In the United States dwells the richest, most arrogant sports league in the world called the NFL. It is well known for accepting sweetheart deals from cities in return for letting these cities keep their franchise instead of moving elsewhere. It is well known for letting their franchise members move their teams elsewhere, not because their teams were drawing poorly, but because some other city was offering a deal they could not refuse. The latest victim is St. Louis whose Rams will be shifted back to Los Angeles. So much for fan loyalty.
It is well known for despising foreigners. Witness the attempt by the Buffalo Bills to play games in the rich Toronto market and then charging ticket prices so high, that even the most fanatical NFL lover in Toronto that desperately wants an NFL team was forced to stop and consider before spending money.
And witness the pitiful sight of fans in cities with long-time support for their teams like Houston, Cleveland, Oakland, and Baltimore, etc., pleading tearfully for their team to come back after it left for greener pastures. Again, so much for fan loyalty.
But one city refused to bow to the mighty NFL, and it has been a source of bitterness, resentment, and embarrassment ever since. This was the second largest market in the United States, Los Angeles.
In 1995, both of Los Angeles’ NFL teams, the Rams and the Raiders left the city for St. Louis and Oakland. But instead of fans weeping in the streets and pleading for a new franchise, Los Angeles merely yawned. It is now twenty years since an NFL game was played in Los Angeles. MLB, the NHL, the NBA, even soccer can have two franchises in Los Angeles. The NFL has to be satisfied with one.
The tangible sign of Los Angeles’s indifference was its refusal to build at least one 75,000+ seat luxurious stadium which would probably cost over $1 billion dollars using any taxpayer money. Until that issue was resolved, there was no chance for the NFL to return to Los Angeles.
1995 was also the last year the NFL expanded to Jacksonville and Carolina. The NFL has not expanded since and seems deaf to all entreaties to do so until the “Los Angeles situation” is rectified. Portland, San Antonio, Birmingham, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Toronto, Montreal, Columbus, Mexico City, even distant London, England could be credible NFL franchises. But no, the Los Angeles snub must be avenged and put right by the arrogant NFL. Typical too was the talk about the willingness to strip an existing NFL city of its team and shift it to Los Angeles when a stadium is built instead of granting an expansion franchise. It turned out that St Louis was the victim. Again so much for fan loyalty.
So why did Los Angeles snub and show indifference to professional football? Because the NFL never learned, unlike the other professional sports leagues, that the movie star, not the sports athlete is king and queen in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is filled with amusements and the NFL is only one of them, not the only game in town. People there are more interested in Hollywood gossip; who will get the next major role, who will be nominated for the Academy Awards, who is sleeping with who, who is taking drugs and indulging in scandalous behavior.
Other leagues have accommodated themselves to this situation. They know their status is down a notch and they can accept that and market themselves with those limitations. Which brings up the subject of NHL expansion to Las Vegas.
The situation there is similar to Los Angeles only legalized gambling and prostitution are the number one games in town. For that reason, no sports league has tried to establish itself in Las Vegas. Any sports league, certainly the fourth-ranked NHL, is going to have to acknowledge that they are not number one and are unlikely ever to be so. The very existence of any sports team in Las Vegas can be put in peril by this fact.
One thing is certain. No sports league can enter the Las Vegas market displaying the arrogance that the NFL displays. Competing against two major human vices is going to be difficult for anybody.
But the NHL has had its eye on Las Vegas for decades. It now holds its awards banquet there even though Las Vegas has had minimum contact with hockey. But Las Vegas is the kind of expansion city so typical of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s time, chosen because possible success there means that the NHL can now possibly claim that hockey is an “American game” and get increased American television revenues, not because the residents really love hockey.
Las Vegas is the front runner and seems like a done deal. Hopefully the new franchise will be a success and a permanent addition to the NHL. But it will never be number one there. If the NHL can accept this limitation like it has in Los Angeles and find a way to market itself successfully, there should not be any problems. But really the situation is wait and see. Las Vegas NHL expansion – pardon the pun – for now at least remains a gamble.