NFL wants a team or two in L.A., and owners head to Houston for a vote

In a glass-walled room high above Park Avenue, NFL executives and billionaire team owners huddled around a long conference table this week to solve a problem that has plagued the league for two decades: how to get professional football back to Los Angeles.

With billions of dollars in proposed stadiums and future league revenue at stake, the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities spent a day reviewing the relocation applications from three teams.

That group, along with the stadium and finance committees, emerged without revealing a clear favorite in advance of next week's two-day special meeting in Houston of all 32 team owners.

The St. Louis Rams are seeking to move to Inglewood; the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders have teamed up to propose a stadium in Carson.

Each of the competing plans has supporters.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is for Carson and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones backs Inglewood, but by far, most owners haven't made their preference public.

Each privately financed stadium proposal is believed to have at least the nine votes needed to block the other.

One potential compromise is to find an incentive to persuade the Raiders to drop out of the running and to pair the Chargers and Rams in one stadium.

But, even if that proposal got the votes needed for adoption — three-quarters of the NFL's 32 owners — it presents another problem: The Chargers have said they aren't open to sharing the Inglewood facility with the Rams despite an offer from the latter to do so.

Even those closest to the process don't know which team will win the right to move to the country's second-largest market.

"Nobody knows for sure until the vote is taken," Chargers owner Dean Spanos said when he emerged from league headquarters before walking with his entourage of attorneys and financial experts toward their hotel.

The uncertainty extends to next week's meeting format. The league plans to encourage the owners to discuss any scenario and grand bargain they think could work in L.A. It's the NFL's hope that a vote will be taken only after a consensus has been reached. The league doesn't want a team leaving with nothing.

The team left out will likely look to move to market(s) vacated by the new L.A. team(s) or to other cities the league has explored, such as London or Toronto.

The loser could receive additional league money toward building a stadium and the relocation fee could be reduced or waived.

There's consensus on one point: Owners are motivated to return the NFL to L.A.

The two stadium concepts present starkly different visions.

In Carson, a $1.7-billion open-air stadium would be built on 168 acres next to the 405 Freeway. Parking lots and open spaces around the venue would be designed to facilitate tailgating.

The Inglewood stadium — designed with a transparent roof — would be the NFL's largest. It would be the centerpiece of a 298-acre development with retail, office space and a 6,000-seat performance hall.

Each project, deemed shovel-ready by its backers, has faced questions.

Inglewood, which is in the approach path to Los Angeles International Airport, has been negotiating with the Federal Aviation Administration since November to address the agency's concerns that the stadium could interfere with its radar.

In December, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge noted the FAA's inquiry in a letter to Panthers owner Richardson, copied to the rest of the L.A. committee. The letter called for public hearings about safety and security for either stadium. Ridge previously authored a report detailing the Inglewood site's susceptibility to terrorism.

AEG, which walked away from its planned downtown NFL stadium in L.A. last year, commissioned the study.

Inglewood developers and the NFL are confident that the FAA issue can be resolved without jeopardizing the project.

The Carson stadium would sit atop the site of a former landfill. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control is overseeing the remediation, much of which has been completed, but can't finish the last phase until developers provide detailed plans for the stadium.

As the L.A. process heads toward a conclusion, each side is lobbying undecided owners. Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger is making phone calls on behalf of the Carson project, which he would head if it is chosen. He is expected to present the project to owners in Houston.

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None of the three teams sees an acceptable proposal to stay in its home market. St. Louis has proposed a $1.1-billion riverfront project, partly financed by the public. San Diego wants to build a $1.1.-billion stadium on the Mission Valley site of the team's current stadium. Oakland, while saying it wants to keep the Raiders, hasn't made a formal proposal.

The teams formally applied this week for relocation, the league's version of serving divorce papers. Attempts to land a team in L.A. have never gotten this far.

The relationship between the Chargers and San Diego has been acrimonious for months. The Rams have been tight-lipped in public since announcing their Inglewood plan last January.

Fans in St. Louis became outraged when the team's 29-page relocation application was made public. It asserted that no NFL team would accept the St. Louis stadium offer and painted a bleak picture of the region's economic future.

On Thursday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a dartboard with Rams owner Stan Kroenke's face as the bull's-eye.

The three teams' owners have found their home market solutions lacking, and fellow owners agree. Consensus is building for two teams to simultaneously relocate to L.A. and share the city and a stadium.

The NFL long has attributed its standing as the country's most successful sports league to owners working together to maintain a unified front. But the L.A. process has pitted owner against owner, despite occasional levity in the meeting room Wednesday, and has taken on the feel of a popularity contest.

"Everybody's hope is that we have a vote next week in Houston," New York Giants co-owner John Mara said. "And end this thing."

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesFarmer

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 08, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "As NFL seeks return to L.A., game is up for grabs - Team owners head to Houston to try to decide on relocation." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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