No, USA Today, NFL teams aren’t moving because of revenue disparities, you got snookered

An exec for the Cincinnati Bengals said a thing! A USA Today reporter believed him! Let’s investigate whether any of it makes sense.

First, the thing:

The revenue disparity between teams is “the largest it’s ever been in NFL history,” [Bengals vice president Troy] Blackburn told USA TODAY Sports. Even though teams equally share the revenues of NFL television contracts and a portion of ticket sales, they don’t share other local stadium revenues with each other, leading to the rising gap…

“Right now, you’ve got many of the small markets paying over 60-plus percent of their revenues on players, and many of the large markets are paying 40 percent of revenue on players,” said Blackburn, who previously was the team’s director of stadium development and is the son-in-law of Bengals owner Mike Brown. “Something that could be done that narrowed that gap would be helpful, and it would make it easier for the small-market teams to stay where they are and not have to explore relocation.”

USA Today’s took that and spun it into an article claiming that the reason the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders have all moved in the last year is because of these rising disparities between small- and large-market NFL teams, and more (unspecified, but presumably including the Bengals) teams could relocate if nothing is done about it.

Now, this is an odd premise to begin with, seeing as that it’s well known why these three teams moved now: Rams owner Stan Kroenke finally pulled the trigger on calling dibs on the long-vacant Los Angeles market, then the Chargers and Raiders owners rushed to get in on it too lest their only leverage on their current cities disappear, then the Chargers agreed to move in with the Rams because they couldn’t get a big-ass new stadium subsidy in San Diego while the Raiders got a big-ass stadium subsidy from Las Vegas, the end. But let’s set aside everything that our eyes tell us and see if the notion that NFL revenues are unsustainably unequal is supported by the data.

Here’s the latest Forbes team value and revenue figureshttps://www.forbes.com/nfl-valuations/list/#tab:overall. If you take a look at the “Revenue” column (we want gross revenues, not profits, which is what the “Operating Income” column shows), you’ll see that the Dallas Cowboys are crazy outliers at $700 million a year, while the rest of the league sits between $523 million and $301 million a year, meaning the top non-Dallas team earned 74% more than the lowest-revenue team.

If we go back to, say, 2011, the Cowboys are still outliers at $406 million, and the spread for the rest of the NFL is $352 million to $217 million, for a 62% disparity. So the distance between the haves and have-nots is increasing, yes, but note hugely. (You’ll also notice that every team in the league currently turns at least a $26 million profit, so while small-market team owners may be sad that they don’t own the New England Patriots, they can still be happy that they own an NFL team and not pretty much anything else.)

Now, let’s take a look at other sports. For baseball, lopping off the New York Yankees as the Cowboys analogue, we get a $462 million to $205 million revenue spread — a whopping 125%. For the NBA, taking out the New York Knicks, it’s $333 million to $140 million, 137%. For the NHL, omitting the New York Rangers, it’s $202 million to $99 million, 104%.

So while you can quibble with the Forbes numbers (or my methodology), it’s pretty clear that NFL revenue disparities aren’t any worse than those of other leagues that aren’t seeing massive team defections. Which is as to be expected, since the NFL has the strongest revenue-sharing program of any major sports league in North America, in the form of the national TV contract system put together by Pete Rozelle way back in the 1960s. In the NFL, owners get whopping checks just by virtue of owning a team — the only way to get ahead of your competitors isn’t to be in a bigger city with the chance for big cable contracts (the reason why all those New York teams sit atop the revenue charts for other leagues), but to get a more lucrative stadium deal. Which predicts that you’ll see more city-hopping in search of those, which is precisely what’s been happening.

So now that we’ve established that USA Today doesn’t have any fact-checkers on staff, what’s Blackburn’s angle? Is he just feeling whiny that the Bengals play in Cincinnati in a stadium that was a gift from taxpayers 17 whole years ago? Or does he have a specific play in mind:

“If the league is serious about franchise stability, maybe it should consider a new G-3 styled program that would help keep teams in small markets,” Blackburn said. “If it did it once, it can certainly do it again, if it truly cares about the issue.”

