This week Rugby Union lost another of its great Premiership sides as Wasps went into administration after racking up £35million in debt since moving to Coventry. This is something we rarely see in the UK and much more common in the US, but can relocating a sports team actually work? We look at some previous examples to find the answer.
London Wasps to Coventry
In the summer of 2014 Wasps dropped the London part of their name amid move rumors and by December this had materialized when the club bought half of the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
It was a stadium that had never belonged to the local football club, and Wasps took full advantage of it to secure one of the finest venues in the country for around £20million. The local council seemed desperate to bring them to town from a revenue standpoint, even at the expense of the Sky Blues.
Their local London roots and much of their fanbase have been left behind as they have now battled with Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints for supremacy in the Midlands. What materialized over the ensuing years was nothing short of disastrous, culminating in the administration and 167 people, including players and staff, losing their jobs.
Was it successful?
Absolutely not. At first, crowds of over 20,000 were seen and the move was hailed as a success by those who made it possible. However, it was built on sand. These numbers were created by freebies and huge losses were happening even before the pandemic.
Over the past year, tiny crowds of around 3,000 to 5,000 people have shown the true extent of the problem. The people of Coventry didn’t accept this new franchise as their own, and the loyal London hardcore just didn’t want to travel every week. It is nothing less than a disaster.
With a proud local rugby team already, Wasps’ move has ruffled a lot of feathers in Coventry
Wimbledon to Milton Keynes
The most controversial move English football has ever seen. In 2003, Wimbledon from south London moved to the relatively new town of Milton Keynes after nearly a decade of sharing grounds with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Financial problems blighted the club and in 1997 owner Sam Hammam sold Plow Lane to turn it into a supermarket. That same year, Peter Winkelman announced plans for a new development in Milton Keynes, complete with a new state-of-the-art football stadium.
A move to another stadium in south London did not materialize and towns such as Dublin were touted as possible new homes for the Dons. Eventually the deal with Milton Keynes was done and they moved into the 30,000 capacity Stadium:MK. They played there for one season under the Wimbledon name, before changing their name to MK Dons, which has remained since.
Was it successful?
50/50. Two decades later, it’s certainly not the disaster London Wasps have experienced, but it’s mostly down to the hard work and dedication of Wimbledon fans. They created their own phoenix club, rose through the ranks and returned to the Football League, where they faced MK Dons on several occasions.
Importantly, in 2007 MK Dons relinquished all Wimbledon history, trophies and legacy. They are now a completely separate club from the one that formed in the capital all those years ago. For local fans who now attend their matches, they now have a Milton Keynes side to support, while AFC Wimbledon have rebuilt Plow Lane which is a major success.
It was a horrible thing to happen to Wimbledon fans, but their return to the top means more because of this tribulation. Meanwhile, MK Dons haven’t become the Premier League side many thought, but they are now an established EFL side in their own right.
Oakland Raiders in Las Vegas
The Oakland Raiders spent 12 years in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s, such is the nature of American sport, but in 1995 they returned. Offshoring is so much more common in the United States, there is often no threat of relegation and support seems to be much less entrenched. It couldn’t be further from what we see in Britain, especially when it comes to our football clubs.
Clubs like Wimbledon mean everything to their local community. In many cases they ARE the local community. America doesn’t feel that way, so when the Raiders moved to Las Vegas, they became the third NFL franchise in the 2010s to announce a move. You don’t get ‘franchises’ in the UK, you get local clubs that just can’t be moved. Perhaps that’s why we saw such a disconnect between fans and American owners when the idea of a European Super League was proposed.
For the Raiders, several years of roaming saw them touted in several cities across the United States, including Texas and Los Angeles. Eventually, in 2017 the move was completed and in 2020 the $1.9 billion Allegiant Stadium opened.
Was it successful?
Yes. Even when the move was announced, only a thousand subscribers requested a refund. Almost immediately, their tickets were sold out to other fans, and all 53,250 Raiders season tickets were sold out by the end of May. A new NFL team in Vegas was always going to work, and while there were no successes on the field, there were plenty.
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St. Louis Rams in Los Angeles
After initially leaving Los Angeles for St Louis in 1995 due to a dwindling fanbase and stadium issues, the Rams found success in their new home of Missouri, winning the 1999 Super Bowl just a few years later. have moved. Similar issues were happening in St Louis in the 2010s with fans calling it the NFL’s worst stadium and in 2015 owner Stan Kroenke ended the Missouri-based franchise and returned to Los Angeles.
Was it successful?
100%. The Rams didn’t have a permanent home until 2020, playing at the LA Memorial Coliseum for five years until SoFi Stadium opened, becoming the most expensive stadium ever built, costing $5 billion. A year later, the Rams won the 2021 Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals, and Kroenke continued to suck up local ownership to develop the team’s facilities for the Rams and turn the stadium surroundings into friendly areas. . On almost every front, it was a major success, and the Rams remain playoff contenders this season as well.
From this sample, it seems that relocation is simply something that can only work in America. When a new town needs a sports team you have to start from scratch in the UK and the franchise model just doesn’t work with British emotions and links to local clubs. Wasps should never have left London, but if there was no other option, in hindsight a move to Milton Keynes would have been much more palatable and successful.