SBJ/October 11 - 17, 1999/No Topic Name

Los Angeles unlikely to land NFL team any time soon

Bucking conventional wisdom that the NFL must be in Los Angeles, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue says that owners do not feel compelled to place a team in the nation's second-largest television market before the next round of television rights negotiations.

In the wake of last week's overwhelming vote to award the 32nd franchise to Houston, some NFL insiders predict that Los Angeles may not have a team for years — if at all.

At a press conference announcing that the league had awarded the expansion team to Houston billionaire Robert McNair, Tagliabue nixed the widespread notion that the NFL must be in Los Angeles to increase the network's multibillion- dollar rights fee.

"No, I don't think so," Tagliabue said when asked if the beginning of the next round of negotiations was the deadline to get a team in Los Angeles. "The future of television is robust for us because we have such a great product ... I believe we will have opportunities on television down the road that we don't even know what they are today because technology is going to bring them around tomorrow or the day after tomorrow."

Tagliabue said the next round of television rights negotiations, which will begin in about six years, "was not a consideration" in the NFL owners' decision to award the team to Houston, instead of Los Angeles, last week.

Not only did NFL owners vote 29-0 to award the franchise to Houston, but they held little, if any, discussion on how or when the league would put a team in the second-largest television market.

In a closed-door meeting with team owners, Tagliabue indicated that the league would not expand again for at least a decade, according to one source.

People inside and outside the NFL see little chance the Southern California metropolitan area of 17 million people will even be able to lure another team to the city, which lost both the Rams and Raiders in 1995.

"It's hard to imagine a scenario where the NFL will come to Los Angeles in the next few years," said Leigh Steinberg, a Southern California-based football agent who worked on a failed effort to keep the Rams in Anaheim.

Steinberg said that teams that could move to Los Angeles either have financially attractive stadium deals in their own cities or are well on their way to getting them.

Steinberg blamed a lack of unity among public officials and different ownership groups for hurting Los Angeles' efforts to land a team.

Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a company that has advised prospective NFL owners on franchises, also said it will be "very difficult" now for Los Angeles to get a franchise. The NFL teams that could move to Los Angeles will only move if a better stadium deal is a certainty, and Los Angeles public officials were not able to pledge the level of public support the NFL demanded when the league gave the city a conditional franchise, Ganis said.

"Are the politicians in L.A. going to put the focus that's necessary to put a certain deal in place when they don't have a franchise?" Ganis said.

Meanwhile, NFL owners were at a loss to predict when, or if, the league would return to Los Angeles.

"Eventually we would like to come to Los Angeles, but you can't force it; it has got to be the right time," said Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. "I don't think it has got to be before the next TV contract."

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson said he started out favoring Los Angeles but changed his allegiance to Houston because of the indecision over a stadium site within the greater Los Angeles area.

"First, a couple of years ago, they were talking about Dodger stadium, then it's the Coliseum, then it's Carson, then it's Hollywood Park," Wilson said, recounting the list of sites proposed for a team over the years. "It turned everybody off."

Wilson said he doesn't mind if Los Angeles doesn't have a franchise for the foreseeable future. "I don't think that Los Angeles has the passion right now for a franchise," he said.

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