Why L.A. Still Does Not Have an NFL Team

Andrew Ungvari@DrewUngaSenior Writer IJanuary 25, 2008

My Bleacher Report colleague, John Fennelly, recently wrote an NFL-L_A_In_Limbo_NFL_Conspicuously_Absent_In_Nation_s_Second-Largest_City-230108">article about the NFL being conspicuously absent from Los Angeles.

Since the Rams and Raiders left town the city has made no progress in replacing either of them. There are a number of reasons why:

1) You Can't Fight City Hall

The main obstacle in bringing professional football back to Los Angeles has been the Coliseum Commission. Since the L.A. Coliseum is owned by the city, it will always be the only option local government will get behind. There is just too much money involved for city hall to either give up or get behind another bid.

The problem is that the Coliseum is a dump. It is not one of those old buildings with charm, like Wrigley Field. 

Art Modell, the late owner of the Baltimore Ravens, once said about the L.A. Coliseum, "Trying to put a new dress on an old hooker is not the way I want to go dancing."

Philip Anshutz, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Kings and Staples Center, tried unsuccessfully to build a stadium in Downtown L.A. to help lure an expansion team. When he saw what obstacles city hall was planning on putting in his way, he quickly backed down.

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Until either an ownership group is willing to foot the bill for the construction of a stadium on top of the billion dollar expansion fee without counting on tax-payer money, the thought of professional football returning to Los Angeles is a long-shot.

2) The NFL Has 32 Teams

This is a bigger deal than most people realize. When the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL, the league had 31 teams. Having an odd number of teams meant that one team did not play the first week of the season and another team did not play the last week of the season.

Opening day in the NFL is a national holiday. Giving one team the day off excludes their fans from participating.

That is not nearly as important to the NFL as giving a team the week off in Week 17. What if that team is a wild-card team? Is it fair to the division winner they would play on Wild Card Weekend that their opponent had a bye the week before?

During the 2001 season the league gave the opening week bye to the Cardinals and the week 17 bye to San Diego. The Cardinals were coming off of a 3-13 season the year before while the Chargers were 1-15. I do not think it is a coincidence that those were the two teams.

There is more parity in the NFL these days so there is a greater risk involved in giving a bad team from the previous year that last week bye. It is no longer uncommon to see a team go from 3-13 one year to 11-5 the next.

The NFL is probably more interested in having Los Angeles enter the league with another team to prevent this from happening. The problem is that there are not any obvious nominees for the league's 34th franchise.

Las Vegas is still out of the question because of gambling. San Antonio is too tough of a market to crack because of all the Cowboy loyalists. Salt Lake City is also risky for an owner that would have to invest at least a billion dollars to put a team there. A retractable roof stadium would also need to be built to house a team there. The NFL's newest field, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, cost an estimated $675 million, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Besides, the NFL is not ready for 34 teams. There are eights divisions with four teams in each. The addition of two more teams would throw off that balance by giving two divisions an additional team

3) Hurricane Katrina and The Emergence of the Chargers

Because it would mean an odd number of teams, the NFL would much rather a team move to Los Angeles than grant them the 33rd franchise as an expansion team. The obvious candidates during the first half of the decade were the Chargers and the Saints.

It was not that long ago that the Chargers were horrible. Then-GM Bobby Beathard was notorious for trading out of the first round each year. Under Beathard, the team never recovered from the drafting of Ryan Leaf.

L.A. had the perfect chance to try to snag the Chargers while they were bad, but they missed the boat. The window closed when the Chargers turned the franchise around. They have won 3 of the last 4 division titles and do not appear to be heading anywhere.

Many San Diegans would not have cared if the team left following that 1-15 season. But now that they are good (at least for the first 17 weeks of the season), the city has embraced them. 

The Saints were also a candidate to move to Los Angeles before they became New Orleans rallying cry after Hurricane Katrina. Mike Ditka destroyed the franchise by trading all of the team's draft picks to the Redskins to get Ricky Williams.

The team went 3-13 the season before Katrina hit. There were rumors in Los Angeles that the Saints were on their way. Those rumors were not quelled when the Texans passed on drafting Reggie Bush to take Mario Williams.

The conspiracy theory in L.A. was that the NFL had given the Texans some sort of compensation to pass on Bush, so that he could be the centerpiece of the NFL's return to Los Angeles.

At first, Katrina seemed like it would be the best excuse for Tom Benson to move the Saints to Los Angeles. Many of its residents had fled, the Superdome was in need of repair and many of the businesses that buy up the luxury boxes had abandoned the city.

Nobody could foresee that the team and the Superdome would become symbols of the city's resurrection. The team went 10-6 and made it to the NFC Championship Game.

