One of the few reminders that the roguish Raiders ever called Los Angeles home can be found in, of all places, a women’s restroom at El Segundo Middle School.
Silver and black tiles hint at the days when such players as Marcus Allen, Jim Plunkett and Howie Long helped bring L.A. its only Super Bowl championship, in 1984.
The Raiders had leased the school and transformed it into team headquarters, putting showers in the hallways and weight machines in the lunchroom.
But the team returned to Oakland after the 1994 season, the same year the Los Angeles Rams were lured from Anaheim to St. Louis, leaving Southern California without NFL football for the first time since 1945.
The room that served as owner Al Davis’ office is now a Spanish class.
“You hear little whispers of the past, almost like urban legends that they were here,” said Cami Kaplanis, who teaches art at the school. “It’s a little foggy, a little unclear.”
It is also unclear when, or if, the NFL will place a new team in the Los Angeles region, which has gone without one despite having a population of some 15 million, a football history that includes hosting the first Super Bowl and a hunger for the game demonstrated last season when USC drew school-record crowds averaging 85,000.
“It’s really beyond comprehension,” said developer Ed Roski, who made a failed attempt six years ago to bring an expansion team to the Coliseum, losing out to oil billionaire Robert McNair, who paid $700 million to win the franchise for Houston. “It’s not that I think L.A. deserved to lose the two teams that we had. It just happened that way. ... The stars weren’t aligned to make it work. Since that time, there’s been a lot of additional thought and focused ideas, and we’re still without a team.”
League executives say they are working to rectify that.
They are weighing the merits of four potential L.A.-area stadium sites: the Coliseum, Rose Bowl, Carson and Anaheim. The NFL has exchanged “term sheets” -- the rough parameters of an acceptable stadium deal -- with backers of each of the sites except Carson. There, the situation is especially complicated because the 157-acre parcel is a former toxic dump, and the cost of cleaning it is unknown. League officials say a term sheet for Carson is in the works.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said that putting a team back in the region is among his top priorities, just behind securing new TV contracts and a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union.
“Everyone is anxious to keep this a top priority and make it an urgent priority,” Tagliabue said last month.
But after a decade of false starts and dashed hopes, some experts doubt a solution for Southern California is imminent.
Joel Kotkin, an expert on L.A. political, economic and social trends, says the city’s strained finances have heightened a long-held aversion to spending public funds on sports venues. And thus far, no local tycoon has been willing to write a massive, McNair-sized check.
“It will probably take a Medici-type of person, sort of like Eli Broad and Disney Hall,” Kotkin said. “If you get a billionaire in L.A. that’s more interested in football than art, then it might happen. But so far, it’s the other way around.”
He said evolving demographics have played a role too, citing the area’s growing population from soccer-loving regions such as Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
“A large part of the population of Los Angeles doesn’t come from a football tradition,” said Kotkin, an Irvine Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of “The City: A Global History.”
And, he added, the political will to secure an NFL team is scant compared with other parts of the country.
“L.A.'s a hard place to do business under normal circumstances,” Kotkin said. “It’s very arcane. Jim Hahn doesn’t need to produce a football team to say he’s a successful mayor. People are more concerned about having a lower crime rate and getting potholes filled.”
Many fans have adjusted, shifting their attention on Sundays to the expanded menu of televised games made possible by the lack of a home team. In the 2002 season, for instance, the NFL’s average TV ratings were higher in Los Angeles than in New York, which has two teams.
In Pasadena, officials have spent almost three years working with the NFL in hopes of putting a team in a rebuilt Rose Bowl. Pasadena wants to keep the integrity of the historic bowl, but modern NFL stadiums tend to be multi-layered and vertical, creating more opportunity for prime seats and luxury suites between the goal lines.
“So much time has gone by,” Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said, “that I think people are reaching the conclusion that the prospects for an NFL franchise at the Rose Bowl are not high.”
