not to return to Los Angeles (rumors of the Rams returning there complicates stadium issues for the Raiders)?
Then all the parties involved with this landing of a team to the Portland area will converge: the Raiders’ ownership agrees to move, the state provides enough support to land that team, and a Portland suburb, such as the aforementioned Tualatin, agrees to build a stadium.
What happens next?
Funny thing about stadiums, they take time to build, a long time actually. We’re talking a minimum of two years. With the Raiders’ lease ending after the 2014 season, and a team was able to secure a deal in Portland, such a stadium likely wouldn’t be ready until the 2017 season at the earliest.
So where would the Raiders play in the interim?
It would be unlikely that the team would stay in Oakland: the history of attendance for lame-duck teams is already ugly enough, and those were teams who previously had done well with attendance, not finishing last in the NFL, as the Raiders did in 2013. Knowing the team was leaving could find their stadium downright barren. The interested parties in Oregon wouldn’t want to entertain that possibility either, and would be interested in physically securing a team within the state’s borders, given all the investment that those involved would have committed to get the team here in the first place.
Where would they play while waiting for a new stadium?
The rules of the NFL-AFL merger from 1970 states that the NFL views any stadium with a capacity of fewer than 50,000 seats as “inadequate for league play.” Yet in the absence of a completed stadium, there is only one venue within 150 miles of Portland with a capacity deemed acceptable for NFL games: Autzen Stadium.
The idea of an NFL team playing in a college stadium isn’t uncommon, in fact, it has been the norm for most relocating, expanding and remodeling efforts for the NFL over the past few decades.
The last team to relocate in the NFL were the Houston Oilers, who moved to Tennessee before the 1997 season, playing their first two seasons in the college venues of the Liberty Bowl and Vanderbilt Stadium before their moving into their current building. The expansion Carolina Panthers played the home games of their inaugural season in 1995 at Clemson Stadium while awaiting completion of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Additionally, plenty of teams have used college stadiums, while remodeling or building new stadiums. In 2014 and 2015, the Minnesota Vikings will play its home games at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, a venue with a smaller capacity than Autzen Stadium. The Seattle Seahawks played their home games during the 2000 and 2001 seasons at Husky Stadium, while awaiting the completion of CenturyLink Field, and in the example closest to the potential situation in Portland, the Chicago Bears played their home games two hours south at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium while renovating Soldier Field in 2002.
Still, the probability of the NFL in Oregon remains slim. Lots of conditions have to break right, and there are many interested parties who will put a lot of effort into making sure the Raiders don’t leave Oakland. There is yet to be any comment from University of Oregon on the topic; in all likelihood they haven’t even entertained the possibility.
But stranger things have happened before with franchises; lest we should forget the classic images of the Colts fleeing Baltimore for Indianapolis in the middle of a snowy night in 1984. It was a strange sight to behold, unimaginable before it happened, and yet it did. If something similar happens in Oakland, we may get another unexpectedly strange sight: Autzen Stadium playing host to the 2015 and 2016 Oregon Raiders NFL seasons.
Top photo courtesy of Craig Strobeck.