Tim Dahlberg / Associated Press, Published February 04 2011
Dahlberg: Relax Vikings fans: NFL in LA not closeThe Rams didn’t need to leave Southern California under the cover of darkness like the Colts did when they fled Baltimore. By the time Georgia Frontiere took her own Mickey Mouse operation out of Anaheim, there weren’t many fans left to even care that their team was gone.
The Raiders’ mystique never fully took hold in Los Angeles either, though you have to wonder what Al Davis was thinking when he left the nation’s second largest metropolitan area in a huff to take his team back to Oakland.
Suddenly, though, the buzz in La La Land is that the NFL is coming back. They held a press conference Tuesday with Magic Johnson and others all but waving pompoms to announce that a naming rights deal has been made for a stadium that hasn’t been built to host a team that hasn’t committed to come there.
I’ll save the jokes about Farmers Field. Doesn’t sound terribly hip, however, for a city that prides itself on being hip.
Here’s a tip for Angelenos wanting to be first in line with their season ticket deposits: Make sure they’re refundable.
Yes, the NFL may someday return to Los Angeles. Just don’t bet on it returning anytime soon.
“Anybody who thinks teams are packing up the moving trucks should get a dose of reality,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based consulting company Sports Corp. Ltd. and a player in the stadium and team moving business.
That should make people in Minnesota feel somewhat better. Their stadium has a big hole in the roof, and politicians are having trouble figuring out which group of taxpayers to fleece for a new one that the Vikings say is necessary to keep them in Minneapolis.
They can breathe easier in San Diego, too. NFL backers in Los Angeles have long eyed poaching the team from down south if the Chargers can’t convince residents that it is somehow in their best interests to fund most of a new $800 million downtown stadium.
It’s not that AEG doesn’t have an impressive plan and some impressive credentials to build a 64,000-seat stadium downtown next to the Staples Center and LA Live, two sites it already owns and operates. It does, and it also has some impressive people behind it as demonstrated with the appearance of Johnson, Rosey Grier, Jim Brown and Oscar De La Hoya at the pep rally/press conference.
AEG also has a deal that could guarantee $700 million over 30 years from Farmers Insurance Exchange for naming rights if the $1 billion stadium is built and says it will build the stadium without direct public funding.
What it doesn’t have is a team. Getting one could be more difficult than convincing taxpayers that the latest, greatest stadium deal of all time won’t cost them anything.
AEG plans to lure a team by dangling some of the Farmers money in front of them, along with the excitement of being the face of the NFL in the entertainment center of the world. Company president and CEO Tim Leiweke boasted it could happen by 2015, with the stadium hosting the 50th Super Bowl that year.
But Ganis – who had a role in helping both the Rams and Raiders leave town – said that without public money it would be difficult to persuade an NFL owner to take on even a portion of the $120-$160 million in debt service and operating expenses the stadium might cost each year. NFL owners tend to want other people to pay for those things, as cities across the nation have painfully discovered over the years.
“It’s wonderful to have optimism and wonderful to have a press conference with civic leaders. It’s a great rallying cry to the community,” Ganis said. “But the economics are just enormously difficult to overcome.”
There’s no question the NFL would like a team in Los Angeles again, though the league will not publicly say so because, with no plans for expansion, that team would have to come from an existing city. Whether the people of Los Angeles want one after getting along just fine for the better part of two decades without one is another matter.
The Rams struggled to draw fans in Anaheim before leaving for St. Louis, while the Raiders averaged more than 20,000 empty seats in the Coliseum in their last year in town before heading back to Oakland. The Southern California economy is a lot shakier than it was then, and Hispanics who make up 48 percent of Los Angeles County’s 10 million people tend as a whole to be more interested in soccer than football.
Will an NFL owner find LA just too hard to resist? Could happen, but any billionaire who owns an NFL team will want the sweetest of all sweetheart deals to do it.
Until then, it’s just another Hollywood script waiting to be made.
Dahlberg is a sports columnist for the Associated Press