Ah, now we’re talking — the Bengals owners are upset that big-market teams are getting league grant money (or were, since both the G-3 fund and its successor G-4 are now depleted), and they’re not. So this whole exercise turns out to have been one NFL owner using the pages of USA Today to convince his fellow NFL owners to give him some of their money, because c’mon guys, you have so much of it!

Of course, the original G-3 program was actually limited to teams in the six biggest markets, in order to provide a check against teams moving to smaller cities in search of those sweet stadium deals mentioned above — with #6 included specifically because Patriots owner Robert Kraft played in the 6th-biggest market, and was threatening to move to Hartford at the time, and was the chair of the committee that designed G-3. So, pretty much the exact opposite of what Blackburn says it was. Oh, fact-checking.

S.D., L.A moving companies lining up to refuse to haul Chargers’ stuff north

Chargers owner Dean Spanos’s grudging “I’d love to stay, I must be going” announcement that he was moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles was sad enough, especially with the logo uproar and public message to stay home from one of L.A.’s top sports columnists that immediately followed. So what could he possibly do for an encore? Oh, how about not being able to find anyone to rent him a moving van:

[Ryan Charles of HireAHelper.com] said that more than 25 San Diego-based [moving] companies and 10 from the L.A. area have united via the wewontmoveyouchargers.com website to pledge not to participate in what Charles admitted would be a very lucrative series of jobs.

“We’re continuing to add more companies every hour,” Charles said. “We’re still actively calling companies, and companies are signing themselves up through the link on that site. So yeah, I think it’s definitely had an impact.”

It’s always possible that one day the Chargers will be ensconced in their new stadium, and they will win games again, and they will compete with the Rams for the hearts of L.A. football fans, who will actually be proven to exist (except in the sense of football fans who live in L.A., vs. fans of L.A. football). But this definitely isn’t getting off to a good start.

Chargers announce move to Los Angeles, all that’s left is deciding who to be the most mad at

So the San Diego Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, owner Dean Spanos having dropped the other shoe yesterday by releasing this statement and changing their logo before announcing it wasn’t really their new logo after everyone, even the Tampa Bay Lightning social media director, made fun of them. Normally a relocation like this would require a vote of NFL owners to make official, but the league already gave Spanos a “good for one move to Inglewood” coupon last January, so this is a done deal.

There are many, many, many feels that one can have about this, depending on one’s perspective, so why doesn’t one sit down with us and run through them to see how reasonable one is being?

