The next few months are crucial for the NFL.
With St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke proposing a stadium in Inglewood, and the owners of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders backing a competing project in Carson, the stars are aligned for something to happen. The league could be on the verge of solving a 20-year riddle and returning to Los Angeles.
Then again, this could all fall apart just like every other plan.
Some predictions about what we will see unfold in the next several months as it relates to the NFL in L.A.:
Prediction: There won't be any major developments coming out of the Aug. 11 NFL owners meeting in Chicago.
Roger Goodell has informed clubs there won't be any votes at this meeting. So it's not as if we'll get a strong indication which way the owners are leaning. They'll probably emerge with comments that are generic and familiar, such as, "It's encouraging that we have two viable options in Los Angeles," and, "We're closer to returning than we've ever been, but there's a lot of work to be done."
On Aug. 10, representatives from the cities of San Diego and St. Louis will make presentations to the NFL's committee on L.A. opportunities. This will be the first time most owners will hear full presentations on the two proposals.
Eventually, the league will compress and move up (to the fall) the window for teams to file relocation applications, but that's unlikely to happen at the August meetings. Currently, that six-week window opens on Jan. 1, but that doesn't give a relocating team much time to set up shop in its new city.
The league will get a lot of the necessary background work done before teams formally announce they plan to leave their current markets. On the L.A. committee are the chairmen of the NFL's stadium, finance, labor and broadcast committees, so those committees will be kept up to speed on what's happening.
Prediction: The focus of October meetings in New York will be the home markets, but owners will only hear from two of those three cities.
St. Louis and San Diego have put together serious proposals — although the Rams and Chargers aren't impressed. But Oakland is lagging in a big way, so much so that representatives from that city likely won't even be invited to New York for the meetings.
If the league does invite Oakland, it will be so that owners can see what little progress that city has made.
Prediction: The NFL will have signed leases with one or two temporary stadiums by the end of the year, and the Coliseum will be one of those.
The Rose Bowl bowed out of the interim stadium derby, but the Coliseum is still in play. The NFL shouldn't have much trouble striking a deal there, as the Chargers quietly got far down the road in negotiations with that venue last year.
The Coliseum could be a two-year home for either the Rams or the Chargers, but USC would probably object to bringing back the Raiders.
If the league only signs a lease with the Coliseum — and doesn't secure one with StubHub Center, Dodger Stadium or Angels Stadium — that's not a guarantee that it's the Rams who will move. The league has spitballed various scenarios in which two teams move, but there's only one temporary stadium available in L.A. Those scenarios include the Raiders staying in Oakland for two more seasons while an L.A. stadium is built, or the Chargers staying in San Diego and possibly playing two games per season in London.
Prediction: The NFL will begin counting potential L.A. season-ticket holders this fall.
Want season tickets to an L.A. NFL team? The line starts here.
Watch for the league to begin building a priority list of potential customers, possibly by taking refundable deposits on season tickets — even when it's unknown which team(s) would move and where the stadium would be. That could mean plunking down, say, $100 to get in line for low-end season tickets, and more for club seats and suites.
There's a debate in the league about whether there should be a fee for getting on that priority list, but the NFL is leaning toward charging one to find the fans who are truly interested. Once the team(s) and site are determined, the people on the list could either get their money back or apply it to season tickets.
Prediction: In the coming months, the NFL will assume a much higher profile in San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland.
Watch for league staff to host public meetings and solicit public comment in those cities, talking to business leaders and everyday fans, not just politicians. Those won't necessarily be pleasant affairs, but they're a necessary step in understanding the full picture and giving everyone a voice.
Prediction: A showdown pitting Kroenke versus the Chargers' Dean Spanos and Raiders' Mark Davis? This process will never come down to a vote for all the marbles.
Think of L.A. as a game of musical chairs, with three participants and a maximum of two chairs. The worst-case scenario for the league would be to have one of those three teams lose a vote and be forced to return to a city it tried to leave.
Watch for the NFL to manage the process so that the tough choices are made before anything goes to a vote. This isn't like awarding a Super Bowl to one city over another. Over the next few months, the league will be able to tease out the clear preferences of the ownership — all before the three teams actually apply for relocation — then proceed accordingly.
That could mean the league goes to one or more of the owners and says, "Look, you're not going to have the required support to do this. It's best for everyone involved if you stand down, but we will help you in the following ways…"
This process probably will wind up with a grand bargain.
From the league's perspective, that beats a battle royal.