Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for some reason, maybe only known to him, has decided Los Angeles (L.A.) is ready to become the home of two National Football League (NFL) franchises. Since Al Davis took his Raiders from L.A. back to Oakland in 1995, there have been sporadic utterances from Jones that L.A. should have a NFL franchise.
Jones’ pronouncement could have been targeted at a number of internal NFL audiences. He could have sounded the clarion call to get Phil Anschutz’s attention telling Anschutz to get off his rear end and get his proposed L.A. stadium built, or he could provide some cover for a number of NFL disgruntled owners who are seeking new facilities and started the ball rolling for negotiations for those owners in their home city or in Los Angeles.
The “disgruntled” NFL owners list could include the St. Louis Rams’ Stan Kroenke, the San Diego Chargers Dean Spanos, the Oakland Raiders Mark Davis and the Miami Dolphins Stephen Ross. Another group could include the Buffalo Bills Ralph Wilson and the Jacksonville Jaguars Shahid Khan. Kroenke’s lease in St. Louis is done after the 2014 season. The Spanos family has operated on a year-to-year lease basis in San Diego. Davis’ lease in Oakland is expiring soon. Ross more than likely can leave his stadium whenever he chooses, if he decides to go that route. The state of New York and Wilson have worked out on a financial package, which includes the renovation of the Orchard Park, New York stadium that keeps the team in western New York for at least seven more years. Khan has a long-term deal in Jacksonville, but the franchise will be playing some “home” games in London, England in the next few years.
The Buffalo Bills-New York stadium agreement calls for the state to kick in $54 million, Erie County $41 million as part of a $130 million makeover of the stadium. Buffalo Bills ownership will pick $35 million and the franchise would have to pay a $400 million exit fee should the lease be broken.
L.A., the second biggest market in the United States, and a market with an international reputation because of Hollywood, doesn’t have a stadium that could house an NFL team.
But, will there ever be an NFL stadium built in downtown L.A.? That is a huge question mark. Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) is behind the construction of the proposed stadium near L.A. Live, a congested area that might not be able to handle the traffic flow of 70,000 people per game. But, the traffic congestion may be just window dressing for the real problem.
There are some holes in the L.A. story that need to be addressed. Former AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke started talking about building a stadium near the L.A. Live property in 2010. His vision was to build a privately funded 65,000-seat facility and getting an NFL owner to commit to moving his franchise to L.A. Leiweke failed and was eventually pushed out by Anschutz or resigned his position. Leiweke is now in Toronto running Maple Leaf Enterprises.
The stadium cost may be as much as $1.8 billion and AEG under Leiweke was going to foot the bill.
The biggest flaw in the AEG plan was the plan itself. NFL owners are accustomed to grabbing the lion’s share of revenues out of a stadium. Leiweke had proposed that most of the revenues created inside of the stadium and presumably around the stadium’s perimeter go to paying off the debt of the stadium. That’s something no NFL owner would ever consider. In a sense, the owner would just be a tenant and AEG would be the landlord and that isn’t much of a deal for an NFL owner in 2010, 2011, 2012 or 2013.
The NFL last played a game in the L.A. area in 1994.
Back in 1994-95, the NFL was trying to help Al Davis land a new stadium for his L.A. Raiders near the Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood.
The NFL, trying to sweeten the deal, offered five Super Bowls over a ten-year period to get the stadium built. The deal was scaled back to three over 10 years then one, then the NFL decided L.A. should be a two team marketing and another team (after Georgia Frontiere moved her Anaheim-based L.A. Rams to St. Louis) and that Davis team would share the stadium with another franchise and share all of the revenues generated inside the building.
Davis went back to Oakland.
After Davis left, Seattle Seahawks owner Ken Behring thought about moving his franchise to Anaheim because he felt his home stadium, the Kingdome, was not earthquake proof. The NFL sent him back to Seattle. After the NFL awarded L.A. a conditional expansion franchise in 1999, neither city nor state officials could find the money to build a new stadium or renovate the L.A. Coliseum. The expansion franchise instead went to Houston.
Buffalo is off the board for the time being. Buffalo is paying an annual game in Toronto and Leiweke is now in Toronto. Toronto business interests would like a permanent NFL franchise. But St. Louis, Oakland, San Diego, Miami and Jacksonville might be in play.
Kroenke and the group that runs the St. Louis dome cannot agree on what monies should be poured into the dome to get it up to 21st century state of the art standards. The negotiations will take place for a new stadium deal between elected officials and Kroenke if Kroenke chooses to do so.
Apparently the Raiders ownership has kicked the tires with AEG and has come away unimpressed with the offer.
For 13 years, the Spanos family has been trying to get a new football stadium in San Diego.
Meanwhile Miami Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross is fuming that local and Florida politicians cannot see it his way and throw local and state taxpayers’ dollars his way and renovate his football stadium. Ross is angry at the local politicians and is trying to find the right candidates to run against the politicians who had the audacity to say no to his needs.
This past March a number of area politicians supported placing a referendum on the ballot that would have determined whether or not the well-heeled real estate mogul Ross , should get a quarter of a billion dollars to renovate his football’s stadium to bring it up to a more modern standard. The question never got to the voters. Ross claimed the team has never asked for money for stadium upgrades. But Ross has a $60 million tax rebate from the state that all Florida big league sports teams get, a $2 million gift that lasts 30 years. Ross’s lobbyists were pushing for another state bill which would kickback $3 million a year for a 30-year period to not only his team but all of the Florida major league sports teams. Florida lawmakers never took up the question.
This is an embarrassing situation for Ross who probably lost face among his NFL brothers. Owners generally push politicians around and get what they want. The NFL has taken notice of this and will punish Miami by not awarding any future Super Bowls to the area because of the subpar stadium conditions.
Ross’s paid spokesman, rather CEO, Mike Dee has left the job and has landed in San Diego with the baseball Padres as that franchise’s CEO and president. Dee claimed Ross would never leave Miami but if Ross sells the team, you never know what might happen with a new boss.
The city of Jacksonville and Jaguars owner Shahid Khan have an agreement to “enhance” the stadium goer experience by downsizing the seating capacity at the city’s stadium by tearing out seats and building a huge video board. The renovations will be done by 2014 and will cost about $63 million with Jacksonville taxpayers on the hook for $43 million.
The NFL is trying to improve the stadium experience by making customers feel they are in their living rooms with touches like huge video boards.
In Jacksonville, there apparently aren’t enough customers and a chunk of seats in the stadium have been covered by a tarp. Khan’s franchise is also giving up one home date a year to play in London for the foreseeable future. Jacksonville has been a financially “troubled” NFL franchise for years and the city has changed lease agreements to aid the struggling franchise.
Khan, allegedly, is tied to a lease until 2030. But as former Houston Astros and New Jersey Devils owner, the late Dr. John McMullen once pointed out, a lease is merely a piece of paper.
There is no rush to L.A. by any NFL owner at the moment. The AEG proposal isn’t turning heads; Ed Roski’s City of Industry proposal has been out there for years and seems to not have knocked anyone over. There is talk again of putting a stadium in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. But L.A. is out there and an owner can always use a threat to move to L.A. as a leverage point in negotiations to get a new stadium in the town that houses his NFL team. The threat generally works. It’s always nice to have L.A. around when you need a new stadium. Just ask Zygi Wilf in Minnesota.
Evan Weiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.comand Amazon.