  • Rot in hell, Dean Spanos, for taking a team away from the fans who’ve supported it for a half-century! Spanos is definitely screwing over Chargers fans (who have responded by dumping their team gear outside the Chargers office and throwing eggs at the windows, and even trying to set fire to a team flag) in an attempt to make more money. Whether this makes him a greedy asshole or a savvy self-interested businessman is, wait, what’s the difference again?
  • Dean Spanos is an idiot for choosing to pay a relocation fee and be Stan Kroenke’s second fiddle in L.A. rather than working something out in San Diego! VERDICT: unproven. Yes, the relocation fee (reportedly $550 million payable over 10 years, which in present value is worth more like $425 million) is a lot, and Spanos is going to need to choose between either paying Rams owner Stan Kroenke a whole lot of rent (or shared revenues, which amount to the same thing) or putting up half the construction cost of the new Inglewood stadium up front, either of which is going to be really expensive. Maybe he thinks he can earn it back from increased revenue in a bigger market (though the NFL is limited in that regard since there are no local TV deals), maybe he was just pissy that San Diego voters didn’t want to give him $1.15 billion. Or maybe he’s an idiot.
  • Dean Spanos is an evil genius, now he can sell the Chargers for twice what he was going to get for them in San Diego! This is wisdom so conventional that people feel authorized to tweet about it like it’s true, but like all franchise value claims, it’s really just guesswork: Nobody knows how much more some theoretical billionaire would be willing to pay for the Los Angeles Chargers than for the San Diego Chargers, especially not until we see how popular they’ll be sharing that market with the Rams, and with that unfriendly lease that will saddle them with uncounted future costs. Only Spanos’s bean counters know for sure, and while it’s a fair bet that he’ll come out ahead since otherwise he wouldn’t be doing this (though see above re: pissy and/or idiot), it’s probably not going to be a double-your-money deal.
  • The NFL is going to regret this, nobody in L.A. wants to watch the dumb old Rams and Chargers! Certainly the Rams’ first season in L.A. wasn’t a raging success, with fans coming disguised as empty seats and TV ratings down relative to when L.A. football viewers were watching other cities’ teams. But the Rams and Chargers aren’t going to be pathetic excuses for football teams forever (probably), so maybe things will improve, and this won’t end up being a giant embarrassment for the league. Though that wouldn’t be any fun at all.
  • This is all San Diego’s fault for refusing to give Spanos a new stadium! To football fans’ credit, this viewpoint mostly seems to be limited to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who released a “Hey, we tried” statement following the announcement of the Chargers’ move. There were plenty of city officials willing to talk to Spanos about a new or renovated stadium (though they were limited in how much public money they were willing to/able to provide for one), but between the owner’s demand that the city fork over the lion’s share of the costs and the time limit on the relocation clause that meant Spanos had to move to L.A. now if he ever wanted to, there wasn’t time to work on that.
  • Wait, the Chargers are going to play in a soccer stadium for two years?! Yup. On the bright side, see above about nobody wanting to see the team play right now anyway.
  • At least San Diego taxpayers can still watch the team on TV if they want, without having to pay $1.15 billion in tax money as well! Also yup.
  • Sports is a festering cesspool of greed and extortion, less about putting out a good product than about an arms race among owners to build opulent stadiums with other people’s money! Well, duh.

If there’s a silver lining for wannabe haters, it’s that unlike in the typical stadium controversy, this looks set to be a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense, where all the major players end up dead on the battlefield thanks to hubris or stupidity or what have you. The San Diego Chargers may be dead, but San Diego Chargers schadenfreude is just beginning.

NFL meets to discuss Raiders, Chargers moves, doesn’t decide squat because why rush into things?

The NFL’s stadium and finance committees met yesterday as promised, and while nothing really was decided about either the Oakland Raiders‘ possible move to Las Vegas or the San Diego Chargers‘ possible move to Los Angeles, we have some hints of where things are headed. And as befits a league run by a bunch of rich guy who decide things by arguing about who has the biggest balls, the outcome looks to combine one helping of naked avarice with two of farcical train wreck.

Yesterday’s joint meeting was apparently mostly focused on the Raiders, with league VP Eric Grubman later telling the L.A. Daily News’s Vincent Bonsignore that team owner Mark Davis has made “impressive” progress on a stadium deal there. Which, yeah, we noticed, but has the NFL made any progress on deciding whether to approve the move?

Okay. Has Davis at least made up his mind about whether to take Vegas’s $750 million subsidy offer and go in with billionaire Sheldon Adelson on a stadium there?

Okay! So no news at all, really, other than “check back later.”

There are still two big unknowns in the Raiders-to-Vegas potential move: First off, the NFL needs to decide on what relocation fee Davis would be charged, which the league still hasn’t discussed, though they have hired the same consulting firm that picked $550 million out of a hat for the Rams‘ move to L.A. to figure it out. And second, Davis has to hash out a deal with Adelson on how to split revenues and costs, which they apparently still haven’t been able to put their heads together on. Adelson no doubt thinks he has Davis over a barrel since he has few other options for getting ahold of $750 million in public stadium cash, which is probably why the NFL deployed Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II to say this yesterday:

“I think the Raiders are looking at this potentially going without Mr. Adelson,’’ Rooney, chairman of the league’s stadium committee and one of the NFL’s most influential owners, told reporters in New York after league meetings on relocation and stadium issues.

Davis told the Review-Journal, “I have nothing to say right now.”

