As National Football League executives and billionaire team owners meet this week to vote on whether Los Angeles will get a football team (or two) and another city (or cities) will lose one, they ought to consider more than just their own profit margins. The league should also weigh which team and stadium proposal offers the greatest return for Angelenos.
Three teams are vying to relocate: the San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders. And there are two stadium proposals on the table: a $1.9-billion facility in Inglewood proposed by the Rams, and a $1.7-billion one in Carson that the Chargers and Raiders want to share. The region's football fans may care most about getting a team that's not a total loser — a description that has occasionally fit all three of L.A.'s suitors. The rest of us want a team or teams with a solid track record of community engagement, civic leadership and local investment, not to mention a commitment to L.A. for the long term.
Yes, a sports team is a private business (one, by the way, that is expected to gain $1 billion in value by simply moving to L.A.). And Angelenos are in no position to demand an engaged ownership or philanthropic commitment. The region's elected leaders gave away any leverage to extract such concessions up front when they looked the other way as Inglewood and Carson rubber-stamped stadium deals. (Thanks, guys.)
Nevertheless, team owners rely on the goodwill of fans, who buy tickets and merchandise, and their communities. That's why it's in the league's and the teams' enlightened self-interest not to assume that the love shown by those eager to bring football back to L.A. will translate into blind devotion for anything that lands here. Angelenos love winners, yes, but there are several other elements to a good, lasting relationship that are essential.
For starters, we do not want to pay vast sums for a football stadium, now or a decade or two down the road, when a team owner starts salivating for better amenities. On the plus side, the Inglewood and Carson stadiums would be constructed with private dollars. And although both could receive hefty tax breaks, they are minor in comparison to the taxpayer-funded stadium upgrades in St. Louis and San Diego that the NFL recently declared insufficient and unacceptable.
Just as important, a good owner listens and responds to community concerns. Stadiums bring security, noise and crowd control issues, along with job creation and economic development potential. Team owners have to engage with residents and critics to minimize problems and maximize opportunities. One likely flashpoint is traffic; both stadiums would be located along some of the most congested corridors in Southern California. Whatever team moves here ought to champion meaningful mobility improvements to serve fans, including support for public transit, car sharing, biking and walking.
Owners, management and players would also be well-advised to step up their philanthropic game. There is so much need in Los Angeles for park space, sports leagues and after-school programs. It's not just money, although that's important — professional athletes can inspire young people and draw attention to community needs. The NFL may finally be ready to commit to L.A., but this region needs more than just a football team.