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The Deep Six: Why Los Angeles Has Gone 20 Years Without The NFL

los angeles proposed NFL stadium

In January, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke revealed plans to build an 80,000-seat stadium at the former Hollywood Park site in Inglewood. A few weeks back, The San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders reached an agreement in principle on a proposal to build a $1.7 billion dollar stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. But today, uber-sports and entertainment investment group AEG announced it is pulling out of its plans for a Field football stadium downtown. Not only did they pull the plug on the stadium, they broke off discussions with the city entirely and did so after they had pumped over $50million into this concept.

Those are just three of the most recent plans to build a football facility somewhere in the Greater Los Angeles area. The AEG plan is dead, Missouri governor Jay Nixon announced last month work is set to begin on the site of a proposed stadium aimed at keeping the Rams in St. Louis, and the Raiders just announced they are staying in Oakland for at least the 2015 season.

The prevailing belief is that as the second-largest city in football-crazy America, Los Angeles is a “no-brainer” to host one (if not more) NFL franchises. But the Southland has been without the NFL for two decades now and there’s six main reasons why that has happened.

1) The Stadium Itself

When the Rams and the Raiders left 20 years ago, one was playing in a adapted baseball stadium in Orange County and the other called a 60-year old venue built for the 1932 Olympics home.  That hasn’t changed, and the lack of a suitable facility is why no NFL team has been based in Los Angeles since Bill Clinton’s first term.  The next two points illustrate specifically why nobody has built a stadium.

2) The Location of the Stadium

Inglewood, Carson, City of Industry, Downtown, and adjacent to Dodger Stadium have all been floated as possible sites.  There’s hosts of reasons why no site ever gets selected as a final site, but suffice it to say those reasons usually fall into two main buckets: political and financial.

Everybody would love to have their locale as the home to the NFL, if for no other reason than it means a river of cash coming into that community.  That’s also the problem because nobody wants to pony up the money to build a stadium. You could say they want the money, but don’t want to pay it for it.

3) Who Pays For a Stadium, and Is the NFL Worth Risking Having a Terrorist Target In Your Backyard ?

Sports venues in this country are now built with varying levels of public money.  This is why the deal involving the Chargers and the Raiders would have the most legs, since according to the agreement, it would be privately financed by the two teams.  Both clubs have had trouble in their respective cities to build a new stadium, and they aren’t the only ones.  In St. Louis, Missouri governor Jay Nixon has stressed even though a stadium project is in the works, the future of the project is dependent on significant investments being made by the Rams and the NFL.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the Missouri government is looking for the Rams and the league to pay at least $400 million in construction costs for a project estimated to cost close to $1 billion.

“We’re going to need the NFL and the team to show us that they’re willing to make a substantial investment in making this work,” Nixon said, “and on terms that will benefit not only the citizens of this region, but all Missourians.”

In this same article, Nixon is quoted as saying the Rams are worth about $10 million per year in tax revenue to the state of Missouri. That number sounds low, but I’ll take it because it’s an admission of the value of an NFL franchise to the local government.

Even if you don’t want to believe the money figures, there’s something significant the the competition amongst stadium bidders got so extreme as to involve the threats of terrorism.  The people behind the AEG bid actually hired hired former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to author a report criticizing the proposed Inglewood stadium site because it’s location along the flight path into and out of  at Los Angeles International Airport made it a potential terrorist target. They doubled-down on that bet by hiring a former head of the National Transportation Safety Board to go all “Chicken Little” with the idea the site had too much potential for accidents on take-offs and landings and debris falling from airplanes.

Better yet, even though AEG has pulled the plug on a stadium plan, it still is subtly black-mailing the city of Carson by saying a stadium there could affect AEG’s assets in the city, including StubHub Center, a sports complex owned by AEG.

4) Los Angeles Used as a “Shot Fake”

After reading point #3, it’s obvious there’s some big-money and government types believe there’s value in having an NFL franchise in your city. That’s why teams who want a new stadium have used cities without teams as a “hammer” in negotiations. In the recent past, and even in the present, cities like Minneapolis, Buffalo, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and the ones we’ve already mentioned like St. Louis, Oakland, and San Diego have all had met with the threat of a team leaving if a new facility wasn’t built for them with the public dime.  Los Angeles is the most obvious and most popular destination for such a threat.

When you look at the number of stadiums built in the last 20 years, it becomes pretty clear that not having a team in Los Angeles has worked out quite well for some owners who got facilities paid partially or in whole paid by public money. In other words, there’s a bunch of NFL owners who still want to be able to use Los Angeles as a threat, or…(see the next point)

5) Which Teams Will Be There?

…they want to be able to be the guy who gets a new stadium in a new city.  Think about it. Zygi Wilf just got a new building for the Vikings in Minnesota, and Terry Pegual put over a billion dollars to keep the Bills in Buffalo.  But for owners like the Saints’ Tom Benson, the Jaguars, Shahid Khan, and the aforementioned Stan Kroenke in St. Louis, the only team they want to see in Los Angeles is theirs.

