NFL Franchise Movement in California- a Fascinating History

CH. 1- Recent NFL Relocations in California

With the recent announcement that the San Diego Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, along with the Oakland Raiders filing a proposal to relocate to Las Vegas it has the sports world talking about the strange and fascinating history of the NFL in California over the past 40 years.  Despite a ton of analysis, mainstream discussion has missed some of the most interesting talking points as it relates to the NFL in the State of California.

Over this two part article I will summarize the franchise movements and relocations involving California based-teams since 1980.  


2017- Raiders file for relocation to Las Vegas

Within the past few days Mark Davis and the Oakland Raiders have filed for the NFL’s approval to plan their relocation to Las Vegas, Nevada.  This move would see one of the NFL’s most celebrated and historically successful franchises leave the East Bay. 

This move, unlike the Chargers, has a long way to go.  Even if approved the Raiders would likely not leave Oakland until 2020.  A lot can happen in 3 years, and my hope is that the Raiders stay where they belong.


2017- Chargers relocate to Los Angeles

The San Diego Chargers recently announced that the franchise was relocating to L.A.  This news was met by a firestorm from fans and football people alike.  In good traffic, the Chargers’ temporary home is roughly a 2-hour-drive from San Diego.  

After 56 seasons in San Diego, Chargers fans are rightfully livid with Dean Spanos.  In my opinion it would be wrong to blame the fans in San Diego. They voted down a proposal that would use tax-payer money to fund a stadium for a billionaire- the same billionaire who is willing to pay the NFL $500-600 million dollars in relocation fees. That much money is almost enough on its own to build a new stadium in San Diego.

The Chargers plan in Los Angeles is a head scratcher- at best.  They are planning to play their first 2 seasons in Carson, which is roughly a 20-25 minute-drive from downtown L.A., and not a particularly appealing area to go see a game. They will be a secondary tenant to the MLS LA Galaxy during these 2 seasons.  The Stubhub Center has a capacity of roughly 28,000, which is tiny by NFL standards.

In year 3 the Chargers would then join the Rams in Stan Kroenke’s new palace for his team. They would be a secondary tenant in this arrangement as well.

It’s my prediction that the Chargers will be back in San Diego in 2017, 2018, or 2019 at the latest.  Yes that’s correct- I do not believe it’s a lock that the Chargers play the 2017 season in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles in fact, has never supported 2 NFL teams.  The mainstream discussion always comes back to “the Rams and Raiders were there for 13 seasons simultaneously”- but this is not accurate.  For the entirety of the Raiders time in Los Angeles, the Rams were playing in Anaheim.   

In good traffic, the Rams’ stadium in Anaheim was a 45-minute-drive from downtown Los Angeles.  During their years in Anaheim it would seem that they were largely supported by Orange County.  Anaheim and the larger area of Orange County have distinguished itself as a separate Sport Market from Los Angeles County.

The City of Los Angeles supporting 2 NFL teams would, in fact, be a first.


2016- St. Louis Rams return to L.A.

After 21 seasons in St. Louis, the Rams franchise returns to Los Angeles to play in the same stadium they left back in 1980.

Although the story has been “the Rams return to L.A. after 21 years”, in fact, they hadn’t been in Los Angeles since the 1979 season.  From 1980-1994 they played in Anaheim Stadium. (Now Angel Stadium; home of the MLB team.)


2014- San Francisco 49ers move to San Jose 

After spending the entire 68 year history of the franchise in San Francisco, the 49ers carried out the sneakiest relocation in sports history.  In good traffic, the team’s new home at Levi’s Stadium is a 50-minute-drive from their former home at Candlestick Park/ downtown San Francisco.

Levi’s Stadium is technically in Santa Clara, which is all you will ever hear about the 49ers new location. The 49ers and the NFL have done a marvelous job of hiding the fact that one of its premier franchises essentially relocated.

Most NFL fans seem to think that Santa Clara is a small town outside of San Francisco.  However, Santa Clara is a suburb of the San Jose metropolitan area. Santa Clara itself has a population of roughly 120,000 residents.  It seems that there has been an enormous effort to prevent an accurate geographical picture of the 49ers’ new location.

Since the 1980s, San Jose has been one of the fastest growing cities in North America, and over the past 25 years has distinguished itself as a separate Sport Market.  San Jose’s metropolitan area is referred to by 2 popular names- ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘the South Bay’.  Levi’s Stadium is a 10-12 minute drive from the heart of downtown San Jose as well as the SAP Center (home of the NHL’s Sharks).

With the 49ers now playing on the border of San Jose, they have created a peculiar situation that is extremely rare- possibly one of a kind. They play in a city that is larger than the one they represent- San Jose, where they are now located, is bigger than San Francisco, which is a 45-minute-drive to the north.

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