When Jerry Richardson dies his Carolina Panthers will be sold. The name of the owner will change. The name of the city in which the Panthers play will not.
In the past year, three NFL teams have relocated or committed to relocating. The Rams left St. Louis for Los Angeles, the Chargers are moving from San Diego to Los Angeles and the Raiders are moving from Oakland to Las Vegas.
Two of the moves make sense. The Raiders and Chargers play in by far the league’s worst stadiums. The families that own the teams have long been part of the NFL. They go to road games in impressive and usually modern stadiums, and when they return their stadiums look even worse than when they left.
I feel for Oakland fans. I also feel for the Oakland and San Francisco outfitters who make a living selling Road Warrior outfits to those fans. When then Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams made his first trip to Oakland he was mesmerized by the outfits the fans wore. When Williams wasn’t in the game I didn’t know if he’d be on the bench or in the bleachers.
But despite the charm – or anti-charm – of the fans, the Raiders, like the Chargers, desperately need a new place to play.
The Rams did not. But the NFL catered to Stan Kroenke, the team’s new billionaire owner. It allowed him to yank the team of St. Louis, a town that’s passionate about sports, and move it to Los Angeles.
The move wasn’t about the league’s obligations to long time owners with bad stadiums. It was about new money and more money.
The Panthers, however, have a stadium that is less than a relic. They have a fan base that has evolved. Kids who went to games with their parents in the mid-1990s now go to games with kids of their own.
If you’re skeptical, pull out a map. Where is the great market yet to be explored? London? Net yet.
The market has long been Las Vegas. There are NBA owners who covet it, and someday, an NBA owner will get permission to move there.
Based on television ratings and attendance and every other standard of measurement, there are only three major U.S. sports. Of those three, the NFL got to the desert first.