That sort of could make sense, maybe: If a Vegas stadium is viable for Adelson, then it’d be viable for some other developer as well, and Davis is the one with the rare commodity in an NFL team. Or he (or Rooney) could just be trying to drive a hard bargain with Adelson to get more money flowing into team/league coffers. Davis has until February 15 to decide on whether to file for relocation, and the NFL could always decide to extend that deadline if they want, so that leaves plenty of time for haggling.

On the Chargers front, meanwhile, the reason for the stasis is way more hilarious: It looks like team owner Dean Spanos doesn’t really want to move to L.A., and the other NFL owners don’t really want him to move to L.A., but the two sides are engaged in a massive game of chicken to decide whether the league will pay him to stay put. Per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora and his patented unnamed sources (though other outlets are reporting similar things):

There are some grave concerns among owners and the league office about the potential of having two teams in Los Angeles — the Chargers can exercise an option to move to L.A. next week, and sources said at this point they have no reason not to — and any subsidy offered to Chargers owner Dean Spanos would be born of those economic fears more than anything else…

The Rams have had a rough first season in Los Angeles and are already engaged in a coaching search, and the ratings in that market were not what some might have hoped for, as well. … Spanos has resisted leaving in the past and has his own concerns about the deal brokered with the Rams, one that would essentially make the Chargers a tenant to Rams owner Stan Kroenke at the stadium in construction scheduled to open in 2019, and there is sense among other owners that even a weak deal to stay in San Diego could carry the day.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but basically, if we believe La Canfora or whoever’s feeding him this stuff, Spanos doesn’t really like the deal being offered by Kroenke to move to L.A., but is trying to use the threat of taking it to extract some cash from the league to help him pay for a new stadium in San Diego. And the NFL can’t do much about it, as it already gave Spanos an option to move to L.A. last year when it approved the Rams move, and set the relocation fee to boot, meaning it can’t throw any roadblocks in the way of a Chargers move, just offer Spanos bribes not to go through with it.

Spanos’ option expires on Tuesday, which means something has to give really really soon. (He’s reportedly called a team staff meeting for this morning to discuss an undisclosed matter, which is presumably that he’s set to announce a move.) So, of course, yesterday’s meeting steadfastly avoided talking about the Chargers at all:

Just like the Rams decision did, it looks like this one is going to go down to the wire, and be decided by something stupid like egos or which NFL owners are Facebook friends. Both teams moving is still a likely scenario, but at this point I really wouldn’t rule anything out.

NFL set to discuss Chargers-to-L.A. next Wednesday, as Spanos grubs for more stadium cash

We finally have a D-Day of sorts for the San Diego Chargerslong-rumored-by-Jason-La-Canfora move to Los Angeles, as the NFL’s finance and stadium committees will meet next Wednesday to discuss the relocation. On the surface, there wouldn’t seem to be much to discuss since the league already approved the terms of a Chargers move last January, but given that it’s the NFL, there’s always something to haggle about:

It’s believed that [Chargers owner Dean] Spanos could be seeking more money from the NFL to help him stay in San Diego. It appears that money is needed to bridge the gap between money already available from the league and the team, and public contribution from the city, county and San Diego State.

That’s completely unsourced, you’ll note — nice weasel wording with that “it’s believed,” Associated Press! — but if true, is kind of interesting: Apparently Spanos is holding out hope that the other NFL owners want him to stay put in San Diego badly enough that they’ll increase the $100 million offer they made to help him build a stadium there. That doesn’t seem all too likely, but you don’t get if you don’t ask, right?

The “gap” between money already available and what a stadium would cost, as a reminder, is pretty much “all of it,” given that in November San Diego voters overwhelmingly rejected funding $1.15 billion of a $1.8 billion stadium. Spanos needs to hope he’s better at last-second comeback attempts in the board room than his team is on the field.

SD councilmembers offer free land for Chargers stadium, team owner calls this an insult

What with San Diego voters having resoundingly rejected San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos’s request for $1.15 billion to build a new stadium and convention center, several city councilmembers have taken it upon themselves to make a counteroffer: We’ll give you the land for free if you’ll build the stadium your own damn self.

The current site is equivalent to over 60 downtown blocks that can be transformed from an empty parking lot to a state-of-the-art, one of a kind NFL experience. The development of the current site with a $1 per year 99-year lease would be a good starting point for a discussion.

