Saturday, June 11, 2011

Who Wants To Move To LA?

Another story I came across just in the last few minutes: The Anschutz Entertainment Group claims to have been in contact with five NFL teams about the possibility of moving to their proposed stadium in Los Angeles. For the record, those teams are Minnesota, San Diego, Oakland, St. Louis, and Jacksonville. AEG CEO Tim Leiweke went so far as to suggest that AEG would go so far as to buy a majority stake in a particular NFL franchise and buy out their existing stadium lease in order to facilitate the move.

AEG, and in particular its founder Phil Anschutz, they do have a small place in my heart. AEG was part of the original investment group that founded Major League Soccer, and to this day they own the LA Galaxy and maintain 50% ownership of the Houston Dynamo. At one point in time AEG maintained four MLS clubs, and the league may not have survived if not for Anschutz's largess. Their myriad of sports-related investments includes outright ownership of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings (and its entire minor-league system), several hockey clubs in Europe, and several arenas and stadia in Europe, and interests in the LA Lakers and Sparks as well as the UFL's Hartford Colonials and Danish soccer club Hammarby IF. So they know what they're doing when it comes to running pro-sports teams, and I'm pretty sure they'd make whatever NFL franchise they owned or otherwise persuaded to move to La-La Land a success.

But AEG isn't the only entity trying to bring the NFL back to LA. While AEG plans to build a 72,000-seat stadium in downtown LA as part of its 'campus' (which also includes the Staples Center arena), a rival development is in the works fifteen miles east of LA, in the City of Industry. There, warehouse magnate Ed Roski leads a group attempting to build a 75,000-seat stadium for a prospective NFL franchise. To me, this group seems a little..... quixotic, as they probably don't have the sheer financial muscle AEG has to not only build the stadium, but to also purchase a franchise to inhabit such a stadium.

But let's focus on AEG right now. They say they've spoken with five different NFL franchises, but which would be the best fit for them? Let's start with the teams that actually have history there first:

St. Louis Rams: This actually came as a surprise to me, that they'd actually want to move back to LA, which wasn't even the team's birthplace (the Cleveland Rams moved to LA in 1946) to begin with. The Rams won a Super Bowl in St. Louis, and while their current stadium (the Edward Jones Dome) isn't the newest thing in town any more, but it's been kept up nicely over the years and remains a good NFL-caliber stadium. I'd have to rate the possibility of the Rams returning to LA as 'doubtful'.

San Diego Chargers: This club actually started out as the Los Angeles Chargers of the old American Football League before moving down the coast to San Diego, and while the Spanos family have bitched and moaned about Qualcomm (formerly Jack Murphy) Stadium, and publicly pondered moving back to LA, they have no interest in selling any part of the club to anyone, so I'll rate this one as 'doubtful' as well.

Oakland Raiders: Two words - no, three: Al Fucking Davis. Who would be crazy enough to deal with a guy who looks more and more like Emperor Palpatine with each passing day? I've spoken to a lot of Raider Nation types over the years and even the craziest, most hardcore Halloween-on-Sundays Raiders fan has said to me that they can't wait for Davis to kick the bucket so somebody with a fully-functioning brain can run the team. And considering that last I heard, Davis' lawsuit against the NFL for trying to block the team's move back to Oakland from LA is still ongoing - for over a decade now - you'd have to be out of your gourd to deal with them. Rating: "oh, hell no". Let's just hope that Davis doesn't try to issue Order 66 on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.....

Minnesota Vikings: As of this moment, the current lockout of the players by the NFL had better not end soon, because if it did, the Vikes might not have a stadium to play in. I'm pretty sure you've all seen the rather dramatic video of the Minneapolis Metrodome's roof collapsing under the weight of several feet of snow. They're still working on fixing that roof even as we speak. The Vikings wound up finishing their home schedule at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, which is not only smaller than the Metrodome, but outdoors as well. But while Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has been pondering relocating the Vikings for years, it turns out that TCF Bank Stadium was designed to be easily expandable to a capacity suitable for the needs of the Vikings. And considering that domed stadiums are slowly going the way of the dinosaur, I foresee outdoor football in Minneapolis on Sundays as well as Saturdays. This one gets a 'doubtful' rating. Which leaves us with.....

Jacksonville Jaguars: I've always been struck by one thing about Jacksonville: how the hell did they ever get a team in the first place? I'm sure Jacksonville is a fine place, and they've always had a big-ass stadium there in the Gator Bowl, but they never struck me as the stereotypical NFL market. While Jacksonville isn't the smallest city to have an NFL franchise (Green Bay has a population barely over 100k), it is most certainly one of the smallest markets in the NFL in terms of total metropolitan population (excluding Green Bay, natch). And Jacksonville is surrounded by other NFL teams within a reasonable drive (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Miami), not to mention surrounded by traditional-power college teams (Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech). Jacksonville has been the traditional host of the annual Georgia - Florida football game ("The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party") as part and parcel of the city's passion for college football. And attendance for Jags games has steadily declined in recent years as the team has been stuck in mediocrity for several seasons. And like Minnesota and San Diego, Jags owner Wayne Weaver has publicly stated that moving the club is a distinct possibility. And with no other real options in sight for the club......

I'd say the best bet for moving to LA would be the Jaguars. San Diego's ownership won't sell, St. Louis' situation is nowhere near as bad as it may or may not seem, Minnesota has better options available, and who in their right mind would deal with Al Davis? The only issues left are timing, and who would own the team. Would AEG convince Weaver to move, or just buy the Jags outright? Would they move the team immediately, and have the Jags play in the Rose Bowl (also owned by AEG) until the new stadium is complete, or leave the Jags in limbo for a few seasons while the new stadium is under construction. I would think the best situation would be to move the Jags ASAP and put them in the Rose Bowl until a new stadium is ready, because I seriously doubt Jacksonville fans would pay for Jags tickets fully knowing that the team wouldn't be staying for much longer. Not to mention that any remaining difficulties AEG might be having getting the permits and clearances to build their new stadium would likely vanish once a tenant has been confirmed for it.

There is one last variable to bring into consideration when it comes to bringing the NFL back to the LA metro, though: the fans themselves. Fact is, LA was never all that excited about the NFL for most of the time. Sure, the Raiders were kinda.... fashionable during their stay in LA, but since then there just hasn't been that overwhelming clamor to bring the NFL back to LA since the Raiders and Rams left. In fact, when real-estate mogul Ken Behring attempted (and briefly succeeded) to move the Seattle Seahawks to Anaheim, the response from LA sports fans was overwhelmingly.... meh. The Los Angeles Times ran a poll on fan excitement of various LA Metro teams shortly after the Seahawks moved, and they finished eleventh, if I remember correctly.

So the only certainty in all this is uncertainty. But I think there's enough information floating around that I'll make this prediction: in 2015, there will be NFL football in Los Angeles. And it'll probably be the Jacksonville Jaguars moving to LA. Sorry, Jacksonville. It sucks losing a team - I'm still bitter about the Sonics being stolen off to Oklahoma City, and there are probably a few old-timers that are still pissed off about losing the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee. Seattle fans are expert in dealing with this issue. But look at the bright side - the Gators, Seminoles, Bulldogs, Yellow Jackets - they'll never move.

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