As a casual follower of the NFL, I’ve long known the story of the Baltimore Colts, who secretly packed up in the middle of the night and moved to Indianapolis without warning. This was usually portrayed as the ultimate insult to the fans. What I didn’t know was the fascinating story behind their move.
It turns out that the Colts franchise was at an impasse in its negotiations with the city of Baltimore, and what the city could not retain by negotiation, it sought to retain by theft. The Maryland legislature was on the verge of passing a bill that would give Baltimore the power to condemn the franchise and give it to someone else, someone that would keep it in Baltimore. This bizarre abuse was made possible by court rulings that had allowed the city of Oakland to do the same with the Raiders.
The night before the legislature was due to pass the bill, the Colts packed up and moved out of state. Once they had escaped from Maryland, the city couldn’t touch them.
So this isn’t the story of a team paying the ultimate insult to its fans. Who knows? If Baltimore hadn’t played dirty and forced the Colts’ hand, maybe they could have come to an agreement. This is the story of a property owner heroically standing up against a government determined to rob it.
It’s also a story that illustrates the foolishness of trying to condemn mobile assets. Amazingly, Maryland learned nothing from the Colts fiasco and is at it again. It seems that the Preakness Stakes is considering moving out of state, and Maryland is once again thinking of condemning it to keep it in the state. It would be particularly foolish this time. First, because they’ve already seen what can happen. Second, because the Preakness Stakes is mostly intellectual property that can be moved even more easily than the Colts. And third, because the owners are currently leaning against moving it. It would be the height of folly for the state to give them an incentive to move overnight when they are currently planning to stay. But, no one ever accused the Maryland legislature of wisdom.