If you build it (a downtown NFL stadium), L.A. will come
I’ve crunched the numbers and read the proposals and listened to the spin and, frankly, it makes my brain wobble like a Raiders fan in a china shop.
For me, the decision about the future of the NFL in Los Angeles is much more simple: two questions, one solution.
Do you like Staples Center? Do you like football?
If both answers are yes — and for most people, they are — then you should support the tax-free idea that the folks who built Staples Center are going to build us a new stadium.
The Los Angeles City Council will hopefully make that approval official by a July 31 deadline imposed by AEG, at which point the fun begins.
By next summer, we’ll have a team, because AEG will not begin the stadium project without one.
By the fall of 2012, that team — the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars are the leading candidates — will begin play in either the Rose Bowl or the Coliseum.
By the fall of 2016, that team will move into Farmers Field to complete a sports-fueled downtown revitalization unmatched in this country’s history, and all those politicians who supported AEG will be heroes, and everyone will be wondering why this took so long.
It’s simple, it’s savvy, and it starts now, with our elected officials surely realizing what everyone who has been to Staples Center already knows.
The building works. The parking works. The traffic works. More than a decade after making a bunch of outlandish promises, AEG has lived up to its word, building and running a world-class facility that costs taxpayers virtually nothing.
With AEG making the same sorts of promises to build a football stadium, it has earned our faith and deserves that chance, especially because this time it’s a two-for-one deal, with the project including replacing the Convention Center’s aging West Hall.
I am such a fan of Staples Center — is there any better giant arena in sports? — that I would support AEG building a downtown stadium even if it was only used for soccer and motocross. The fact that it is building this stadium to host a team that is part of our new national pastime only seals the deal.
Do I suddenly think Los Angeles wants or needs an NFL team? Absolutely not. This is a city of two dozen favorite NFL teams; just check out the sports bars on Sundays, filled with transplants cheering for home. The Raiders and Rams have been gone more than 15 years and I don’t think I’ve heard more than 15 people complain about it.
We have not missed an NFL team, but I do think we’ve missed the NFL experience, those weekly games that have become the center of a national conversation that no longer involves us. Seemingly every day during the fall, the NFL dominates the sports culture so much that, at times, it really does seem as if we’re missing out on all the fun.
Imagine the outcry if Broadway shows or national operas simply stop coming here. Imagine you had to fly elsewhere for your culture fix. That’s what happened for sports fans when the NFL left town and, while we still have favorite teams, we have lost America’s favorite game.
The weekly scrums are the most-watched events in sports, it would be a blast to have access to them again, and since having a team is the only way to be able to do that, well, why not? And, incidentally, my guess is that within a year of their arrival, the new Los Angeles franchise would be the most popular sports team in town, with more fans than even the Lakers, because the NFL is that big.
So it all works, except for the part in which AEG king Phil Anschutz would be part owner of the new team. Really? Even after Frank McCourt and Donald Sterling, this guy has quietly become the worst owner in town, running a Kings’ franchise that annually underperforms for its passionate fans.
The guy has no business running a sports franchise, and here’s hoping nobody gives him more than 49% of anything. But he and lieutenant Tim Leiweke have been brilliant when it comes to running sports arenas, and if they want to spend $3 billion on a project that will bring a football palace to Los Angeles …
Let them. It’s time. Farmers Field not only sounds as if it should be nestled in some fictional Iowa cornfield, but it feels that way too.
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