Though nothing's official, signs point to the Chargers joining the Rams in Los Angeles when the NFL's next season kicks off. Can you move two teams in L.A. in Madden NFL 16? Yes, and it'll likely be the last version of the game where you can do it, too.
Franchise relocation is nothing new to sports video games, nor is it exclusive to Madden. NBA 2K16 introduced it to its career suite this year, and in a more fully featured way, too. Still, given the editorializing and political hostility — much of deserved — that attend to any franchise move or public stadium construction, I always find it remarkable when it is included.
All leagues are image-conscious, the NFL and NBA especially so. Franchise relocation isn't in MLB 15 The Show or NHL 16 (where purists and nostalgists have longed to move teams back to Hartford and Quebec City). It could have to do with a licensor not approving of the mode rather than developers not having or making the time to include it.
And in Madden NFL 16, there is the potential for some wild, Breaking Madden-esque manipulations that can make a comedy of the league.
You can take the Green Bay Packers, for example, and make them the second team in Chicago. They'll still play in their own stadium, not Soldier Field, but "Chicago Packers" should be enough to curdle any Cheesehead's blood. You can then move the Bears to Mexico City and rename them the Diablos and erase all trace of one of the NFL's founding franchises.
Franchise relocation in a video game can make a comedy of an image conscious league
Because the divisions don't realign after relocations, you could move the Bills and the Jets and create an AFC East comprising Los Angeles, London, Boston and Miami and rake in the frequent flyer miles. With relocation options in Sacramento, L.A., Austin, Houston and San Antonio, you could give two states five franchises each.
You could move the Lions to Columbus and make Ohio an even sadder graveyard for professional football than it already is. You could move the Tennessee Titans to Memphis and not even change their name. You could move the Seattle Seahawks to Oklahoma City, and Lord how that makes me laugh. You could, obscenely, take the Washington franchise, move them Oklahoma — a state with the second largest Native American population in the nation — and leave them named the Redskins.
There are some limitations on what you can do, even if a commissioner allows all players (even CPU-controlled franchises) to move, regardless of the condition of their stadium. Once a team builds a new stadium or renovates an existing one, they can't leave it until it falls below a certain rating, which has to do with the age of the facility (or its current configuration, if recently renovated) the amenities it offers and other factors.
In Madden's relocation options, you can see how screwed the Raiders are in real life
Curiously, when you begin a franchise career as the owner of the Vikings, you're locked in to the move to U.S. Bank Stadium for year two as if you negotiated and built the thing yourself. That means you can't leave it untill it falls below a rating of 20, which appears to take 20 seasons in Madden NFL 16. Simulating 10 years into the future takes forever; Minnesota fans will like to know that their team is rooted to its home city for as long as any real player remains active.
This is part of what makes Madden, and other sports video games, almost archival publications, as my friend and fellow Press Row Podcast panelist Kat Bailey likes to point out. Madden NFL 16 is now the only place where the Vikings can play their home games in the University of Minnesota's football stadium, a quirk of history that resulted in the third-coldest game in NFL history (however agonizing it was) after the franchise spent three decades in a domed stadium.
It also makes Madden into a useful demonstration of just how screwed the Raiders are in real life. They play in the poorest-rated stadium in the game, with good reason. It dates to 1966 and is the smallest facility in the league. Oakland has no business spending public money to build a new one, considering the other priorities and political will (or lack thereof) in that city. Looking at the list of move cities in Madden NFL 16, one sees few options that make sense in real life.
International moves seem premature, especially on a one year basis, so that tosses London, Toronto, Mexico City and Dublin (I've never heard relocation talk about that city in real life). Stadium cost figures to take places like Brooklyn and two-city options like Chicago and Houston off the table. Cities such as Columbus, Portland, Austin, San Antonio and Orlando present territorial conflicts or a lack of support from other owners. That leaves, in Madden anyway, Salt Lake, Sacramento, and Oklahoma City, which are tiny markets. There's no way the NFL lets anyone move to Las Vegas in real life and it is, conspicuously, not an option in the video game either.
Once you leave a city in Madden, you can't go back
Oakland is said, in real life, to be strongly eyeballing a move to San Diego — and 48-year-old Jack Murphy Stadium — if the Chargers leave, which is a hilariously cruel development for fans of a bitter rival franchise. Yet that option is impossible in the video game. Once a team leaves a market, its slot does not reopen for another franchise. For league managers, that means only 19 franchises can move even with all restrictions removed. Additional franchises that start the move process will be prevented from doing so after all the options are exhausted.
It remains to be seen how any of this changes in Madden NFL 17. Los Angeles, the Rams and the Chargers, once they make it official, probably lock up that city and those two franchises for good. But with the customization options presented by NBA 2K16 in its relocation mode, and the lack of attention paid to the ownership options in Madden's franchise mode, one figures EA Sports will have to do something.
If permitted by the league, of course. When relocation was introduced in Madden NFL 25, it had been nearly 20 years since the last franchise relocation, and all the ugliness that entailed. The Rams' dishonest treatment of the city of St. Louis in bolting town, and the ill will in San Diego and sadness in Oakland, are blots on a league image that weren't present three years ago. If relocation options in Madden NFL change drastically for the coming year, EA Sports will be the ones holding the bag, but you can bet it was a league decision, not a developer's.
Roster File is Polygon's news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.