The world zigs, and Jerry Jones zags.
Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, sets the bar when it comes to risk-takers in the NFL. So it’s not surprising that he is once again touting the value of an NFL return to Los Angeles, a proposition that in his mind is long overdue.
“It’s a very exciting challenge,” said Jones, sitting in his office at Cowboys training camp in Oxnard. “It has many challenges to build a team or teams, to get the fan base and get everybody energized. But at the end of the day, for the NFL, Los Angeles is one of our potentially greatest markets.”
Twenty years ago, the Raiders and Rams played their final seasons in Southern California. Since, dozens of stadium plans have come and gone. The Times recently reported the NFL is weighing the merits of a league-owned stadium in L.A., one that could accommodate one or two teams.
Jones, for one, believes that would work.
“That’s not pie in the sky at all,” he said. “That certainly should be considered.”
He added: “There are several financial structures that would fit a league-ownership position. Not just one. All of them are plausible and good business. I want to emphasize that the energy behind going back to Los Angeles will transcend business. It will be about having the game and having the support of our sport in Los Angeles.”
Jones, who chairs the league’s Hall of Fame committee, said one of his goals is to increase the visibility of the Hall of Fame in places such as Southern California, and echoed the sentiments of some people who think L.A. could be a West Coast hub for that Canton, Ohio, institution.
“We’ve considered Canton . . . that’s the Vatican,” he said. “That’s the Sistine Chapel. That’s where the smoke comes out. But then have what it represents tangibly represented where we have millions of people in the markets. So yes, Los Angeles could be one of the great places to show materially what the whole thing is all about and the collection of all the things that make the Hall of Fame what it is.”
As for the well-worn question — will there be an NFL franchise in L.A. within the next five years? — Jones was vague but hinted at some type of impending decisive action by the league.
“I’d say within the next year we will have proof that there will be a team or teams here within the next five years,” he said, declining to elaborate on what that proof will be. “That’s the kind of movement and commitment you’ll see.”
This season, for the first time, the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams are all on year-to-year leases, possibly setting the stage for one or more of them to move. (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and others have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of an expansion franchise, insisting that if L.A. gets a team it will be because of relocation.)
Jones makes it sound as if the league is poised to act, but we’ve heard this kind of talk many, many times over the years. Neither the NFL nor L.A. has budged in this two-decade standoff. He’s far less risk-averse than most owners, too. For example:
• He planted the seeds for his rise from millionaire to billionaire as a wildcatting oilman, buying dry holes and either drilling deeper or a little to the right or left. He found oil where others failed.
• He fired two-time Super Bowl winner Jimmy Johnson and replaced him with Barry Switzer, who had no NFL coaching experience. Switzer wound up winning a Super Bowl, too.
• Knowing that the NFL was partners with Pepsi and Reebok, he brokered deals with Coke and Nike — the opening salvo of a bigger revenue fight that Jones wound up winning when he was put in charge of negotiating the league’s TV package. He went from the quintessential outsider to the ultimate insider.
All this is a way of saying Jones not only rolls the dice but has had success doing so. Except for the on-field performance of his Cowboys — the picture of mediocrity since that run of three Super Bowls in the 1990s — Jones has seen more than his share of risks reap big dividends.
The way he sees it, all it will take is one team taking a decisive step toward L.A., and others will quickly follow.
“There were no four-minute miles,” he said. “Roger Bannister ran it, and [two] more ran it within 60 days.”
So far, this NFL-to-L.A. saga has made the Ironman triathlon look like a sprint.
The NFL is still deciding which city will play host to the 2015 draft, with L.A. and Chicago the finalists.
The league has representatives on the ground in each city, and this week will ask another round of logistical questions. The decision ultimately falls to Goodell.
My prediction: Sometime within the coming weeks, the league will announce the draft will be held in L.A., likely at Nokia Theatre at L.A. Live.
My second prediction: If that happens, it will trigger a surge in talk about that being the first step toward a team coming back. It won’t be. Although the NFL is always looking to heighten its profile in Southern California, the processes of awarding the draft and putting a team in this market are entirely separate discussions.