NFL’s Los Angeles threat could be realized

The NFL has been using the large and open market of Los Angeles for bargaining power for decades. Now it’s affecting three franchises and the high-stakes game is getting real.

The NFL owners meetings will be short on Tuesday and Wednesday, but not necessarily sweet.

Among the topics being discussed is the potential movement of a franchise from St. Louis, San Diego or Oakland to Los Angeles. For those communities, the threat is real and could be realized. For others who have been through it before, there is more skepticism.

Living in Minnesota (it’s OK, eventually we’ll see summer), this writer has seen the process first-hand: old stadium getting outdated, lease coming to an end, and the threat of Los Angeles. It happened here to varying degrees for more than a decade and spanning three ownership groups with the Minnesota Vikings.

The first group, known as the “Gang of 10,” was tired of perennially being near the bottom of the league in revenues with a stadium lease that gave them little flexibility, and they sold to Texas billionaire Red McCombs in 1998. The car salesman tried his luck at getting a new stadium deal with puffy sales pitches and exuberance that floated by the largely uninterested faces of local politicians. When McCombs realized he wasn’t going to get out of the encumbering Metrodome lease before its expiration, he sold to New Jersey billionaire Zygi Wilf and family.

The Wilfs took a more measured, conservative approach and had time on their hands. The Metrodome lease would be expiring and the closer that got, the more active legislators became in trying to keep the wolves of Los Angeles at bay. While the NFL held the L.A. hammer over the heads of Minnesotans, all residents heard was lalalalala. Until L.A. turned into a real threat.

The Vikings got what they wanted, a new stadium that will be something to behold and is set to open for the 2016 season with an NCAA Final Four and Super Bowl 52 already scheduled as the major events for the new stadium to help the public recoup some (maybe all or more) of its $498 million investment. But the threat of Los Angeles is very real for other communities now.

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has thrown his support behind a stadium project in Inglewood, Calif. as St. Louis contemplates the wisdom of public money for a stadium and attempts assessing the proper balance of public vs. private funds.

With a team that was formerly located in Los Angeles, the threat to move back is … well, back.

Elsewhere, an advisory group appointed by Mayor Kevin Faulconer recommended the Chargers contribute $300 million to a new $1.33 billion stadium, according to the Associated Press, with the NFL kicking in $200 million, personal seat licenses contributing $120 million and the city and county each shoving $121 million toward the project.

With Los Angeles in the shadows of San Diego, the threat has moved to one West Coast franchise.

But it’s not just a dual threat between St. Louis and San Diego. Another former Los Angeles team, the Oakland Raiders, is also in the mix to relocate.

The Raiders and Chargers announced a push to jointly build a $1.7 billion stadium in Carson near Los Angeles and have hired former San Francisco 49ers president Carmen Policy to spearhead the project. Ironically, the NFL owners meetings this week, during which the potential relocation(s) to Los Angeles will be discussed, are being held in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, the land transaction, where that proposed stadium would be located, closed, marking another sign of the seriousness of that deal.

At least one of three franchises considering location – St. Louis, San Diego or Oakland – would be left out of the Los Angeles mix. But if and when a franchise located in the United States’ second-largest media market happens, the threat will be gone. The NFL will have lost its biggest bargaining chip for shiny new stadiums throughout the country, whether that chip was a bluff a legitimate wager with a hand flush with aces to back it up.

Nothing will be decided this week, giving the NFL further time to ratchet up the pressure in those three communities to build their own stadium and save their local ties. But, eventually, maybe as soon as the October owners meetings, Los Angeles could the new home for an NFL franchise (or two), and the NFL’s biggest bargaining chip for billion-dollar stadiums across the country would be a marker that is finally called in.


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