Los Angeles has been devoid of an NFL team for two decades now, but that hasn’t stopped it from remaining one of the most important football cities in America – largely because of the leverage it provides to owners seeking a more lucrative new stadium deal in their current cities.
“They can say, ‘If you don’t do what I want, I’m going to move the team, and by the way, Los Angeles is available,'” says Smith College professor and sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. While owners will always have several cities to utilize for these purposes (Portland and San Antonio are available in a pinch) the fact that L.A. is one of the nation’s largest media markets “makes it a more effective threat,” Zimbalist adds.
There are currently three teams, all of whom are unhappy with their stadium deals, being courted by L.A. through a pair of stadium proposals that promise boosts in franchise value and additional revenue streams. Despite Zimbalist’s insistence that the economic impact on the city itself would be minimal, the lure of the L.A. market is huge. It’s important enough to the NFL that they’ve assigned a league executive, Eric Grubman, to be the point man in the process. (Essentially, franchises work out a deal with the stadium, and then go to the NFL for final approval.) It’s more likely than ever that L.A. will have a pro football franchise – and maybe two – as soon as 2016. “Though that doesn’t mean owners will stop playing the threat game,” Zimbalist says.
Here’s a look at the cities involved:
The Rams are threatening to move back to L.A., to a new stadium in Inglewood (with the potential for massive real-estate development nearby), even as St. Louis continues to make progress on its own nearly $1 billion stadium plan – financed with a combination of public and private money – on the north riverfront that could either keep the Rams or eventually lure another team (through expansion or relocation) if the Rams choose to leave town. Still, significant legal and financial hurdles remain for the city of St. Louis if it hopes to retain the Rams.
At this point, it seems more likely that Oakland – with one of the most outdated dual-purpose stadiums in the country – will make an effort to maintain their baseball team (the Athletics) over a football team that already bolted for L.A. once before. As of August, the city of Oakland had yet to put forth its own stadium proposal for the Raiders – not exactly a good sign – while the most serious plan on the table is a $1.7 billion stadium in Carson that would house both the Chargers and the Raiders.
San Diego is attempting to counter the Carson deal with its own $1.1 billion stadium plan (again, financed with a combination of public and private funds), but the Chargers – who walked away from negotiations in June –expressed skepticism about the proposal, in part, some say, because they’re far more interested in moving to the larger L.A. market. “It’s really going to be a matter of the internal priorities of the NFL,” Zimbalist says. “I think [all these proposals] are viable.”