Summer Series Part 2: Impact of Team Relocation

07/02/2024 Summer Series Part 2: Impact of Team Relocation

By: Marissa Kasch

How Team Relocations Have Impacted Fans, Cities & Everyone Involved (By Marissa Kasch)

In our last edition (Part 1), we discussed the history of team relocation across professional sports and how the phenomenon has left countless fans heartbroken. The heartbreak, riots, protests and committees were just a few minor results of teams playing musical chairs. In some cases, it was justified, like when a team leaves in the middle of the night and a whole city wakes up wondering what happened. But team relocation isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, most teams move to greener pastures because their home just isn’t working out anymore. Sure, they had a good run and it’s sad to leave the die-hard fans. But if they couldn’t stay afloat financially, there wouldn’t even be a franchise to speak of.

Fan Engagement

When a team relocates, so does its fan base – more or less. Most fans aren’t packing it up and moving across the country to follow their team, but fan engagement still moves with the team in the form of new fans. More than half of MLB fans view geographic proximity as an important factor in their fan experience. If your team isn’t close, how will you connect with other fans in the community or even watch your team play? On the other hand, the remaining 43% of MLB fans said geographic location didn’t hold much stake. In other words, their favorite team is their favorite team whether they live at the ballpark or 1,000 miles away from it. In Florida, I’ve seen plenty of this. We have Boston, New York and Los Angeles fans everywhere. It makes sense, especially with most fans opting to catch the game on TV rather than make the trip to the ballpark or stadium. Still, 20% of MLB fans said they would decrease or cease their engagement if their team relocated. 

Sometimes, a team relocates to a rival destination. For example, when the Browns moved in 1996, they became the Baltimore Ravens. Now, the Ravens and Browns face off twice a year in the AFC North, and a deep-rooted rivalry has formed over the years. If team relocation means cheering for a rival franchise, most fans disengage with the team immediately.

Attendance

Though the two sound like synonyms, fan engagement and attendance are not the same. Fan engagement can be expressed through viewership, sports betting, social media posts and support. Attendance is plain and simple: You’re at the game or you’re not. Unfortunately, low attendance is a precise reason why many teams seek relocation. What’s even more unfortunate? Attendance has dropped across the board since the pandemic. 

In big cities (especially big sports cities), attendance usually isn’t an issue. Look at the Celtics, for example. TD Garden was packed with over 19,000 fans for Game 5 of the NBA Finals, only a few hundred away from reaching the arena’s capacity. In Boston, it was hard to find a seat. On the other hand, we have the Oakland A’s who are struggling to fill seats. The A’s had an average of 6,243 fans per game through their first 13 games of the season since announcing relocation. Their average attendance was less than half of the Miami Marlins – the team with the second lowest attendance. Midway through the season, the A’s are still struggling, averaging 7,090 fans per game for the lowest attendance in the league. The Dodgers have the highest attendance in the league, averaging 47,265 fans per game, nearly seven times more than the A’s. But again, that’s Los Angeles versus Oakland – a sports city versus a dying sports city. 

Financial Impact

Teams make money primarily through ticket sales, sponsorships and media deals. But a substantial amount also comes from concessions, parking and merchandise. Most of these revenue generators revolve around an important variable: attendance. If fans aren’t in the stadium, how will the team maintain adequate ticket, concession, parking and merchandise sales? The answer is fairly simple; more often than not, they won’t. When the team can’t fill its financial deficit through fan engagement, they have to find somewhere they can. Likewise, if teams are having trouble finding a new stadium or making renovations, they have to look elsewhere. 

This year, the A’s reported an operating loss of $11 million. Just two years ago, they reported an operating income of $29 million. Why the sudden decrease? Though the A’s have struggled with attendance for years, the 2022 average attendance brought in about 3,000 more fans per game compared with this year. The total attendance this year is on track to be about half of what it was in 2022, explaining the sharp decline in revenue.

The ballpark itself also was a factor in the decrease. Like many teams that came before it, the A’s promised negotiations for a new stadium. The ideal stadium would be situated on the waterfront in Oakland. However, while the A’s were looking for a new stadium in Oakland, they decided to broaden their reach. They expanded their search all the way to Las Vegas, where they found a stadium with 33,000 seats which would more than serve their needs. To put it simply, the A’s aren’t working out in Oakland anymore, but Las Vegas offers them new life. 

If anybody has doubts about what relocation can do for a team’s financial stability, they can look at another former Oakland team – the Raiders. When the Raiders made their move to Vegas, their attendance issues and stadium concerns were remedied almost immediately. The state of Nevada gave the Raiders $750 million to fund a new stadium. Since moving to Vegas, the Raiders also experienced their highest-attended season in franchise history with an average of 62,190 fans per game. So yes, relocation brings heartbreak to cities and can feel like betrayal. But it also revitalizes a team in terms of finances and fan engagement, and it’s created some of the most successful teams we know and love today.