- The Toronto Raptors are considering a temporary relocation to the US in the event that COVID-19 restrictions make cross border travel problematic.
- Several scenarios are under consideration that would see the Raptors playing home games in one of several US cities.
- Due in large part to geographic location, Newark looks to be the front runner.
One of the biggest headaches during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the difficulty of international travel. This is true not only for the average citizen but for professional sports teams as well. It was one of the major reasons that the NHL decided to hold their playoffs exclusively in Canada. It also forced the Toronto Blue Jays to play their home games in Buffalo during the Major League Baseball season.
With few signs that the pandemic is abating the NBA is working on plans for their next regular season which is expected to start later this year or in early 2021. Since cross border travel to and from Canada is still heavily restricted that has become a major issue for the league’s only non-US team, the Toronto Raptors. It appears that the Raptors may be forced to play home games in the US for all or part of the 2020-2021 season.
There are several options under consideration. Nashville has the Bridgestone Arena, home to the Nashville Predators of the NHL, and Tampa Bay has the Amalie Arena, home of the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Kansas City has done some lobbying to get the team to call their town home temporarily. There’s also been speculation about the Raptors following the Blue Jays and playing in Buffalo.
At this point, however, it looks as if the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey is the front runner. The building is the home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils but has no NBA team. It served as a temporary home for the former New Jersey Nets before they relocated to Brooklyn in 2012. The building is owned by Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment–owner of the Philadelphia 76ers–and observers speculate that this connection with the NBA further gives it an edge.
The crux of Newark’s appeal is geographic. It would put the Raptors in very close proximity of most of Toronto’s Atlantic Division rivals. The Prudential Center is approximately 15 miles from the Barclays Center (Brooklyn Nets) and Madison Square Garden (New York Knicks). Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia 76ers) is an hour and a half away. The TD Garden (Boston Celtics) is just over two hours north and the Capital One Arena (Washington Wizards) just two hours to the south.
While Newark is a ‘tough sell’ for a NBA city and New Jersey is having their own COVID-19 issues there are some decent options for player and staff living arrangements nearby. The North Jersey suburbs are a highly desirable residential area and there are plenty of luxury condos in the newly gentrified cities of Hoboken and Jersey City. Players could also live in New York City and commute to games.
The losers in all of this are Toronto’s fans who will watch another one of their teams forced to play games in the ‘lower 48’. There’s little or no chance that the team will relocate to Newark permanently and given the circumstances it could be the best of a number of bad options.