Photo courtesy: Intersofia
The level of excitement when a city welcomes a new franchise is palpable, particularly if the area has been pining for sports success for years. Hopes and expectations in new cities are high as they muse over the potential that such a move brings. But every coin has two sides, and for all the elation that fills a new town, there are just as many hearts being broken somewhere else in the country. When the news of the San Diego Chargers’ relocation to Los Angeles broke on Twitter, the fans of a team that had been theirs for the past 56 years immediately took to the parking lot of the team’s practice facility, burning jerseys, hats, and the rest of the paraphernalia that they would no longer need, a scene that played out identically to that of St. Louis Rams fans a year ago.
In any given city, there are geographical clashes that outsiders wouldn’t ever be able to understand that are very real to its citizens. A lot of San Diegans do not have kind words for the city of Los Angeles for a plethora of reasons, and they have vowed to not support the team next season because of this distaste. During the 2016-17 season, only 10-20% of St. Louis fans continued to support the Rams despite the move, or unwillingly chose a new team in the area to support. Make no mistake about it, this was a big ask, because many St. Louisans couldn’t stomach the thought of having to root for their in-state rivals in Kansas City. The other 80-90% of former Rams fans decided that they wouldn’t support any team and some have since stopped watching football all together, which may or may not have played a role in the sagging NFL viewership this past season. With the already evident dislike of LA that exists in San Diego, it is a very real possibility that the NFL could end up losing another large chunk of supporters by next season.
As cliché as the saying might be, sports teams truly are a business, and no matter how many dedicated fans show up year after year, the owners and decision makers who have all of the power will make whatever moves are necessary to support their “business interests,” even if it means turning their backs on the communities that have supported them for years. Despite the threats these decision makers use as leverage when trying to secure public funding for new stadiums, research has shown that the loss of a sports franchise does not have an effect on the annual income and employment rates of the citizens. But just because citizens that worked for a team are able to find new jobs, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t an economic effect that ripples throughout the city. Look at what has happened in St. Louis almost a year after the move was announced. In addition to losing their football team for a second time, St. Louis citizens also lost players and members of the coaching staff that were committed to their community, and made it their duty to remain active and present in a besieged inner-city. Fans recall fondly how the Rams organization would shut down all football operations for one day out of every month both in season and during the off season to participate in local outreach. The team became a staple in the community, and participated in fund raisers that built playgrounds and other safe places for the children in the area to learn and play. Since the Rams’ departure, the attendance at some of these big-ticket fund-raising events has gradually dwindled, which means that these well-meaning community organizations have struggled to match the output they valued when the team was still in town. This type of unification in a fragmented city extended far beyond Sundays, and will be difficult to replace.
The presence of NFL players that are actively engaged with their fans goes a long way to give an identity to a city that may struggle to create one on its own. Seeing how much these players actually care about the community stirs the giving spirit within others, and while this may not be tangible, it certainly is irreplaceable. Losing a football team is like a bad divorce that is almost always guaranteed to be messy and painful, and is similarly handled by lawyers and other individuals who are only connected to the situation by a pay check, and are not impacted by the loss. In order for one community to be elevated by the addition of a team, another will have to have to suffer from the fall. Sports teams need the unquestioned loyalty and support from fans to sustain them, but when times get hard and the circumstances change, can they say that they gave the same?