The NFL in Los Angeles

The year is 2040.  The season's first exhibition game is about to kick off between the NFL's two newest expansion teams, the Idaho Spudpickers and the London Tanqueray and tonics. With the recent expansion there are now 48 teams in the NFL, but one city is still without a team, Los Angeles. 

Considering Los Angeles is the second biggest market in the U.S., that scenario seems unlikely.  But maybe it's not that unlikely after all.  "After Des Moines gets an NFL franchise they may think of L.A.," said former California Governor Gray Davis.  "After they've ransomed money from every other city, they might come back to L.A."

Since both the Raiders and Rams left Los Angeles in 1994, Baltimore, Cleveland, Nashville, Houston, and of course, St Louis and Oakland have all gotten an NFL team. And, except for Nashville, all those cities have something in common.  They all watched an NFL team leave for a town where they thought they could make more money.  In fact, in the modern era, the NFL has returned to every town they've left except L.A., and they've now been without a team longer than any of those other places ever were.  When Cleveland is beating you out for an NFL franchise, you know things are bad.

The knock on L.A. is that people just aren't that passionate about sports.  Fans show up to Dodger's games in the 3rd inning and are gone by the end of the 7th.  They show up to Laker's games in the second quarter and are heading for the door at the start of the 4th.  You have to beat the traffic--after all.  Plus, not everyone in L.A. even realizes they no longer have a team.  Five years after the Raiders and Rams bolted Davis said, "We just took a poll and 60% of the people in L.A. County think the football teams never left.  This is almost five years after they Raiders and Rams left and people still think they're playing football in L.A."  Of course, a recent gallop poll found 37% of Americans can't even find the U.S. on a map, including 2% who thought the U.S. was located in the color-coded inset legend, so maybe it shouldn't have come as too big of a surprise.  

 

Another problem is the age of the stadiums in California.  Twenty-one new NFL stadiums have been built since 1994 and none of them were in the golden state.  After Lambeau Field the three oldest stadiums in the NFL are Candlestick Park (unless they've changed the name again), which was built in 1960, the Oakland Coliseum (1966), and Qualcomm Stadium (1967).  As for the Los Angeles Coliseum, which was built in 1923, it has seen the Charger, Rams, and Raiders all leave because they felt it wasn't very fan friendly, which is code for you'd have an easier time scoring an 8-ball than getting tickets from a scalper.  In the Raiders last ten seasons in L.A. they never played at night, forcing them to play 19 straight Monday Night Football games on the road.

The last team to lose and NFL team and not get one back was when the Brooklyn Dodgers, or Tigers as they were known for their last two seasons, folded in 1945.  In an ironic twist it was the Dodgers who came closest to bringing football back to L.A. A month after the Raiders joined the Rams in fleeing L.A., Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley announced he would build a stadium for a new team in Chavez Ravine.  The move would bring football back and help him diversify his revenue stream.

At first he had the backing of the Mayor, Richard Riordon, and the NFL, but a year later everything changed.  In order to win support from pro-Coliseum councilmen for the Staples Center, which was far from a reality at that time, Riordon promised to back the Coliseum as the only viable option for a new NFL team.  Without support from the city, O'Malley announced he was selling the Dodgers.  "If Peter had continued to receive the backing of the mayor and city officials to pursue his dream of an NFL franchise, it's very likely Los Angeles would have an NFL team today and the O'Malleys would still own the Dodgers," said former executive vice president and general manager of the Dodgers Fred Claire.  Now L.A. is still without an NFL team and the Dodgers have just filed for bankruptcy, but hey, the Staples Center sure looks cool.

So will L.A. ever get a team again?  The Raiders, Vikings, Jaguars, Rams, and Chargers have all been mentioned as teams that might relocate.  Then again, that could just be a ploy by those cities threatening to move to L.A. in order to get a better stadium where they're at.  It wouldn't be the first time.  Several times in the past, teams have leveraged L.A. to get a better stadium.  The most famous was when the Seahawks moved some of their equipment to the Rams old office in Anaheim and closed their office in Kirkland, WA, before Paul Allen bought the team and built Qwest Field.

Then there's the fact the NFL seems to be doing just fine without a team in L.A. With two teams in L.A., revenue from TV contract was $900 million. Seventeen years later with no team in L.A., TV revenue has more than tripled to $3.1 billion. With California's economy in the red, it seems L.A. needs the NFL a lot more than the NFL needs L.A.  If L.A. is ever going to get an NFL team again, the stadium will have to be privately financed, and who knows how much of an expansion fee will have to be paid.  Probably more than the $700 million expansion fee paid by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.  In other words, it might be right after the expansion of the Des Moines Cornheads.

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