This is not a terrible offer: The land itself is valued at $180 million, so that’s not chicken feed. On the other hand, it’s understandably a big comedown from a $1.15 billion subsidy ask, so Spanos is all pissy about it:

That conduct has been viewed by owner Dean Spanos as an effort to embarrass him and his family and to deflect blame for a relocation from the politicians via a last-minute proposal that will never survive scrutiny.

“If the goal was to infuriate the single remaining decision-maker in this process, mission accomplished,” the source said.

On the one hand, yes, this was clearly a PR move by the councilmembers, who know that Spanos is unlikely to accept the offer, but now can say “We offered him a $1 a year lease, what more does he want?” On the other, Spanos is now more clearly than ever saying, We need a new stadium in order to survive in San Diego, but we’ll only make money on a new stadium if someone else gives us the money to build it. That’s a pretty neat encapsulation of the stadium game, right there.

Four out of five invisible people now say Chargers will move to L.A.

Another week, another batch of anonymously sourced reports that the San Diego Chargers are moving to L.A.:

ESPN’s Jim Trotter, a former Union-Tribune beat writer on the Chargers, livened up the Twitter universe Thursday with two bearish forecasts about the future of the Chargers and Raiders in their respective cities.

Tweet No. 1: “I’ve never been more pessimistic about Chargers staying in SD. Based on all I’m hearing I’d be SHOCKED if team isn’t in LA next year.”

Tweet No. 2: “Barring unanticipated miracle, I expect Chargers and Raiders to announce in January their plans to relocate – Chargers to LA, Raiders to LV.”

That’s just Trotter’s opinion, really — dare I say hot take? — which is fine enough. What’s not fine is news outlet after news outlet acting like this is actual, you know, news:

NFL insider sees Chargers, Raiders on move in 2017 (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Chargers Reportedly Almost Guaranteed To Move To L.A. In 2017 (LAist)
It reportedly will take a ‘miracle’ to keep the Chargers in San Diego (Washington Post)

What we have here is still a rumor — one that could be based on what actual NFL insiders are thinking, or on what actual NFL insiders want you to think, or on what a few people around the league are talking to a couple of well-connected sportswriters about over beers. It’s certainly possible that Dean Spanos will announce a move to L.A. next month, but it’s also possible that he’ll ask for more time to keep negotiating with Rams owner Stan Kroenke and/or the city of San Diego — or even that he’ll decide the L.A. deal is too second-fiddly for his blood and reject it entirely, though that seems less likely because why not just ask for an extension then to keep his options open? But trying to guess based on what some unknown “league sources” say is going to be about as accurate as a dart board — you’d probably do just as well selling prediction shares in the Chargers leaving or staying in San Diego, and going with the wisdom of the crowd.

Sportswriter with history of citing unsourced rumors says Chargers are moving to L.A., maybe

CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, who two weeks ago wrote that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos had little choice but to share digs with the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood now that his request for $1.1 billion in public funds for a new stadium-convention center complex was crushed at the polls, is doubling down on that assertion, saying talks between the two teams are continuing to “improve in tenor.” His source? “League sources.”

La Canfora has a bit of a track record now of making anonymously sources predictions on NFL stadium deals, so let’s see how well he’s done in the past:

  • October 2012: NFL would rather have stadium built at Dodger Stadium than either City of Industry or the downtown “Farmers Field” site. Verdict: Hard to say, as none of the three sites ended up being approved.
  • September 2015: NFL owners can’t agree on whether to approve the Inglewood or Carson stadium plans. Verdict: Maybe at the time, though they did end up coming to an agreement just four months later.
  • October 2015: Rams owner Stan Kroenke would be willing to share his Inglewood stadium with another team. Verdict: True! Though how willing, we’re still waiting to see.
  • October 2015: St. Louis could come up with a stadium plan good enough to keep the league from approving a Rams move, but not so good that Kroenke wouldn’t refuse to take it and then move somewhere else, like maybe London. Verdict: Yeah, that didn’t happen.
  • December 2015: If denied the chance to move to L.A., Kroenke could sell the Rams to someone in St. Louis and buy the Denver Broncos instead. Verdict: We’ll never know.

