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Small Market Roundtable

Several of the SB Nation blogs that represent teams in the NFL's small markets, a definition that is a subject for another debate and has been debated in emails between some of my fellow bloggers, have agreed to host a roundtable discussion of some of the issues that small market teams face.

First up was Jacksonville's blogger River City Rage to discuss relocation. The following is the comment I posted on his site.

I found it interesting that attendance was rarely mentioned in the comments. I had no idea that Jacksonville had to cover 9,700 seats per game. What makes or breaks a team and the key to avoiding relocation is to keep that stadium sold out. It brings in ticket sale revenue and local business ad revenue. That season ticket money received in the dark revenue days of winter and spring is what keeps teams in business and in town. This is not an extensive list, but it's rare that a city has well attended games and manages to lose their team, like in Cleveland with the Browns, Charlotte in the NBA, or when Milwaukee lost the Braves in the 1960s. In all those cases, the city managed to replace the team in short order because of the strong fan base.

Winning is obviously the best way to keep up attendance, but every team has to be careful not to alienate their fans in other ways too so that when the team rebounds off losing seasons the fans are quick to respond. The best example is from the NBA in Portland. It probably isn't widely remembered now, but in the 1980s and 1990s, Portland was a model franchise. It had deep ties in the community and tickets were hard to come by. Then Paul Allen bought the team in the early 90s and began destroying it. The Jail Blazers might come to mind, but one of the first things Allen did was to fire the Blazers' long time play-by-play announcer and hire Bob Whitsitt to run the team from Seattle. Only very recently has Allen began to change his ways by admitting that declaring bankruptcy (one of the richest men in the world had his corporation that owned the Rose Quarter file bankruptcy, a great PR move) a couple of years ago was a mistake and has recently bought back the stadium from his creditors and fired GM Steve Patterson who was responsible for the stadium fiasco and all the bad media relations it created. Now despite strong population growth in Portland over the last 15 years, people struggle to give their Blazer tickets away - although this will probably change during Greg Oden's rookie season. The team has lost a lot of season ticket holders and a lot of local ad revenue that it might not have ever replaced if Greg Oden hadn't fallen into their lap. My point is that the small market teams have to make sure that the steward of your team is a good one.

My last point is about the salary cap, and I think you might be missing the biggest point about it. It isn't that the salary cap is $xxx million next season, but that it drives up signing bonuses. Small market teams don't have the reserves at the end of the season or the offseason season ticket revenues to keep up with the huge signing bonuses dished out in Washington and New England. Regular salaries are paid during the regular season when ticket sales, merchandise sales, and TV revenues are pouring in. It has to be a problem for small market teams when guys like Napoleon Harris and Deon Grant start receiving $7 million signing bonuses. Harris might have signed in small market K.C. but K.C. probably has strong season ticket sales in the winter to afford those types of dumb signings. I wouldn't be surprised to see something in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiation designed to keep signing and roster bonuses down while allowing the salary cap itself to continue to grow.