- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 19, 2002

Relocation to Los Angeles again is the NFL's manifest destiny.
Following last week's meeting of league's owners in Houston, it appeared the Mayflower trucks were already gassed up and bound for Southern California.
The company owned by Phil Anschutz, Major League Soccer titan and public recluse extraordinaire, presented a $450 million stadium plan for downtown Los Angeles. Financing specifics, including $100 million in public-sector bonds and a $150 million loan from the NFL, were discussed. The league appointed a high-level study group to investigate Los Angeles, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones went so far as to proclaim the NFL returning to the city of angels as only "a matter of when."
The clamor has grown so great that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay already has publicly denied reports his team is a candidate to move.
How quickly everyone has forgotten recent history. Just three years ago, Los Angeles appeared a lock to receive a team to replace the departed Rams and Raiders. The question was seemingly just who would own the team, Hollywood mogul Michael Ovitz or developer Ed Roski. That plan fell apart when, upon closer examination, neither bidder had a clear plan to actually develop and finance a stadium. And Houston soon thereafter received the NFL's 32nd franchise.
Times and circumstances, of course, do change, and the Anschutz effort is different in a lot of ways, most notably a much more defined stadium proposal and Anschutz's undisputed success with the Staples Center.
"It behooves us to have a team there," said Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.
But a significant gap still exists between the current, breathless expectation and reality. Among the unresolved issues:
Lack of grassroots support. After the Colts left Baltimore and more so when the original Browns left Cleveland, fans literally rallied in the streets for a new team. Citizens demanded their politicians to act on their behalf and pursue a new team. Nothing of the sort exists in Los Angeles. The Dodgers and Lakers enjoy steady, continual support. But thanks to the beach, great weather and a litany of other entertainment choices, all the other area pro teams have only tenuous holds on their fan bases.
And thanks to the presence of both USC and UCLA, Los Angeles has a position in major college football unrivaled by any other major U.S. market.
"[The lack of fan outcry for a team] is by far the biggest hurdle Los Angeles faces right now," said industry consultant Marc Ganis, who frequently works with the NFL.
A long history of political infighting in California. The state is so large, populous and diverse that getting agreement on anything, let alone a pro football stadium, is a difficult hurdle. Right now, formal opposition to an NFL return has not yet materialized, but few in the state expect it to remain that way for long.
"L.A. is not like any other city in the country, for a bunch of reasons including politics," said David Carter, a Los Angeles-based sports industry consultant. "We're, in a way, a collection of fiefdoms. If this is going to happen, people have to realize this process is a marathon, not a sprint, and really hasn't started yet."
No forceful political leadership. So far, putting football back in Los Angeles has been largely a private affair. In Ohio, there was Mayor Michael White leading the charge to bring back the Browns. Maryland governors William Donald Schaefer and Parris Glendening both willingly expended political capital on football and faced challengers head-on. Ditto for former New York mayor Rudy Guiliani and baseball. Unless, and until, someone of high stature in Los Angeles does the same, the effort will be severely hindered.
No team. All the talk to date in Los Angeles has been about a stadium. Of course, having a state-of-the-art facility is critical, but it's still rather meaningless until a team commits to the city. Expansion isn't realistic, given the league's massive efforts of late to tie up all its loose ends, including realignment and an extension to the labor deal with the players.
That mandates relocation, so who moves? San Diego, Arizona, Minnesota and New Orleans are all decent possibilities, with the Chargers the strongest one because their stadium lease expires in less than two years. But none of those team owners so far is willing risk hometown uproar and admit to interest in Los Angeles.
Anschutz's private nature. The Colorado-based billionaire, who has interests in six MLS teams, the Los Angeles Kings and a litany of European sports teams, has not granted a media interview in more than two decades. Thanks to some lieutenants who are willing to speak for him, Anschutz has gotten away with the silence. The high-dollar, high-exposure NFL, however, is very different from the NHL, MLS or Europe. If he goes forward with this project, the man who is writing the largest checks ultimately will be expected to speak publicly.
Having said all of this, relocating a team to Los Angeles provides some important opportunities to the NFL. First and foremost, its obvious state as the nation's second largest city and a center for entertainment and consumer culture would give the now-reeling TV networks a large new carrot for the next broadcast contracts.
Putting another team in Los Angeles also gives the NFL more exposure to a quickly ripening Asian fan market, and would go a long way to providing more balance to a national fan base still tilted to the East Coast and upper Midwest.
But as usual, the devil remains in the details.
"Having a team in L.A. makes sense for the NFL and could enhance them, but it's not worth doing at all costs," Ganis said. "There is a good likelihood of a team being there within three to four years. It is an absolute certainty that the plan to get a team there will look entirely different from what we have now."


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