Neil Glat, a league executive who is studying the L.A. situation, said the NFL was “making a lot of progress” toward establishing the potential stadium deal terms to present to the owners in May. But, he added, "$500-million-plus stadium projects aren’t easy. We’re evaluating four of them, so it takes time.”
Tagliabue has said it is likely that more time will be needed.
The NFL is prepared to put up the money to build a stadium, eventually recouping its investment with revenue from the L.A. team as well as with profits from future Super Bowls.
In recent years, NFL stadiums have been placed in city centers rather than in suburbs, spurring development of adjacent shops, restaurants and hotels. Tagliabue said he could envision such a complex surrounding a reconstructed Coliseum.
“One of the points that’s been emphasized to us by everyone in Los Angeles is the renaissance in the center of the city, from Disney Hall through Staples Center, the cathedral and many other projects, coupled with what USC has done and what’s been done with the museum complex there,” Tagliabue told The Times. “I think that there’s potential with the Coliseum now that wasn’t so evident 25 years ago.”
Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center, said the Coliseum was now the only logical choice.
“If they want it to succeed, they’ve got to be at the Coliseum,” said Leiweke, who once hoped to develop a football stadium next to Staples Center. “As much as we thought they had to be next door, and I still believe that would have been the best site and then we’d be playing football next year. That’s gone. The property is sold. We’re out of that game. But they’re making a huge mistake and they’re not giving this market its best shot if they don’t play at the Coliseum.
“This is the center of the universe now. Finally, L.A. has a true downtown urban core. ... People are living here, working here and playing here. This is not when you go take the stadium and move it into the suburbs. That doesn’t work.”
Anaheim proponents beg to differ. They say a new venue adjacent to Angel Stadium would mesh well with Disneyland and other established attractions in the area, and would be a particular draw for families.
“The NFL is very interested in developing their youth fan base, and building the league internationally,” said David Carter, a consultant for the Anaheim stadium effort and a sports business professor at USC. “Anaheim is definitely a place where families from all over the world flock.”
Determining what would work in Southern California is the focus of Max Muhleman, a Charlotte, N.C.-based consultant hired by the league, as well as numerous team owners, all of whom are trying to profile a city’s potential sponsors, fan base and political landscape. By polling a sampling of influential people in Houston, for instance, Muhleman discovered that the sentiment for an indoor and outdoor football stadium was split down the middle.
So when McNair built a stadium, he included the league’s first retractable roof at an added cost of at least $100 million, pushing the total for the project to $449 million.
Since they began evaluating the L.A. market in the late 1990s, Muhleman and his interviewers have spent hundreds of hours talking to business leaders, politicians and football fans. He has prepared reports asserting that local fans would be among the country’s most enthusiastic buyers of club seats, which come with costly amenities, but that suites would be a tougher sell here than in some Eastern cities.
Muhleman’s group addresses a broad range of issues, including which location has the best freeway access, what features are most likely to inspire corporate investment and how much a team should charge for tickets.
“Our purpose is to help the NFL make a very complex market read,” Muhleman said. “The width and breadth of the geography and influences which come into play here are probably at least three times as complicated as any other market in the country.
“This could be something really great for Los Angeles and the NFL, but the birth process is as challenging as it gets.”
McNair, who was L.A.'s chief adversary in the last expansion, said failure was not an option.
“There are some people in the league who argue, ‘Why do we need to be in L.A.? We have good TV ratings, and there’s no risk of a blackout.’ It’s a valid point,” he said. “That’s why you have to be careful and make sure that what’s done is going to be able to let a franchise operate successfully. The last thing we want is a franchise that’s operating unsuccessfully in Los Angeles.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
A tradition of abstinence
Since Los Angeles lost the Rams and Raiders 10 years ago, Southern California has flirted repeatedly with the NFL, only to be rejected. A history of the region’s decade-long, hot-and-cold relationship with the league:
Los Angeles King owners Edward Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz pledge $500 million toward getting pro football back to Los Angeles in 2000 in a new Coliseum.
