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Express Isn’t Over the Hill Yet; Maybe ’86

Times Staff Writer

The San Fernando Valley Express.

A team? Or just a dream?

Richard Stevens, Chairman of the Board of the United States Football League team, says his club may very well hop over the hill in 1986, relocating from its present home in the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the only thing it is losing faster than fans and games is money, to an as-yet-undetermined site in the Valley.

Stop rolling those eyes. Forty-eight hours ago, people were dotting the i ‘s and crossing the t ‘s on the team’s obituary. Yet here is the Los Angeles Express still alive if not well after the USFL agreed Monday to continue to bankroll the club until an owner can be found.

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But where in the Valley would the Express play?

Stevens insists there are two rival Valley groups attempting to provide an answer.

“We have been approached by two different groups interested in putting a deal together,” Stevens said. “One would build a new facility. The other might modify an existing facility or build a new one. One of the groups has already employed architects and engineers on its project.”

Who are the members of these groups?

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“They are not ready to identify themselves yet,” Stevens said. “They want to line up community support before they start ballyhooing something that may not happen. These people are very capable and prominent and they are not interested in a facility just for us. This is broader than just the Express. They would like to get another team, perhaps a college, to play in their facility.

“We are not out there leading the charge, but we are certainly interested. We will wait and see what happens. We would love to go to the Valley. Nobody else is knocking down the door to get us. We don’t want to walk in if they don’t want us, but if the political and community support could be found, we would be happy to respond. We think it would be tremendous. Perhaps we could get a Green Bay type relationship where the community has a share of the team. We would like to carve out a niche for ourselves in this area.”

Bob O’Connor, Pierce College Athletic Director, endorses that idea.

“What you could do is sell shares of stock for say $10,000,” O’Connor said, “and give people free season tickets until that amount is paid off. And then, they would still own a share of the club. I think it could be done. There’s a lot of money here in the Valley. I think it could happen.”

The logical existing facility to be modified would be Pierce, located in Woodland Hills, where the Express played an exhibition game in February before a capacity crowd of 5,500. That’s the problem. Capacity 5,500.

“We would like to see a facility that started with a capacity of at least 35,000,” Stevens said, “and would be built up from there.”

Dr. Herbert Ravetch, Pierce College president, said Express officials had contacted him on the possibility of playing there “about a month ago. I haven’t heard anything since. If there is any sincere interest, I would expect to hear from them. I haven’t.

“If they are interested, there are a whole raft of decisions we would have to make if we are to convert our facilities into a large stadium. The Chancellor’s office and the Board of Trustees would be involved. It would be a lengthy process. If there is serious interest, we would need a high degree of detail.”

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That won’t probably won’t happen until there is an owner to provide those details. The league’s other owners, who have been carrying the financially beleaguered Express since the start of the season, have pledged $500,000 each to keep it going until season’s end or until an owner can be found. O’Connor feels Pierce might be dangling as bait to catch a prospective owner.

“I think they might be trying to get somebody to buy the Valley and are throwing in the Express,” O’Connor said. “I think (Express President Don) Klosterman brought the Express out here for an exhibition game to sell the Valley. Pierce is the place they are trying to sell a new owner on. It’s the logical place. It’s a beautiful setting. We already have a facility. We have plenty of parking. If we parked people on the grass, we could probably handle 5,000 cars. We could do better than the Rose Bowl. We could also park people over at the Warner Center and bus them over. It would be an easier in and out than the Coliseum.

“We ought to have a pro team. If Orange County has a team, we ought to have one. Here you are within 25 miles of a couple of million people. Any team would have a huge market. This is an overlooked market.”

Due to the long journey required through the college system’s bureaucratic jungle to approve any expansion, however, O’Connor sees any enlargment of a Pierce facility as being three or four years away.

“We will await a serious discussion of the pros and cons of a proposal until we have a proposal, a serious proposal, and one with some specificity,” Ravetch said. “Since we may not be considering what might turn out to be their final proposal, any discussions we had could be a waste of time.

“Clearly a football stadium would have a significant enough impact to call for an examination of what effect it would have on the campus. There would be some fiscal advantages, but we must consider the college’s welfare and what we are here to do, which is to provide educational opportunities for the people of this area. We want to make sure anything that may be built is conducive to our educational programs. Although I understand the games are played on weekends, we have to consider the increase in traffic, the number of people using our campus and the attendant costs. We would like to do an environmental impact analysis now. We don’t want to wake up five years from now and find out there are real problems.”

O’Connor figures a new stadium would cost between $25 and $50 million.

“I really do think you could come up with that much with luxury boxes,” he said. “That’s the only way to do it. That’s what makes the payments. The big businesses would love to have them.”

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The only thing certain at this point is that the Express will remain in the Coliseum for this year. “It would be too difficult to move,” according to Stevens. But in 1986, when the USFL, a spring league for each of its three seasons, will shift to a fall schedule, playing in the Coliseum will be the difficult thing.

“We would be squeezed in there with the Raiders and USC,” Stevens said. “If we went to the Rose Bowl, they’ve got UCLA and it would still be the same marketplace.”

Even now, with no competition, the team has managed to draw in the 90,000 plus capacity Coliseum a total of just over 14,000 fans for its last two games.

“It is possible that if one of these groups gets their act together and we still don’t have an owner, that the league would enter into an agreement for the team to play in the Valley,” Stevens said. “Then the new owner would have to honor that agreement.”


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