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The Shakedown
Tim Crothers
June 19, 1995
Greedy owners are threatening to move their teams if demands for new stadiums, better lease deals, etc., aren't met
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June 19, 1995

The Shakedown

Greedy owners are threatening to move their teams if demands for new stadiums, better lease deals, etc., aren't met

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Moving Situations

If you don't build it (with luxury suites), they will go. That's the state of sports, in which 39 of the 109 major league franchises are considering a move unless they get a new arena or stadium—even if their current venue is relatively young—or a more favorable deal from the government that owns their building. Here's a list of teams angling for a better arrangement, or else.

Team

Home

Year Opened

NHL:

DALLAS STARS

Reunion Arena

1980

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Miami Arena

1988

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Byrne Meadowlands Arer

1976

NBA:

ATLANTA HAWKS

The Omni

1972

CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Charlotte Coliseum

1988

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Reunion Arena

1980

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Oakland Coliseum

1966

HOUSTON ROCKETS

The Summit

1975

INDIANA PACERS

Market Square Arena

1974

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

L.A. Sports Arena

1959

MIAMI HEAT

Miami Arena

1988

NFL:

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Sun Devil Stadium

1958

BUFFALO BILLS

Rich Stadium

1973

CHICAGO BEARS

Soldier Field

1924

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Riverfront Stadium

1970

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Cleveland Stadium

1931

DENVER BRONCOS

Mile High Stadium

1968

DETROIT LIONS

Silverdome

1975

HOUSTON OILERS

Astrodome

1965

LOS ANGELES RAIDERS

L.A. Memorial Coliseum

1923

MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Metrodome

1982

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Foxboro Stadium

1971

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Kingdome

1976

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Tampa Stadium

1967

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

RFK Stadium

1961

Major League Baseball:

BOSTON RED SOX

Fenway Park

1912

CALIFORNIA ANGELS

Anaheim Stadium

1966

CINCINNATI REDS

Riverfront Stadium

1970

DETROIT TIGERS

Tiger Stadium

1912

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

County Stadium

1953

MINNESOTA TWINS

Metrodome

1982

MONTREAL EXPOS

Olympic Stadium

1976

NEW YORK YANKEES

Yankee Stadium

1923

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Oakland Coliseum

1966

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Veterans Stadium

1971

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Three Rivers Stadium

1970

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Jack Murphy Stadium

1967

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Candlestick Park

1960

SEATTLE MARINERS

Kingdome

1976

It's as simple as the price tag on Minnie Pearl's hat. For the right offer the New Jersey Devils might pack up their pitchforks this summer and move to Nashville. Imagine that: the Devils in the buckle of the Bible Belt. If the team relocates, it will become—assuming also that these New Jersey/Nashville Devils defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference finals and then win the Stanley Cup—the first to win its championship as the representative of one place and defend it in another. "We're not sure what's going on with Nashville," says Devil right wing Bill Guerin, "but you hear guys in the locker room saying, 'Who's going to buy a horse farm? Who's going to hang out with Dolly Parton?' All you can do is have fun with it."

Well, heeee haaaaw! Fans of the Devils and those of at least 38 other franchises across North America are the latest victims of a recurring scam in sports, by which purportedly strapped owners of big league teams, using everything from subtle implications to outright threats, wheedle or blackmail communities into meeting their demands—or else (chart, page 80). What do the plutocratic extortioners get? Everything from free rent to a new practice facility to full control of that pot of latter-day sporting gold, luxury-box revenue.

It hardly matters whether the Devils are seriously considering a move to Music City, U.S.A., or whether it's a bluff; some governmental or quasi-government public entity—either in New Jersey or Nashville—is going to shell out millions in civic resources that would better be spent on schools, cops or real job creation. Never mind that in a few years the team may well be headed somewhere else, for a better deal still.

If the Devils relocate, it will be their fourth move in barely two decades. The franchise was born in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts, evolved into the Colorado Rockies two seasons later and moved to New Jersey in time for the '82-83 season. A carpetbagging bunch like this naturally caught the eye of Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen, a politician looking to bring some major league cachet to his community. Nashville is offering the Devils a $20 million relocation bonus and a sweetheart lease if they'll become the first tenants in the new Nashville Arena under construction. The offer couldn't come at a better time for Devil ownership; the team is in a lease dispute with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, owner of the Devils' current home, 19-year-old Byrne Meadowlands Arena, where they have a contract to play until at least 2002.

But Nashville is hardly the only home wrecker—and the state of New Jersey is far from the only cuckold—in pro sports. A few other examples of reckless love:

•The woeful Cincinnati Bengals want a new home or significant improvements made to 25-year-old Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals have a year-to-year lease and have openly spoken to the Maryland Stadium Authority about moving to Baltimore. The Bengals also have been mentioned at recent NFL meetings as a possible replacement for the Rams in Los Angeles. "People in Cincinnati have come to realize what's at stake," says Bengal president Mike Brown, who contends his team needs more revenue to survive. "We are running out of time, and I have an obligation to the business and the people that own it."

•By the 1998-99 season the Miami Heat likely will be gone from Miami Arena, which is the NBA's second-smallest facility and contains only 18 luxury boxes. To the Heat's owners this makes the arena all but obsolete—at the tender age of seven.

•After seeing the pathetic Minnesota Timberwolves blessed with an $80 million public takeover of the Target Center, their basketball arena, the Minnesota Twins began a campaign this year for a new baseball stadium even though they pay no rent to play in the Metrodome, age 13.

•George Steinbrenner hasn't ruled out the possibility of moving his New York Yankees to northern New Jersey (the Bay-onne Bombers?). The Boss gripes about the traffic, parking and ambience around Yankee Stadium but is less eager to discuss his team's $486 million, 12-year TV deal or the $73.5 million stadium renovation completed by New York City in 1976.

•Canadians like to play Can You Top This? too. Perhaps taking their cue from Edmonton Oiler owner Peter Pockling-ton, who sold off Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and threatened to move the Oilers until the city agreed to sugar up his lease at Northlands Coliseum last year, the Quebec Nordiques have broken for the border, and the Winnipeg Jets recently threatened to do likewise. The Nordiques were sold after they didn't get a new arena in Quebec and will share a new arena in Denver with the NBA's Nuggets. The Jets, having used a threat to move to Minnesota as blackmail, have struck a tentative stadium deal to remain in Winnipeg, financed in part by $94 million in public funds. And remember: Canada is home to Montreal's Olympic Stadium, a publicly financed boondoggle of such red-ink proportions that it came to be known as the Big Owe.

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