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Cities that could host California’s NFL teams amid pandemic

Raiders Vegas Stadium

The NFL officially released its 2020 schedule earlier in May with the expectation that the season will start on time in mid-September.

There are obviously some hurdles to this. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, California has been among the most conservative when it comes to reopening the economy.

In fact, Los Angeles County announced earlier in the week that it is extending stay-at-home orders through the end of July. Northern California counties were also among the first to issue said orders back in March.

What this means: If NFL games are played in California this upcoming season, it will be without fans in attendance. Governor Gavin Newsom has made that clear on several occasions.

  • If fans are not allowed in attendance at the new Southern California home of the Rams and Chargers, it would impact the NFL’s bottom line in a big way.
  • As the defending NFC champions, the San Francisco 49ers remain one of the hottest tickets in the league. The impact for the Northern California-based team and the broader NFL would be huge from an revenue standpoint.

Teams could play at neutral sites outside of the state. This is no small thing. It is possible the NFL could change its flexible schedule in order to allow the 49ers, Chargers and Rams to play outside of the state of California.

Here’s how it might work.

San Francisco 49ers: Despite their issues in Northern California, I can easily envision a scenario where the Raiders let San Francisco play in their new Las Vegas stadium with some type of revenue share.

  • The 49ers are the most-popular team in the desert metropolis. They already have a built-in fan base in Las Vegas. That’s no small thing.
  • As we saw with games in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. over the past two seasons, 49ers fans travel well. Add in the thirst for football in Vegas, and they would be a hot ticket.
  • While California has been conservative in opening its economy, Nevada is currently in phase one. That includes restaurants, some bars, nail salons, retail outlets and barbershops. There are less than 470 active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

Los Angeles Rams: Proximity would seem to suggest that the Rams playing in Phoenix could make sense. It’s less of a logistical concern than Vegas.

  • In reality, the Rams could play at Sun Devil Stadium. It would not impact the Arizona Cardinals in any way. Hence, the NFL would not have to change its schedule.
  • The drive from Los Angeles to Phoenix is less than six hours. That’s closer than Southern California to the Bay Area and about double the time it takes to get from Los Angeles to Vegas.
  • As with Vegas, the Phoenix area has a transient population. There’s already a built-in Southern California fan base.
  • Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has already opened the state’s economy and will allow for professional sports without fans starting this weekend.

Los Angeles Chargers: Much like Las Vegas, Utah has not necessarily been impacted big time by the ongoing pandemic.

  • The Beehive State has recorded only 73 COVID-19 related deaths since the pandemic started. That’s among the lowest in the United States.
  • Rice–Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City holds nearly 50,000 fans. It’s the current home venue for the Utah Utes. That’s more than enough for the Chargers to acquire much-needed revenue.
  • As it relates to college football, there’s no telling whether the 2020 season will be played this fall. At the very least, the Pac-12 is more questionable than other major conferences. Football fans in Utah need their fix, increasing interest in the Chargers.

The hiccups: Obviously, the schedule would be a determining factor for the NFL. It would have to change the logistics to an extent.

  • The only issue here would be San Francisco playing games at the Raiders’ home venue in Las Vegas. It would seem to be a logistical nightmare.
  • But that’s just on the surface. The 49ers and Raiders are set to play at home on the same day just twice this coming season.
  • One of those days includes Las Vegas playing at night with the 49ers having an afternoon game. The NFL could move up said game by an hour or so and still be able to have the Raiders host the prime-time matchup.

Bottom line

If given the choice between playing home games in empty stadiums or going out of state, it stands to reason that the three California-based teams would choose the latter. The NFL’s bottom line also leads me to believe the league would back this plan.

Sure there are logistical concerns. The idea of not opening up the brand-new Los Angeles venue until the 2021 season would be a bitter pill for both the Chargers and Rams to swallow. But the alternative of playing in an empty venue just doesn’t make sense.

A lot of this will be dependent on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it goes over the next few months. State policies will also play a role. However, the plan outlined above seems to make the most sense right now.

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