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Volume 24 No. 115
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Panel Examines Ongoing Issue Of NFL In L.A., With Eye On Past, Future

When AEG announced its stadium naming-rights deal with Farmers Insurance in August '11, the public perception was that an NFL venue and a team arriving in L.A. -- be it a team moving from another market or an expansion franchise -- was imminent. Panelists discussed the history and ongoing development of this story in Thursday's final panel of the IMG World Congress of Sports hosted by SBJ/SBD. 

SIMON SAYS: “I remember when the NFL first left, the Raiders and the Rams left L.A., and I was asked routinely, ‘How long do you think it will be before they’ll come back?’” said L.A. Sports Council President David Simon. “My stock answer in 1995 was ‘At least five years and maybe 10,’ and the routine response when I said that was, ‘It will never take that long, the NFL will never stay away for five years -- are you kidding me?’ Now it’s 17, 18 years later and we’re still waiting. I think in those first few years after Georgia Frontiere and Al Davis picked up stakes, both the NFL and Los Angeles found that they could live without each other.” The hold-ups have been countless, from the location of the stadium, to which team would occupy it, to what potential owner would be willing to undertake the multi-billion dollar project that it would require to return the NFL to the second biggest market in the United States.

FUTURE FARMER: L.A. Times' NFL columnist Sam Farmer said, “One of the questions that has gone on, back and forth, is: Does L.A. need the NFL more or does the NFL need L.A. more? And I think the real question is does either side really need the other? Obviously, both have thrived without each other, and now the landscape has changed so dramatically with the NFL, Los Angeles is really the Ellis Island of NFL fans, we have every fan represented. And now you have the ability through DirecTV Sunday Ticket, through the web to follow your favorite team. So where is the urgency to put a team back in Los Angeles?” Farmer continued, “I don’t think there’s a terrific urgency on the part of the league, which has signed an unprecedented 10-year labor deal [and] set records with its TV deals, and all those teams that are in ‘struggling markets,’ now the rising tide has lifted all boats so they’re not in the sort of desperate situation they were in before. And the NFL, if it’s shown us anything, has shown a willingness to wait for the best situation, and I don’t think the league sees that deal on the horizon right now.”

DODGER FACTOR: Beyond how and when the stadium deal actually goes through, or when a team pushes for relocation, there’s also the belief that a new factor will help determine the fate of the NFL’s return to L.A. “This derby that’s going on, this auction that’s going on, with respect to who buys the Dodgers, could have a huge effect because it’s going to be a super-billionaire, there’s no question about it, and that person undoubtedly is going to have a lot of credibility,” said Premier Partnerships Chair Alan Rothenberg. “I cannot imagine that anybody buys the Dodgers and lets (Frank) McCourt own the surrounding parking lot real estate, so that’s got to be thrown into the negotiation. Whether they even want to develop it for a football stadium or other use is unknown. But knowing the NFL and that they’ve always loved that site, and always loved competition ... we’ll know within 60 days. Now suddenly it’s not just (Ed) Roski, it’s not just AEG, but it’s Mr. X, the new owner of the Dodgers, and it stirs the pot even more.”

Simon: “We’ve just had a myriad of proposals, and two reasons, I would say, it’s taken so long, one is Los Angeles, and the L.A. area, has antipathy to using tax dollars for sports projects. That antipathy does not exist in most other major markets. The other is we’ve had, by my count, seven different cities in this area that have been the subject of serious proposals for a new stadium or renovation of an existing stadium: Anaheim, Inglewood, City of Industry, Irwindale, Pasadena, Carson. So when you add all these up, each of these cities is small compared to the city of Los Angeles, but each has had its own financial issues, own city councils, made its own case to the NFL.”

Farmer: “Over the last 17 years it’s been a Rubik’s Cube. We’ve said, 'What’s the stadium? Who’s the team? Who’s the owner?' It’s very difficult to solve that, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult when you consider that stadiums that just less than eight years ago we were talking about teams spending $400 million on a stadium, now everything is north of a billion dollars. It’s getting more difficult, not less difficult.”

Rothenberg: “Clearly because of the market and the importance of the market, the sponsorships are probably a slam dunk. The suites and the club seats should be okay but they’re very expensive. ... L.A. is the home of very, very few Fortune 500 companies. It’s the market of a lot of small- and medium-sized businesses, for whom the purchase of a suite on a 10-year contract, which is what you need in order to do the financing, may be too much of a reach. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Simon: “L.A. currently sells more paid tickets to sporting events (professional and college) annually than any other city in the country, maybe in the world, 25 million last time we charted this maybe two years ago. To me, going up by 3%, which is what an NFL team would take for eight or ten games sold out, to me, that’s not hard.”