L.A. had lost the Saints before they ever got them.

4) Los Angeles is a City of Transplants

Los Angeles has a reputation for being a bad sports town. This one always makes me laugh because it could not be further from the truth. Los Angeles is one of the nation's best sports towns.

Los Angeles is 45% made up of people who moved here from somewhere else. And every one of those people brought their allegiances with them. There are bars in L.A. for nearly every team's supporters.

So, while it is not like Pittsburgh or Kansas City in terms of the entire city backing the team, it is great because of its "sports diversity". Every person you meet is a fan of a different team. Sports bars here are like the United Nations, with at least two delegates representing every team (except the Cardinals. I have never seen a Cardinals fan).

What all this means for L.A. trying to get a team, is that they're never going to get a march on city hall to get pro football. People there already have allegiances, so why would they line up to help get an expansion team they have no intention of supporting?

5) Every Television Market Only Gets Five Games Broadcast Every Week

This one kind of gets tied into the previous one. There is so much football analysis on TV these days that we tend to forget that for the majority of the season, we do not really get that many games on TV.

Fox and CBS alternate each week between which network gets a doubleheader. So there are three games on in L.A. between 10 am and 4 pm on Sundays, in addition to the Sunday night and Monday night game.

What that means is that markets that do not have teams get the best games on TV. So instead of being force-fed a Raiders/Lions or Panthers/Rams game, there is the chance that L.A. could get a Packers/Eagles or Giants/Cowboys game.

For a city made up of so many transplants, the difference is being able to roll out of bed and watch the games in your underwear or having to switch to DirectTV or go to a sports bar and spend $40 on food and drink if they want to watch a good game. 

6) USC Football

Believe it or not, the success of USC football over the last 7 or 8 years has hurt the NFL's chances of coming back. Ask any USC fan and they will tell you that professional football returned to L.A. when Pete Carroll was hired as the Trojans' head coach.

The Trojans have given many Angelenos enough of their football fix to quiet the jones for an NFL team.

7) It is Only 8 Sundays a Year

I love professional football as much as the next guy. But take off your blinders for a second and realize that, excluding the playoffs and the preseason, most teams only play 8 games a year at home.

Is it really worth asking the citizens of Los Angeles to spend their tax dollars on a $700 million stadium that's only open 8 days out of the year?

We were talking about a 100,000-seat facility that would only house an NFL team, possibly USC or UCLA and Chivas USA of the MLS? How many bands can sell out a 100,000 seat stadium?

Sure there is the occasional moto-cross event or X Games, but does L.A. really need another facility for that?

L.A., Paris, London and Athens are the only cities to ever host two Olympiads. It has been 24 years since the last L.A. Olympics. Atlanta hosted in 1996 and Chicago has already been nominated as the U.S. choice for the 2016 Olympics. So if Chicago wins the bid, then another U.S. city will not host until 2028, at the earliest.

It just does not make sense to build a stadium that can't even host another Olympics for twenty years.

8) They Had Their Chance and Blew It

In 1998, the NFL announced that Cleveland would get the 31st NFL franchise. That left open one spot for either L.A., Houston or Toronto.

In March of 1992, NFL owners had voted 29-2 in favor of giving the 32nd franchise to L.A., if they could put together an acceptable ownership group and stadium proposal by September of that year.

Not one of the prospective ownership groups could satisfy the league and Houston was awarded the franchise by a 29-0 vote. The NFL gave them every opportunity and six months and they still could not figure it out. 

Fennelly wrote in his article that L.A. is no longer a destination for Super Bowls. The reason for that is that only cities with teams are permitted to host Super Bowls.

The city has lost billions in tax revenue that would have come from hotel bed taxes, transportation, airline flights and restaurants.

Since the NFL, for the most part, likes to stage its biggest game in warm-weather cities, Los Angeles would be all but guaranteed to host at least two Super Bowls per decade.

In the past, the NFL has given loans to teams that are used to either build new stadiums or make renovations to existing ones. So if the NFL were willing to promise L.A. three Super Bowls in a ten-year span, the city would have the money to pay back the NFL for the cost of a new stadium.

This is significant, because it would ease the burden on any prospective owner and relieve them of having to come up with both the expansion fee as well as the money to build a new state-of-the-art stadium.

The Raiders and Rams both left after the 1994 season. That means there are 13 year-old kids that have never seen a professional football game played in Los Angeles. Based on the current state of affairs, I do not envision any of them getting that opportunity before they are legally allowed to vote.

Perhaps with the right ownership group and increasing public support, it could happen by the time they are old enough to buy a beer at the stadium's concession stand. 


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