Hurricane Katrina shortened the life expectancy of the Superdome, and the “Blackout” Super Bowl a few years back didn’t help matters. The state of Louisiana offered to kick the Saints a few bucks to stay in New Orleans post-Katrina, but those payments stop next year and there is no political current in Louisiana flowing toward paying for a new stadium.

The NFL has a been a complete belly-flop in Jacksonville, and Khan doesn’t make many secrets about wanting to up the value of his franchise, and he doesn’t seem to care much if that involves Jacksonville or not.

In St. Louis, Kroenke’s threats to leave seem to be taken seriously, but who knows what he will do if the location of the Rams comes down to a bidding war between a glamorous, but broke city in the sun or just another Midwestern dump the NFL has abandoned before.

Then comes the matter of the owners who really run this league. They are the ones who really don’t want a team to move to Los Angeles because that doesn’t really help them. Guys like Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft would rather have expansion in Los Angeles, because then they get a cut of the expansion fee. Nobody knows exactly how much that would be, but the NFL owners split a billion dollars from Texans owner Bob McNair ten years ago.

6) The Success of the NFL Without Los Angeles

Am I the only person who has noticed the NFL has grown exponentially in terms in terms of revenue in the last 20 years?  Everything, and I mean everything about the NFL has grown over the past two decades, and all of that has happened with no NFL presence in Los Angeles.  And yet, aside from all the things I’ve already mentioned, there’s this fascination that the NFL is somehow depriving itself by not having a franchise in the Southland.

Of all the teams we’ve listed here, it’s the Chargers who have the most skin in this game. The Chargers have been pushing to keep the team in San Diego, but after attempts to build a new stadium, the team is now willing to relocate. The Chargers have stated that the Los Angeles market is important to them because 25% percent of the team’s ticket sales come from that area.  They don’t want to risk losing those sales to another team.

That matters because Los Angeles matters more to certain franchises than to others, and because Los Angeles really doesn’t matter at all to the NFL. Like I said, this makes a difference to the Chargers because they already have a fan base in Los Angeles. But for the league as a whole, Los Angeles doesn’t matter than much for a couple of reasons.

The first is something I’ve already said; the NFL has been floating on money despite not have a presence in the second largest city in this country.  But besides that, the NFL’s revenue stream now relies more on television than it does on ticket sales, which means the NFL actually needs the smaller market with wildly popular teams more than it need teams in major markets.  Doubt that? Imagine what would happen tomorrow if the Packer announced they were buying their way out of the current community-based ownership scheme and were moving to Los Angeles. Overnight, they would go from one of the most popular teams in the league to one of the most hated overnight. It also means all those sales of Green Bay Packer merchandise go up in smoke. The sole reason the Packers are one of the league’s most popular team has everything to do with the fact they are the holdover from the NFL’s Jurassic era; the minute they destroy that link, they are just another team.

Go back to the television thing for a minute.  Despite all the FCC’s puffery about the NFL’s blackout rules being “obsolete,” they aren’t going to change anytime soon.  While the FCC lifted all it’s blackout rules last year, this was a totally symbolic move; the NFL can still enforce its blackout policies on a contractual basis with television networks, stations, and service providers, because of the leverage the league has over its media partners.

That matters because if you lived in the Southland in the late 80’s and early 90’s, you would have seen more from an NFL team on the dark side of the moon than in your own city because both the Rams and Raiders were blacked out more  in Los Angeles than Lindsay Lohan and Robert Downey, Jr. combined.  That may not change with a new franchise if it isn’t a winner right away, because Los Angeles is the definition of a “fair weather” sports town. Just ask the Lakers about that now. In other words, it is actually possible that a bad franchise in Los Angeles hurts the NFL overall.

Conclusion:

Before you buy the hype about the NFL in Los Angeles, ask yourself why we’ve listening to the same song perpetually on repeat for that last two decades.  For there to be a team in Los Angeles, there has to be a stadium.  Even if somebody is willing to put up the money for a stadium, the politicians kill it over in-fighting over a location. On top of that, there’s a large number of NFL owners who would rather expand than to let and existing franchise move.  Those are complex problems with complex solutions, and it isn’t likely those solutions are coming anytime soon.

About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

2 comments on “The Deep Six: Why Los Angeles Has Gone 20 Years Without The NFL

  1. Ravenation
    March 10, 2015

    Reblogged this on First Order Historians and commented:
    The NFL in Los Angeles? Not so fast…

    Like

  2. First of all, fuck L.A.

    They have two basketball teams and essentially two hockey and baseball teams.

    If they don’t appreciate the NFL, and they’ve proven over time that they don’t, then they don’t deserve to have a team.

    Besides, at this rate, the NFL won’t exist in another twenty-five years so I consider dumping hundreds of millions on a stadium a lousy investment.

    They’re better off without one.

    Like

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This entry was posted on March 10, 2015 by in NFL, Sports and tagged , , , , .

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