As I’m sure you even if you aren’t that interested in US Sports, over there clubs are franchises that can be moved from city to city.
When it happens it is of course big news and leaves plenty of broken hearts and ill-feeling which still lasts decades. There is a reason why a pro wrestler can make a dig at the Seattle Supersonics and then not get a word in for the next ten minutes. But it’s also fairly normal and other than the fans directly involved, people tend to shrug their shoulders.
That is not the case over here. Clubs are seen as much more integral parts of the community and when teams have moved, it seen as the greatest insult to the sport. It is 15 years since MK Dons came to being from the corpse of Wimbledon and they are still hated by the majority of the fanbase. Since that happened, the FA brought in rules where you can’t simply up sticks and head to a fancy new market.
But even though you can’t move your team to another city forever, it seems you can threaten it in order to get the local council to do what you want.
Barnsley have hit the headlines after the Daily Mail reported that they have been in talks to move grounds over a dispute over buying Oakwell. The report claims that they want to do improvements to the ground but won’t if they don’t own the stadium. Oakwell is currently 50% owned by Barnsley Council and the other share is owned by the Cryne family who used to run the club.
This is a classic case of brinkmanship and daring local politicians to go against the football club. There are local elections in Barnsley next year and if the Council were to be seen as the reason the local football went to play in Lancashire, they would get a battering from the voters. Fans will most likely stand with their club rather than politicians and now that this is public, the local council will be afraid of the consequences of not selling up.
Of course for the US Sports fans used to franchising, this is a familiar sight. Because this happens all the time in America where the threat of a team moving is a real one. So what will happen is that a team with outdated facilities will say they are about to pack up and head for pastures new unless the local government pays for a fancy new stadium. The government almost always caves and so a country which leaves you with debt if you get hospitalised pays billions to fund a new stadium for a side worth more than the moon.
Barnsley’s ownership contains Americans who will be well versed in these tactics and I have no doubt that they are trying to same thing so many US Sports sides have done to get the local government to do exactly what they want. But they’ll find things much tougher here than in the US.
If they want to move outside of Barnsley, the club will need the permission of the EFL. They have granted permission for moves before with Coventry City currently playing in Birmingham due to their own stadium disputes. But with the Sky Blues there was very few options other than playing outside of the city limits. For Barnsley, this is a threat to try and get the Council to do what they want. A strong EFL board should reject the approach as there is no sudden demands of rent or things of that nature. It’s a brinkmanship move.
If the EFL board do sanction the move and Barnsley Council buckle under the pressure, it would have huge consequences on football across the country. Every team in the EFL would know that if the EFL and a Council that is unlikely to change hands politically will relent to them that they’ll be able to play them like a fiddle. That means much like in the US, you would see teams threatening to move unless they get millions from the local council to either revamp or even rebuild their stadiums.
And as much as I love football, I don’t think that clubs should be able to threaten local authorities to get whatever they want from them. So now it’s time for the EFL to show some backbone, tell Barnsley they are staying at Oakwell unless they can build a new stadium in the town and show they can actually run this league.