Baltimore Orioles: Beware of stadium deals…sports fans


Short of a new free-agent signing, a trade, injury, or something of the like, there’s not much to report from the Baltimore Orioles’ camp aside from the fact that the team’s working out on a daily basis. Position players are to report tomorrow, with the first full team workout being Wednesday. So bearing that in mind I want to talk about an issue that’s suddenly been brought into the sports narrative: a proposed NFL stadium in the Los Angeles area to be shared by the (former) San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.

Courtesy of Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, I get it…football’s a different sport. However many issues are pertinent across the lines of various sports, and this is one of them. I get the whole thing about the NFL wanting a team in Los Angeles. Quite frankly, given the media market I don’t disagree that LA should have a team. However the fact is that the fans of Oakland and San Diego are being held hostage by their respective ownership groups. And that’s something that I see as wrong.

I suspect that most Baltimore fans are probably sympathetic in a sense, given the manner in which the Colts were ripped away. Some folks are going to read this and say it’s a business, deal with it and so forth. And in a way they’re correct. Of al people, I certainly recognize that sports is a business and as is the case in all businesses the owners are out for their bottom line.

However the difference between a company like the Orioles and ABC Corporation is that a sports franchise is much more a part of the community. People gather at the stadium on a daily or weekly basis, creating a certain fellowship and a sense of togetherness. For sure, owners have the right to move their teams if the deal is right. However my issue is possibly more the manner in which it’s done at times.

I don’t think it’s fair for the towns and thus the fans to flail in the wind while big business guys argue over how many millions more they can make in this city or that. That’s exactly what Robert Irsay did to the city of Baltimore. In that case, he very publicly shopped the team around from city to city from the day he acquired the team – in a very public manner. If you were willing to do business the way Irsay wanted it done, you could get an NFL team for your city. That’s kind of how this thing with the Chargers, Raiders, and Los Angeles comes across to me. (People might also say that Baltimore was a beneficiary of this attitude in 1995-96 when the Browns moved and became the Ravens. And they’d be right in a sense, however Art Modell never allowed the city of Cleveland to flail in the wind as such; he also left the records and colors in Cleveland and allowed for a team to return.)

Again, nobody’s denying that owners don’t have the right to do this, and to in effect hold cities hostage. However be careful when playing with a public trust. For instance, I noticed that the Chargers took San Diego off of their website – it’s just “The Chargers” now. Let’s be frank; the team might well still stay in SD…so if they do, how does the owner smooth that over with his fans/customers? To me that comes off as a petty and low-rent type of tactic.

Nevertheless, the message here (just as with the Colts moving…first to Jacksonville, then to Phoenix, and eventually to Indianapolis) is that owners buy into the whole build me a stadium or else discussion. Heck, there was a time when the Orioles could have fallen into this same category, as there were rumors that they could relocate someplace. (In the case of several teams – ironically including the Padres – MLB used Washington DC as leverage the same way that the NFL is using LA.) Luckily with the help of the now former Baltimore Colts marching band (and the current marching Ravens) the funding for what’s now Oriole Park at Camden Yards was approved by the state legislature.

And with regard to franchises moving and thus holding cities hostage, here’s another point: beware of the smaller towns. If this shared stadium (which I think would be a TERRIBLE idea to begin with) deal goes through, both teams would probably take Los Angeles as their city. However the stadium would be built in Carson, CA. That might be one thing, but look at the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA, or the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL. Those are two smaller cities, which 20 years ago nobody would have ever predicted would have pro teams…

…and they’re successful. Oklahoma City seems to sell out every game, first and foremost because they have a great team that’s exciting to watch. (Whenever they’re on a national game, I know that I certainly tune in.) But they’re also the only pro game in that town. Heck, one could argue the same thing with the Green Bay Packers I suppose. So as the next round of stadiums starts to become “aging,” fans and cities should certainly beware of a smaller city or town that could pop out of the woodwork and make a run at a pro team.

Some might say that smaller juristictions might not have the money to build a stadium or arena, and they might be right. But apparently Norfolk, VA made a serious run at having the Sacramento Kings move there a few years ago.  Owners see the success of a team like the Thunder, and if they can get a good deal, why wouldn’t they make a move like that?

Ultimately, my point is that I think it’s wrong for owners to hold cities and fans hostage. I’m not denying their right to do it, I just think they should think twice when dealing with something the public holds so dear.