The legal problems faced by the Los Angeles Raiders professional football team as a result of their move from Oakland have been drawn out and complicated, and were made even more so by an appeals court ruling last week. Yet that same decision affirmed an important victory for the public agency that operates the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
More than five years ago the Coliseum Commission--which is made up of state, county and city government representatives--embarked on what skeptics considered a quixotic campaign to find a professional football team to replace the Rams, who had moved to Anaheim. Few thought that the city had a chance against a National Football League that opposed the move. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle haughtily told Los Angeles' representatives to wait in line for a new team along with other cities, and said that there was no guarantee that any new franchises would be awarded.
Shrugging off Rozelle's arrogance, commission members shopped for another team on their own, offering as incentives a large and historic stadium and a city known for enthusiastic sports fans. The Raiders accepted the offer, and have established themselves firmly in Los Angeles despite all the legal obstacles thrown in their path by the NFL. In an effort to help protect the city's newly acquired team, the commission even joined the Raiders in a lawsuit that accused the league of violating federal antitrust laws.
Again skeptics questioned the wisdom of that costly strategy. But last week's decision in the Raider case by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals proved that the Coliseum Commission chose the right course. While ordering lower courts to recalculate the $34 million in legal damages awared to the Raiders in the antitrust suit, the court affirmed the Coliseum Commission's share of the damages: $14.5 million, plus interest.
The money will help keep the Coliseum in top condition, and competitive with other sports facilities in the area, at no cost to local taxpayers. It also is likely to provoke spirited local debate over what improvements should be made to the venerable stadium.
With a publicly owned facility, that is as it should be, and we have ideas of our own to toss into the ring. It would be better for the Coliseum Commission to build private boxes for the facility, for example, rather than asking the Raiders to build them, as the team's current lease requires. But such admittedly controversial matters can be discussed in the future. For now, Coliseum commissioners deserve credit for having challenged the NFL--and congratulations on having won their fight.