Buckley: Public interest in privately owned sports teams

March 31, 2017 GMT

The Buffalo Celtics?

The Connecticut Bruins?

The London Patriots?

The Las Vegas Red Sox?

You laugh. You laugh because that could never happen. Not here. Not in Boston. Not in a sports-crazy town where our big league franchises are looked upon as “public trusts,” regardless of whose name is listed as owner.

Surely it won’t happen today, or tomorrow, or next year. You can bet that Robert Kraft, who often has said his childhood was dented when the old Boston Braves were spirited away to Milwaukee in the spring of ’53, would never, ever be the author of a plan to move your beloved Patriots. Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner continue to lovingly tinker with ancient Fenway Park in such a fashion as to suggest they plan on being around for a while. Celtics owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca still display frat boy emotions when they root for their team. As for the oft-criticized Jeremy Jacobs: He put up his own dough to build TD Garden and has owned the Bruins since 1975, the second-longest tenure in the National Hockey League.


But do we know who’ll be owning the Red Sox in 20 years?

Can we assume the Patriots will forever remain a Kraft family heirloom, lovingly passed from one generation to the next?

Who makes the decisions for the Celtics after Grousbeck and Pagliuca are gone?

And back to Jeremy Jacobs: He’s 77 years old. Is son Charlie the next owner of the Bruins? If so, what are his plans for 15 or 20 years from now?

The rocky nature of sports team ownership was thrust into the news again this week when the National Football League announced that the Raiders will relocate from Oakland, Calif., to Las Vegas once their glitzy new stadium is built. The Raiders thus become the third NFL franchise to pick up stakes in the past year, joining the Rams (St. Louis to Los Angeles) and Chargers (San Diego to Los Angeles).

As always, these teams stopped being “public trusts” the moment the public didn’t pony up money for a new stadium. You can show your support with a vanity license plate or by painting your garage in official team colors, but woe onto you if you’re not willing to help pay for a new stadium.

That tricked-out man cave in your basement? It can quickly turn into a museum dedicated to the memory of your team, if you don’t hand over the dough when the team’s owner says he needs a new crib for free in order to “remain competitive.”

Fans in St. Louis cheered for their team when the Greatest Show on Turf posted those great seasons in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. Fans in San Diego were forever loyal to their beloved Bolts, and helped turn “San Diego Super Chargers” into one of the goofiest (and, thus, best) fight songs in sports. And just close your eyes and conjure up images of what fans in the East Bay were willing to do to their bodies to show their love for the Raiders.


Again: You can say it will never happen here. But do you think fans of the Baltimore Colts ever thought they’d lose their team? I believe the film classic “Diner” does a splendid job illustrating what it was like to be a diehard Colts fan in the 1950s; alas, two years after the film’s 1982 release, then-Colts owner Robert Irsay backed up the moving vans under the cover of darkness and sneaked the club off to Indianapolis.

In 1995, it was fans of the original Cleveland Browns who were jobbed when owner Art Modell moved the team — to Baltimore, where it was renamed the Ravens. A makeup call by the NFL resulted in a new version of the Cleveland Browns taking the field in 1999 — in a spiffy new taxpayer-financed stadium.

It was said that, in the end, “everyone won.” No. In the end, everyone paid.

But not here. As crazy as we are about sports around here, we’re not so crazy as to hand over free stadiums and arenas. That’s why the Kraft family built Gillette Stadium. That’s why Jacobs built the Garden. That’s why Henry and Werner have been patching up Fenway Park.

By the time the next owners of the Red Sox come along, Fenway Park may well be beyond Band-Aids and perfume. What then? If the future owners don’t get a new ballpark from future taxpayers . . . well, again, that could never happen here.

I’m sure there’s some old crank walking the streets of Baltimore in his tattered Johnny Unitas shirt who used to feel that way.