Add it all up, and you get a reporter with lots of insider league contacts, and the willingness to run with any rumor that they’re telling him. Which doesn’t make the rumors wrong, necessarily, but it also doesn’t give them much predictive power.

So while it’s probably true that somebody has heard that the Spanos-Kroenke talks are going well, or at least proceeding apace, that doesn’t tell us much about whether they’ll actually come to an agreement. Or about La Canfora’s other predictions (similarly cited to “sources”) that there’s a “strong chance” the league could reduce the Chargers’ relocation fee (from what, he didn’t say) and that the Chargers “continue to investigate possibly” playing at the Los Angeles Galaxy‘s StubHub Center in Carson for two years while waiting for the Inglewood stadium to be built. La Canfora also said that Spanos asking for an extension on his January deadline to make a decision on an L.A. move “is not expected,” which is as close to a solid prediction as he gets in this article — mark it down, and we can add it to his scorecard in another few weeks.

Chargers owner’s only choice is to bunk with Rams in L.A. (or not)

Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports says San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos has little choice but to move to Los Angeles now that a stadium subsidy initiative was soundly defeated at the polls. But then he quotes an NFL insider of saying … not completely the opposite, but pretty close:

“If Dean stays, it’s not because he thinks he can get a stadium in San Diego,” one ownership source said. “It’s just because he doesn’t want to take the deal in Inglewood.”

That was always the case, no? Los Angeles is bigger and wealthier than San Diego, and will soon have a newer stadium. But it will also be a stadium that will come with a whole lot of construction debt, and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke is going to want to make that back by charging oodles of rent to any team that wants to bunk with him. So Spanos’s decision all along has been whether to take the deal that Kroenke is offering him, or to take whatever he has going for him in San Diego — and while “being the sole team in an old stadium” won’t be as lucrative as “being the sole team in a new stadium that the public would mostly pay for,” it’s still the same general calculus.

Will the Chargers move to L.A.? We can’t tell without knowing what offer Kroenke has on the table, and how much haggling he’s willing to do to ensure that he has a renter. No doubt this will all get worked out by the January deadline — or will get worked out as far as Kroenke and Spanos deciding they want an extension on that deadline — but as for how it all ends, your guess is as good as mine.

Rangers owners get $500m to tear down 22-year-old stadium for lacking a/c, oh democracy

So in those other election results:

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the [San Diego] Chargers received only 43 percent approval on Measure C, the team’s $1.8 billion downtown stadium and convention center annex that proposed raising hotel taxes from 12.5 percent to 16.5 percent to secure $1.15 billion in bonds to help pay for the project.

We already pretty much knew that was going to happen: That the Chargers stadium plan fell so far short was a slight surprise, but it never had any hope of getting close to the required two-thirds majority, and even 50% was probably out of reach. So anyway, what about the other stadium vote, the one whose outcome was still in doubt?

On Tuesday, voters in Arlington, Texas, approved a measure to contribute up to $500 million toward the cost of a new ballpark for the Texas Rangers. … The ballot measure passed by a margin of 60 percent yes to 40 percent no.

That’s also to be expected, once you take into account that the pro side (i.e., mostly the Texas Rangers owners) was outspending the anti side (a handful of volunteer activists) by more than 200-to-1, and anything over a 100-to-1 margin usually guarantees a victory. Still, as of just a few days ago it looked like a toss-up, and … nah, nobody wins against that kind of spending firepower, especially not in Texas.

So Chargers owner Dean Spanos will now be deciding whether to accept a lease from Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke to be tenants in Inglewood, or whether to try to fight an uphill battle to somehow get stadium subsidies in San Diego. (Or to stay in San Diego without subsidies HA HA HA HA just kidding.) And Texas Rangers owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson will be getting a half-billion-dollar check from Arlington taxpayers so they can tear down a 22-year-old stadium because it doesn’t have air-conditioning. The American experiment is going great.