L.A. Story: Does SoCal Have An NFL Future?
With the news officially announced this past week that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has signed a bill that will authorize a partly bond-financed plan for a $975 million football stadium in the Twin Cities, it appears that the Minnesota Vikings are now off the table as a player in the Los Angeles NFL saga. The Vikings seemed to be the franchise most-likely to move to SoCal as their lease with the aging Metrodome was coming to an end, another tradition-soaked victim of the modern era of sports economics doomed to move away from a region that helped build their legacy. Now that the bill has been passed, the Vikings are set to begin a new chapter in Minnesota that will take them through a final season or two at the Metrodome, then a short stint at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium, before finally moving to their new digs. The Vikings have been dealing with the antiquated Metrodome for years, a building that has seemed to age in dog years. A new stadium was key to keep the team in town, and if the deal hadn’t come together it was only a matter of time before the Los Angeles billionaires started throwing diamond and furs at team owner Zygi Wilf.
Los Angeles is the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States, and by far the largest without an NFL team. The region is preparing to break ground on the $1.2 billion Farmers Field, a gigantic stadium that is tailor-made for attracting a professional football team. As the plans for building Farmers Field have developed, owner Anschutz Entertainment Group has been quietly courting potential teams to make the move to Los Angeles. The Vikings were very much on that list up until this week. Who are the other possible teams that could legally make the move to the new stadium in Downtown Los Angeles – which could be ready as early as the start of the 2015 season and has plenty of temporary plans to house the new franchise until then?
.1 The San Diego Chargers – The Bolts were a charter member of the old AFL, and spent one season in Los Angeles before settling in permanently in San Diego. The Chargers play in Qualcomm Stadium, known to most long-time sports fans as Jack Murphy Stadium. As far as NFL facilities go, the “Q” is pretty close to the bottom of the list. Old, run down, and only ascetically pleasing due to its location in the most beautiful city in the Country, Qualcomm Stadium is nearing the end of its usability for the league. The team has had trouble selling tickets the past few seasons, despite a run of quality teams with numerous Pro Bowl players. The Spanos Family, majority owners of the franchise, know the riches that await them just two hours down Interstate 5. A move to L.A. would be a major step up for the team, and although they would lose some of their dedicated fanbase – for the most part if the people of San Diego still wanted to follow the Chargers, it wouldn’t be hard. San Diego has gradually moved into the neighborhood of a decent sports town. The Chargers have had some very good teams during their time there, and the baseball Padres are now playing in a brand new ballpark (PetCo Park) and trying to rebuild their club in the tough small-market climate. Traditionally, San Diego has been more of a vacation spot than a hard-nosed sports town. Moving the Chargers to L.A. would be one of the easiest transitions for an NFL team to make (not the easiest, that distinction falls to the Oakland Raiders, who we will get to shortly), and the move would not be considered a black mark on the legacy of the NFL. The Chargers have to be considered the top option for moving to Los Angeles.
2. The Oakland Raiders – The Raiders spent 1982-1994 as the Los Angeles Raiders. After a very successful 21-year run in Oakland, owner Al Davis spearheaded the move to L.A. with the idea that the Raiders would be more financially stable playing in the larger city, despite moving to the already outdated L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The Los Angeles area had two NFL teams at that point, with the Raiders and the Rams playing their games down the road in Anaheim. The Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII while representing the City of Angels, claiming their third Lombardi trophy. In 1995 it was back to Oakland, as Al Davis signed a letter of intent to move his team back to the Bay Area once more, where they have remained ever since. The team has had its share of glory years, but for the most part have been also-rans since returning to Oakland. Furthermore, the stadium situation in Oakland is horrendous. The Oakland Coliseum (or whatever it is called now) is a dump. The Raiders are the last NFL team to share their stadium with a MLB team, and are unable to generate the type of ad revenue in Oakland that an NFL team should. With their history in the Los Angeles market and the fan base the has maintained allegiance to the Raiders, this is a perfect scenario for the team to finally put their long nomad past behind them and become the sole proprietors of football in Los Angeles. The Bay Area has the San Fransisco 49ers as the #1 team in the region, and moving the Raiders to L.A. would only help to further the fortunes of that franchise. The Raiders should be considered the #2 option for moving to L.A., with only a very team-friendly stadium lease keeping them from being the top dog.
