SBJ/November 2 - 8, 1998/No Topic Name

Houston NFL presentation wins raves, but was it enough?

Houston may have given the best presentation ever in the contest for a new NFL franchise, but the lure of Los Angeles' television market and rich demographics may prove too attractive for the league to turn down.

NFL owners last week heard three presentations to bring a franchise to state-of-the-art stadiums in Los Angeles and Houston.

The Houston group, led by energy magnate Bob McNair, "gave one of the finest presentations I have ever seen," said Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys.

Cleveland Browns President Carmen Policy was equally impressed.

"Houston came in with a 'We-got-it-done' approach," Policy said. "Houston told owners, 'Everything is in place. The stadium is not an issue. The money is not an issue.'"

But the owners still wonder how much longer they can wait before returning to the second-largest television market in the country.

"We need to have a team in L.A.," said New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "That's clear."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said NFL television ratings have suffered a "steep decline" in the four years since the Raiders and Rams left town. Los Angeles ranked 14th or 15th on a market ratings basis in 1994 and now ranks 29th.

"The TV market is a consideration," said Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.

A decision on which ownership group will land the new franchise could come as early as Feb. 16, when the NFL convenes a special meeting to consider expansion. But first the plans must pass muster in a new "expansion committee" made up of the stadium and finance committees and chaired by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

In Los Angeles, former Walt Disney Co. executive Michael Ovitz and real estate mogul Ed Roski Jr. are vying for a team with competing stadium projects located about 10 miles apart.

Policy said the Los Angeles groups put on an impressive show during their hourlong presentations.

"There was a certain flair and flavor of show business connected with the L.A. presentation, as you would expect," Policy said.

Ovitz, who has a much-praised stadium plan and an all-star ownership group that includes actors Kevin Costner and Tom Cruise, has been viewed as the front-runner in Los Angeles.

But Policy and some NFL owners were surprised at the presentation from Los Angeles Coliseum Partners, led by Roski. Policy said the new design for the Coliseum plan is "very creative."

The devil for Los Angeles may be in the details. One influential NFL insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said neither Los Angeles group appeared to have the financial details nailed down.

Both Los Angeles plans appear to rely on large debt service dependent on big projected revenue. The Houston plan, which includes $195 million in taxpayer money, projects much lower debt and revenue.

Meanwhile, Policy said he did not think the owners received "detailed financial information" on any of the plans. He said the owners will rely on the league office and the finance and stadium committees to analyze the proposals.

Cowboys owner Jones was impressed with the confidence all three stadium teams expressed.

"One thing I respect about them is that they went in like they expected to win," Jones said.

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