The 16-year drive to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles has finally entered the red zone.
With the City Council voting 12-0 Tuesday to approve the framework of an AEG-backed downtown stadium deal, the prospect of the nation’s No. 1 sport returning to the No. 2 market is more real than it has been in a decade.
Up to this point, the city has thrown its weight behind the Coliseum, widely considered a non-starter in NFL circles. Because that stadium is now out of play — USC has the right of first refusal on a league return there — this is the first time the council has formally endorsed another NFL venue within the city.
The NFL, in turn, has taken notice.
“I’m very encouraged,” said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a member of the league’s stadium committee. “It’s a compliment to the NFL. It’s a compliment to the potential franchise that comes to the city. It’s a compliment to the principals there.”
But will this really happen, or will this wind up being just another false start in a tiresome saga filled with them? Developer Ed Roski, the billionaire behind a competing stadium proposal in City of Industry, says football fans in the area have long suffered from “deal fatigue” after watching concept after concept — including others downtown — fall by the wayside.
Times NFL writer Sam Farmer asks and answers questions about where the competing L.A. proposals stand in the wake of the council’s vote:
Does this mean the NFL is coming back?
Not necessarily. But the stars are better aligned than they have been since 1999, when a group of L.A. investors were outbid by Texas oilman Bob McNair for the 32nd franchise, which became the Houston Texans. This vote was another star moving into place, and a message to the NFL that the city is willing to make a significant investment (albeit one that will be repaid) to facilitate a deal.
Why are the stars aligned?
Now that the league and players have put the finishing touches on a 10-year labor deal, the NFL wants to make good on its promise to “grow the pie” and further increase revenues. One of the clearest ways to accomplish that is by taking a team that’s not meeting financial expectations in its current market and moving it to L.A.
The NFL has said it’s not expanding. So when would a team relocate?
If AEG has its way, a franchise will relocate to L.A. this spring, use the company’s Home Depot Center as a training facility, and play in the Coliseum or Rose Bowl until Farmers Field is ready for the 2016 season.
Why the rush?
The deal with the city hinges on AEG securing a long-term agreement with a team. Once a team agrees to relocate, it’s dead in its current market. It can either move right away, or play a season with 5,000 people in the stands. The NFL won’t have that.
So which team is most likely to move?
San Diego is the clubhouse leader. The way I see it, the Vikings will get a deal done in Minnesota, and it will be more difficult than people think to extract the Jaguars from Jacksonville or the Bills from Buffalo.
The Rams could be the second team to return to L.A., but they can’t move from St. Louis until 2014, and that doesn’t fit with AEG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke’s timeline. As for the Raiders, they’re too polarizing — people love them or hate them — and AEG is banking on this deal to help them sell top-dollar condominiums at L.A. Live. Telling potential buyers the Raiders will play 10 games a year there won’t necessarily be a selling point.
Will it be easy for AEG owner Philip Anschutz to make a deal with the Chargers?
First of all, the Spanos family won’t give up controlling ownership of the team. Insiders say the family and Anschutz are far apart on how much of the team he should own, and how much he should pay. He’s looking for a deep discount, and Chargers President Dean Spanos isn’t likely to go for that, no matter how dazzling the L.A. stadium might be.
Are the sides eventually going to agree on a price?
Here’s betting they do, providing it gets that far. That price disagreement would have to be pretty bad for Anschutz to spend $45 million on an environmental impact report and plans for a stadium, training center and Pico Hall, and then walk away at the altar.
Does this mean the downtown site has won the stadium derby?
No. This just means AEG has cleared the first of three major hurdles, with the next two being getting the site entitled for the project and striking a deal to move a team there.
The Industry project, now called Grand Crossing, has long held a significant advantage in that Roski controls his 600-acre site and has all the clearances he needs to begin pushing dirt, although he doesn’t have the architectural plans to start putting steel in the ground.
Is the NFL going to pick one site over the other?
Eventually. But the league will encourage both to keep moving forward. It wants competition. Put it this way: If you have two people bidding up the price of your house, you’re not going to turn one away just because you prefer the other.
There are a lot of people — Roski among them — who don’t think AEG can get the downtown site entitled for a stadium. If AEG drops out, Grand Crossing is the last project standing.
That said, as long as downtown is viable, it’s the preferred site among many influential NFL owners and executives.
Is L.A. at the goal line?
Not quite, but you can see it from here.