3. The St. Louis Rams – Another former L.A. tenant, the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995 and within four years were competing in a Super Bowl and seemed to be on pace to build quite a legacy in the Midwest. Their fortunes went south after that, and attendance has become a serious issue for the team in the immense Edward Jones Dome. The year to watch in 2015, the year the Rams lease with the dome expires. If the team does not have a legitimate stadium plan in place by 2013, the relocation bounds will be barking loudly in St. Louis. The team seems to be heading in the right direction on the field, with new head coach Jeff Fisher crafting a young, talented team. It could be a perfect storm for the NFL to move an up-and-coming team with many marketable pieces into the second-largest city in the country. Keep an eye on the Rams and their stadium situation in St. Louis, if they are unable to secure a new stadium chances are good the Rams are going to be out of Missouri and heading somewhere – L.A. Toronto, maybe even London – and obviously Los Angeles would top that list.
4. The Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars were on every list of potential teams heading to L.A. up until this past year, when the ownership team led by Shahid Khan purchased the franchise. Now the Jaguars appear to be setting down permanent roots in Florida. Jacksonville was a heavy gamble for expansion by the NFL in the mid 90’s and for a while it appeared that the gamble would pay off. Then the lean years came and the fans stopped buying tickets, causing the team to have most of its home games blacked out in the Jacksonville area. The team tarped off a huge section of seats at EverBank Field to avoid those blackouts and have a lease that binds them to the stadium – a fine NFL facility – until 2027. With new ownership committed to the Northern Florida area and the lease in place, the Jaguars can be officially taken off the list of potential Los Angeles suitors.
5. The Buffalo Bills – Oh, the poor Bills. Rabid fans, great football area, storied history, and absolutely no respect for any of it by the league. Playing home games in Toronto wasn’t bad enough, having their franchise named as a possibility to move across country to Los Angeles is a sick, twisted, way to treat a fan base that has supported their team despite terrible coaching and player management decisions over the years. For me – a Steelers fan – I believe football is a game that should be played outdoors in cold weather. The more snow, the more wind, the better. Buffalo is a fine NFL city, and a unique small town that loves its Bills, not quite as small as Green Bay – but frankly, very similar in many ways. The Bills were a founding member of the AFL, they have played in four Super Bowls, they have many Hall of Famers that played their careers in Buffalo, and they sell out their stadium. Ralph Wilson Stadium is old and needs updated, something that the people of Buffalo will have to deal with soon if they want their team taken off this list. Owner Ralph Wilson is 92-years old and when he passes, the last connection to that city and that stadium will be gone. The city and its fans need to work out a lucrative stadium deal to keep the Bills in Upstate New York, where they belong. Until then, the unfortunate reality is that the Buffalo Bills will be courted to move to L.A.. Here is hoping the franchise gets it all sorted out and remains where they belong, just like the Vikings did in Minnesota.
6. An Expansion Team – The probability of another NFL expansion seems dim under the leadership of Roger Goodell. Any expansion plan would need to include two new teams to keep the league balanced. So where would the second team land? Is Las Vegas ready for a professional sports team? Has the financial success of the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays proven that American professional sports work in the gigantic Toronto Metropolitan area? Would the league consider setting up shop in another large Florida market like Orlando – a city with a major powerhouse company in its back pocket (Disney)? How about San Antonio, TX? At one point it seemed the New Orleans Saints could have been permanent residents there and a team in San Antonio would further the league advances into the Mexican-American community. How about a SECOND team in Chicago, a city that has two distinct towns (north side and south side) and already supports two major league baseball teams with a similar setup? Could the Windy City sustain a second NFL team? Finally, what about another college football crazed town – Omaha, Nebraska or Columbus, Ohio. Do either have the population to support a team in their city?
Expansion would be the safest and quickest way to get a team into Los Angeles, and with no limit on the amount of investors that would line up to finance a team, it is a very real possibility.
One way or another, the National Football League is going to get a franchise in Los Angeles by 2015. Whether it be by moving ans established team or expansion, the wheels are already in motion and the league is not going to turn away from the economic boom a team could provide for them in the Los Angeles region. If put together correctly, a team in L.A. could immediately become one of the most valuable professional sports teams in the country. It will be interesting to see where this goes from here.
Follow Jeff Snedden on Twitter @jeffsnedden
Follow Jeff Snedden on Facebook
Follow Nice Pick, Cowher on Twitter @nicepickcowherC
Be sure to get the best Steelers coverage year-round here at Nice Pick, Cowher