The Sharks play the St. Louis Blues tonight, the hockey team from a city that just lost its football team to Los Angeles for a lot of reasons that all essentially boil down to Stan Kroenke seeing a bigger market and some new suckers to pay for his place of business. The Rams are a terrible football team, and were originally from LA, so in some ways it’s not surprising they’re moving back. But on the other hand, the franchise had its most success in St. Louis, winning a Super Bowl and just losing the Patriots in another. The city of St. Louis is still paying off bonds for the now vacant stadium the Rams used to play in.
Also this week, the San Diego Chargers also decided to move to LA, rejecting a plan by the city of San Diego to gift them land near their downtown provided they privately finance the stadium complex that they wanted. Art Spanos, the owner of the Chargers, felt this deal was an insult, combined with the rejection by San Diego voters of a measure that would have subsidized the construction of the stadium with public tax revenue.
The NFL, being the biggest and most profitable league in the country, sets the blueprint for every other sports league in how they conduct their business. The relative popularity of the non-NFL sports and franchises more or less dictate how much of the same sort crap the other owners can get away with. So that’s why the Texas Rangers are fleecing Arlington for millions and millions to replace their relatively modern ballpark.
As I’m writing this, it appears that the Raiders are going to bail on California entirely to go to Las Vegas. So much for Raider Nation.
The point of all this is that being a sports fan in the 21st century is pretty much defined by having to deal with the whims of the billionaire owner and his (it’s exclusively a “he”) satisfaction or lack thereof with his team’s market compared to other teams and leagues. He can be fairly benign, like Hanso Plattner, or he can be Art Spanos or Stan Kroenke. All of them are making a bet that you, the fan, will be loyal to the franchise. And the only reason they’re able to demand public funds for running their business is that they receive that loyalty despite all the shitty actions they do to your city and region.
Sports fandom is almost exclusively rooted in regionalism. People’s regional pride is almost always expressed as the people’s love for a particular sports team. But the template for sports fandom in the future is a lot more murky. The Chargers and Raiders are more or less counting on the left-behind fans to continue to give them revenue streams while they exploit an entirely new regional market. You can pretty much assume that every single team is paying attention to the results of this, regardless of the league. Even franchises that don’t have any intention of leaving their current market will use the facts of these deals to negotiate or renegotiate sweetheart terms with their local governments.
The only way to not get exploited by this is to say no. No, we will not subsidize a multi-billion dollar corporation’s infrastructure costs. No, we will not allow our elected officials to negotiate backroom deals to end-around their constituents. No, we will not give the team our money if they attempt to exploit our community. No, we will not watch their product when the owners have nothing but contempt for their customers, and increasingly, their employees.
There are clear parallels between being a sports fan and a citizen of Trump’s America, given all the similar behavior of franchise owners and the crony kleptocrats about to take over the federal government. And the answer to their schemes has to be the same: no. Not now, not ever.
Blues @ Sharks
Prediction: At some point, I’m going to have to evaluate whether I can morally stomach being a fan of a team I love. It’s going to fucking suck.