Roski says he will present the outline for a $300-million financing plan for a new Coliseum to the NFL owners’ stadium committee.
Dashing the hopes of city officials who want to see professional football back in the Coliseum, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue throws open the bidding for a new Los Angeles franchise to all comers, most notably the Dodgers’ Peter O’Malley and the owners of Hollywood Park.
Rumors mount that Al Davis’ Raiders will return to Los Angeles from Oakland.
Jerry West, Laker executive vice president, agrees to join Michael Ovitz’s ownership group pursuing an NFL franchise for the Los Angeles area.
Ovitz proposes building a Mission-style stadium with a new mall in a 157-acre sports and retail complex in Carson.
Roski and his New Coliseum Venture partners propose using the Coliseum rent-free for a period of time in exchange for overhauling the stadium at a cost of up to $350 million.
The NFL votes to bring football back to Los Angeles but only with solid commitment from the city’s financial community. If the conditions aren’t met, the league will turn its attention toward Houston.
The NFL officially selects the Coliseum as the home of its anticipated Los Angeles franchise, apparently ending a longshot bid by the city of Carson.
Ovitz produces a design for revamping the Coliseum and placing much of Exposition Park atop three- to five-story parking garages. The NFL is expected to endorse the plan.
Leading city, county and state officials say they would not support the estimated $225 million in public financing that may be required by Ovitz’s proposal.
Tagliabue says the NFL will not return to Los Angeles without more of the public’s money.
The NFL abandons its exclusive focus on the Coliseum as the potential home of a new franchise, all but assuring that the league’s 32nd team will not be awarded to Los Angeles.
Hollywood Park gives Ovitz and billionaire grocery magnate Ron Burkle the option on a 97-acre stadium site, prompting Ovitz to declare that Los Angeles will be given the NFL’s 32nd franchise, to begin play in 2003.
The NFL votes overwhelmingly to place its 32nd franchise in Houston.
The Anschutz group pinpoints a four-block area near Staples Center where they hope to build a $450-million, 64,000-seat stadium.
Boosters of the Coliseum say the facade of the 79-year-old venue can encase a world-class NFL stadium with futuristic canopies, palm tree-lined restaurants and luxury suites.
The Coliseum and Rose Bowl both have representatives in Philadelphia, preparing to make informal pitches to the NFL.
Three of the five NFL owners appointed to evaluate the situation say they are optimistic that the league will bring football back to Los Angeles within four years.
Casey Wasserman, owner of arena football’s L.A. Avengers, says he’s aiming to bring an NFL team -- which he will own -- to Los Angeles.
The NFL says it is considering Anaheim’s ‘Platinum Triangle’ as a possible site for a future pro football team.
Tagliabue says the league will need more time to narrow the stadium options.
The developer who controls the 157-acre Carson site says his group needs to weigh whether to stay in the stadium derby.
Tagliabue tells The Times that the league intends to choose a site in the L.A. area in 2005. The league is considering stadium concepts at the Coliseum, Rose Bowl, Anaheim and Carson.
Shelved Stadium Proposals
Ovitz’s Carson proposal
Cost: $350 million (stadium), $188 million (mall)
What happened: Ovitz dropped plan in favor of Coliseum renovation. Houston awarded NFL franchise in 1999.
Roski Group proposal (Los Angeles Coliseum renovation)
Cost: $357 million
What happened: Houston awarded NFL franchise in 1999.
Hollywood Park proposal
Cost: $250 million
What happened: Hollywood Park could not seal a deal with the Raiders, or any other team.
Source: Times reports
Times staff writer Grahame L. Jones contributed to this report.
Leverage: Merely the threat of moving a team to Los Angeles has benefited teams in other cities. A1
Super bonanza: The economics of holding a Super Bowl.
Power broker: Carmen Policy, the man who brought football back to Cleveland, might be the man for L.A.