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As money flows, L.A.'s odds grow

The NFL salary cap will increase next season from the current $102 million per team to $109 million, then to $139 million in 2008.

In addition, the NFL owners voted Thursday for the New York Giants and Jets to receive a $300 million loan from the league for their $1.2 billion mega-stadium at the Meadowlands.

And, in its regular monthly meeting this week, the Coliseum Commission made not a smidge of progress on its campaign to bring an NFL team back to Los Angeles.

These three things are very much related.

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You see, with a new collective bargaining agreement in place and players getting ever richer, building a new football stadium has gone from difficult to borderline impossible. In the case of the Giants and Jets, the other 30 team owners had to decide whether the down-the-line benefits of a palatial new stadium in the nation’s No. 1 market was worth opening all of their wallets today. A small-market team, such as the Buffalo Bills, is faced with the unappetizing prospect of loaning money that will make their rich cross-state cousins even richer. What’s more, once those teams have a new stadium and start printing money by the truckload, the salary cap will rise accordingly and things will become even more expensive for the Bills and every other team.

It’s awfully hard for the NFL to get traction on a hypothetical L.A. model -- one with no owner and no team -- until it gets this real-world, two-team New Yorker out of the showroom and on the road.

At the same time, the Coliseum is inching back to its own version of the real world and is working on a long-term proposal with USC, an 80-year tenant of the stadium. Although the sides are not yet in full-fledged negotiations, the commission is inviting the school to pick up where the NFL left off. That means ensuring the viability of the stadium into the distant future.

No matter how successful the negotiations are with USC, there are members of the commission who always want to keep the porch light on should the NFL come calling again.

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But sources closely familiar with NFL dealings say the league sees the Coliseum deal as a non-starter, and some commissioners -- notably state-appointee David Israel -- say the same thing.

Israel has called the proposed deal “dead,” and, along with fellow commissioner Bill Chadwick, said it was time to move on to an alternative plan. The commission, after all, is facing a gigantic rent increase from the state, which owns the stadium. The commission’s lease, which expired last January and is still being negotiated, could have an annual rent increase from its current $80,000 to as much as $2.5 million. That would prompt the commission to somehow pass those costs along to USC, or maybe hand the stadium keys to the school and let it deal directly with the state.

Meanwhile, we’re starting to learn the contents of some of those sealed bids for the property in the Angel Stadium parking lot earmarked for an NFL venue. In today’s edition, The Times reports that a developer will offer more than $150 million for the rights to develop a retail and residential complex on 53 acres in Anaheim, or three times more than what the NFL would pay.

Anaheim might have come as close to anyone to getting a stadium deal done, because of that land component. That might be the model of the future in California; the league doesn’t get public money per se, but cheap land with development opportunities. Those are the working models for the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers in their stadium proposals.

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The next real L.A. concept will most likely have a real-estate component.

That brings us to Dodger Stadium, where there is ample room to put an NFL stadium, even though any attempt to do so would surely be met by stiff resistance from politicians and nearby residents. The L.A. City Council repeatedly has endorsed the Coliseum as the only suitable home for an NFL team, and civic leaders last year criticized the Dodgers and the NFL for discussing a football stadium in Chavez Ravine.

That criticism came after the Boston Herald revealed the secret plans of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt for a 65,000-seat football stadium and an adjacent retail complex in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. Executives from the Dodgers and the NFL met twice to discuss the proposal, with McCourt saying the NFL initiated the meetings and the NFL saying McCourt did.

Later, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that McCourt “didn’t understand the depth and the extent of the community consensus behind the Coliseum,” and McCourt pledged not to pursue an NFL stadium “so long as the Coliseum is a viable site.”

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But, in recent comments to The Times, Villaraigosa said he has heard from “representatives” he would not identify -- although not from the NFL directly -- that the league prefers the Dodger Stadium site to a rebuilt Coliseum. He said he stands behind the Coliseum proposal, but declined to say the NFL must play there or nowhere in L.A.

“We’re focused on the Coliseum,” Villaraigosa said. “That’s our venue of choice until such time as the NFL rejects it out of hand.”

If the NFL did so, would he support the Dodger Stadium site?

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

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But will they ever come to that bridge? This saga has dragged on for more than a decade. Both the NFL and Dodgers adamantly deny that they have had any conversations since their two meetings last year, though not everyone on the Coliseum Commission is convinced of that.

“I think they’ve been in negotiations for more than a year,” Israel said. “Once those conversations started between the Dodgers and the NFL, I don’t think they ever stopped.”

Fellow commissioner Chadwick agreed, saying he would be “shocked” to learn such discussions weren’t taking place. “To say they weren’t would mean [the NFL is] giving up on L.A.,” he said. “And I don’t believe that for a second.”

As for the rest of us, it’s hard to know what to believe.

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And it’s getting even harder to care.

Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

sam.farmer@latimes.com


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