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The NFL in L.A.? Let’s huddle

On The NFL

How soon will the NFL return to Los Angeles?

Developer Ed Roski believes he’s at the goal line. He says he wants to buy either part or all of an existing franchise and move it to Southern California to play in an $800-million stadium he’s planning to build in Industry.

Coming from a heavy hitter who helped get Staples Center built, that’s an intriguing concept. But Roski is far from the first man with a plan. More than a dozen have come before him, each touting “no-brainer” solutions they ultimately dumped in frustration.

The process has meandered for 14 years, with the endgame getting tougher and more expensive. If an officiating crew were overseeing this quest, L.A. would be flagged for untold false starts, delays of game and excessive celebrations -- not to mention premature ones.

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After a decade and a half of waiting, NFL fans in L.A. have two basic questions: Who’s coming and when?

By answering its own questions, The Times sheds some light on the ongoing L.A. situation:

Roski’s right-hand man, John Semcken, who previously predicted a team already would be playing in L.A., now says he’s convinced one will be here playing at a temporary locale by 2011. Are you similarly convinced?

No, and for reasons relating to the NFL’s labor dispute, the complexities of relocating a team, and the challenge of gaining support for any particular stadium concept.

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How does the labor situation affect L.A.?

Think of it as players, priorities and politics.

First, players. Team owners essentially want them to take a pay cut to help offset the enormous cost of servicing the debt on new stadiums. There’s a huge fight brewing. Until that’s resolved, owners are going to be very wary of committing the necessary funds to build another new venue.

As for priorities, the L.A. situation is at best a back-burner issue for a league focused squarely on labor negotiations. This is typically the time the NFL examines the L.A. issue -- owners are too preoccupied with their own teams during the season -- and yet Southern California is not on the agenda for next month’s owners meetings. In fact, it wasn’t on the agenda for last year’s meetings, and those were held in Newport Beach.

What about the politics?

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Assn., has already raised the specter of using his political sway to ask Congress to get involved in the labor negotiations. With that in mind, why would the league want to get in a separate fight with, for instance, a senator determined to keep the Jaguars in Florida, Vikings in Minnesota, or Bills in New York? Talk about putting wingtip to hornets’ nest.

The labor situation isn’t the only hurdle to getting an L.A. deal done, but it’s a big one.

Considering the difficulty some teams have had in their current markets, why would it be hard to move a team?

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Buying a team and relocating one are two separate processes, each requiring a three-quarters-majority vote of owners. Conceivably, the relocation piece could take years, especially with the inevitable legal challenges from the jilted city.

Relocations happen and will continue to, but they’re ugly and untidy, as Art Modell learned in Cleveland and Bud Adams in Houston. It’s not as simple as identifying a wilting franchise, plucking it from that community, and replanting it in L.A.

Plus, NFL owners are incredibly competitive with one another, and no one can assume any team will get a wide-open lane to the basket, even if it makes sense for everyone to replace a low-revenue team with a high one.

The league fought hard to secure the rights to the L.A. market. (Think back to those nasty court battles with the Raiders earlier this decade.)

So the NFL is going to bide its time with this decision. If the league has shown anything in its dealings with L.A., it’s that it won’t be pressured to act.

What is Roski offering?

One of the widely held misconceptions is that he’s going to build a stadium and then hand it over to a team. In fact, what he wants to do is hand over the land and the entitlements to build a stadium, and be rewarded with an equity share in a team. Then it would be up to the team and the NFL to privately finance the stadium.

Roski is a real estate magnate, and what he has is a clean and fully entitled piece of land in Industry, complete with the freeway access and infrastructure, room for related development, and without the political headaches of L.A. The site is accessible not just to L.A. but to San Bernardino and Orange counties.

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Another option is Roski buying a team outright. He has been lining up a group of investors to do so with him.

Semcken, vice president of Majestic Realty Co., said there are any number of ways Roski could buy a team, including doing so alone.

At the moment, however, Roski cannot own any portion of an NFL team, because he would first have to sell his Las Vegas casino. League rules prohibit any association with gaming.

Is Industry the last, best site?

Roski thinks so. But the league could feel differently, especially considering many owners think L.A. starts at 90210 and ends at the Pacific. Not only that, but the NFL has a history of dealing with multiple sites at once to get the most favorable deal. Paradoxically, it could be a sign that the league is getting closer to an L.A. deal when other sites arise.

Which teams potentially could be in play?

Jacksonville, Buffalo, Minnesota, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego, none of which is for sale at the moment. The franchise that is for sale, St. Louis, is in line to be bought by an Illinois businessman who intends to keep the Rams where they are.

Which team is most able to relocate?

San Diego. The Chargers negotiated an escape clause into their Qualcomm Stadium lease that affords them a three-month window each year in which they can leave San Diego without the threat of a lawsuit from the city.

For almost a decade, the Chargers have been angling for a new stadium. Their latest (and maybe last) hope is a venue on an 11-acre parcel downtown -- it would be the league’s smallest site. The piece of land would be large enough for a stadium but no ancillary development.

As of now, that concept is a long shot because roughly half of the financing would have to come from the city, a city that’s broke.

“Our commitment has always been to try to stay here,” Chargers owner Dean Spanos recently told The Times.

“But we’re at the end of the line.”

That said, Spanos isn’t willing to sell anything more than a minority share in his family’s team, and he would want cash for that. He might see potential in the Industry concept, but he’s not going to give up part of his franchise for the right to privately finance his own stadium there.

Could it happen?

Yes. And at some point it will, whether it’s this stadium concept or another. But as someone who’s been working this puzzle for more than a decade, Roski knows that even if he’s in scoring range, every yard in front of him will be harder than the last.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer


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