Real NFL games start this week. That traditionally marks the beginning of the Los Angeles hibernation period, when talk of the league returning to the nation’s second-largest market is shelved until the spring.
But this fall is different. Unlike in years past when L.A. could easily be pushed to the back burner, there are actual teams involved now — St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland — with viable competing stadium plans in Inglewood and Carson, and real money on the line as all three franchises brace for what could be lame-duck seasons.
This isn’t like telling an L.A. developer to cool his jets, or, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” The NFL doesn’t have that luxury.
So the league is feeling the pressure to actually come up with an L.A. solution this time, and prepare from the messy fallout in one and possibly two cities that always happens when a franchise is ripped away.
There certainly could be easier times to address this for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his kitchen cabinet of advisors, who are reeling from their rebuke in federal court last week over the Tom Brady situation.
It prompts the question: Are Goodell and his advisors ready to make some monumental decisions very soon that will affect the course of the league, or are they going to hunker down, regain their equilibrium and push the pause button for a later date?
If one or more franchises wind up in L.A. for the 2016 season, there are two distinct paths toward a solution.
One is the quiet way, and it would involve one of the three teams bowing out of the process so the other two could share a stadium.
That could be the city of St. Louis coming up with a Godfather offer for a stadium there, one the Rams simply couldn’t refuse. To this point, Rams owner Stan Kroenke has given zero indication he wants to stay. He has been silent on everything, in fact.
There’s also the possibility that the Chargers or Raiders could bow out. The Raiders would be the most likely of those two to do that, as the primary concern of owner Mark Davis is hanging onto his team. It might be that the easiest way to do that is by staying put for the moment, and getting credit from the rest of the owners for facilitating an L.A. solution.
The NFL wants to have a managed outcome to the L.A. situation as opposed to a nuclear battle royal among owners, one that could rip at the fabric of the league. If two teams are to wind up in L.A., the most likely managed outcome would involve Goodell locking Kroenke and Chargers owner Dean Spanos in a room and saying, “Work it out.”
Then, there’s the second path. That’s the knock-down, drag-out solution, which could really get ugly, and the league wants to avoid it. That would entail all three teams continuing on their current track, the Rams pushing Inglewood, the Chargers and Raiders countering with Carson, and everything culminating with an all-or-nothing vote. Talk about turmoil.
It should be noted that Goodell doesn’t shy from conflict, for better or worse. Ask the networks about TV negotiations. Or players union officials during the lockout. Or Brady and his legal team.
Remember this: These types of NFL decisions require a three-quarters majority, meaning the support of 24 of 32 owners. It’s generally believed that the Rams and Chargers-Raiders have the requisite nine votes to block the other. So everybody loses, and everybody gets sent home to a market they just tried to leave.
There’s a regular October meeting of owners in New York, and for months the plan has been for the cities of St. Louis and San Diego to present their plans for keeping their teams to the general membership. Lately, there has been some pushback from teams about having those cities present at the October meeting, with the rationale that it could further inflame tensions between those cities and their teams.
In the coming weeks, watch for the league to schedule town hall-type meetings in Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego that allow fans to show support for their teams and vent their grievances. That’s part of the league’s relocation requirements.
There are December meetings in Dallas, where the ball could move closer to an L.A. solution. It could be that the league opens the window for relocation applications at that point, so teams can formally announce that they intend to leave their current markets.
Do not rule out the possibility of the league slow-walking this and postponing a decision until 2017. That would be a headache for the teams involved, of course, but it could come down to some owners saying, “We’ve waited this long, what’s another year?”
Then again, the longer the league waits, the more credibility it loses. People are already suffering severe deal fatigue about the L.A. situation, and waiting another year would engender more distrust of the NFL.
L.A. is a delicate dance. Any team coming in 2016 needs to get the green light early enough to start selling tickets in its new market, but not so early that the last home games on its schedule attract crowds of 5,000 people.
Unless their names are Kroenke, Spanos or Davis, none of the NFL owners wake up every morning thinking about finding an L.A. solution. People are focused on their own teams, and that includes those whose teams play in the first two prime-time games.
Pittsburgh kicks off the season Thursday at New England. For those keeping score at home, that’s the chairman of the L.A. committee (Steelers owner Art Rooney II) versus an influential owner on that committee (Patriots’ Robert Kraft). On Sunday night, it’s the New York Giants (co-owned by heavy hitters on the L.A. front John Mara and Steve Tisch) at Dallas, whose owner Jerry Jones has beat the L.A. drum longer and louder than anyone.
Think those guys are wringing their hands over solving L.A.?
We’ve got a long fall ahead of us, and the closer L.A. gets to a solution, the muddier the waters become.
Twitter: @LATimes farmer