Back in 1994, I was co-chairman of the "Save the Rams" committee comprised of 150 local businessmen and political figures fighting to keep the franchise from moving to St. Louis. We succeeded in securing an initial NFL vote at the league meeting to block the sale, but ultimately the team moved.
I said then that if Southern California lost the team, it would be years before a replacement came. People scoffed, "Los Angeles is the second largest market in the U.S., and the NFL needs us for its television contract." It has now been 20 years, and without action, it could be 20 more.
What has followed was a series of disorganized and inept responses by the political and business structure of Southern California to the league's desire to put a franchise back in the city.
In 2000, the NFL awarded Los Angeles an expansion franchise. Southern California could not produce a viable stadium plan, and Houston was given the franchise instead. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue later offered Los Angeles a deal no other city had been given: The NFL would build a stadium itself on the Coliseum site and hand the bill to a new owner. Los Angeles fumbled the few tasks assigned to it, and Tagliabue withdrew in frustration.
Phil Anschutz of AEG proposed a downtown stadium plan. Tim Leiweke assembled a broad coalition of political and business leaders, and created a master economic plan that was viable. Anschutz fired Leiweke and has demanded a large share of equity in a new team for his involvement -- checkmate.
Here are the basic components necessary to bring one or two teams back to Los Angeles:
1) A political leader willing to take charge of the process and responsibility for executing the necessary steps. Southern California has a complex political structure: Los Angeles has a County Board of Supervisors, a city council; Orange County has a Board of Supervisors and city mayors. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is the logical choice.
2) One consensus venue to house a stadium, not multiple venues. Developer Ed Roski has been pushing an alternative plan for years and it should be considered.
Also needed are:
3) Public tolerance for minor infrastructure changes. Our area is tax phobic, but a few street adjustments will be needed.
4) Balanced press. The Los Angeles press is the antithesis of the boosterism in other areas, but the public at least needs to hear the advantages of a new stadium and team.
5) Ownership that understands that Southern California loves stars, and events.
I have never favored ripping teams out of the heart of a loyal fan base. Professional teams are not purely private businesses -- they ask for the loyalty of fans as if they were quasi-civic treasures. Only if they cannot stay in business, should they be allowed to move. So I would advocate an expansion team.
Southern California could support two franchises as it does with baseball, basketball and hockey. And make no mistake -- football is a ten "concert date" attendance business. The presence of large numbers of national corporations and the entertainment business would sell out high-priced luxury boxes and premium seating. Seventeen million people live within a few hours driving time from a stadium. Marketing, memorabilia, social media, and local television programming would generate massive revenue.
Earlier this week, Michael Ozanian and Forbes did a superb reporting on the franchise values of NFL teams. Dallas sat at the peak with a valuation of $3.2 billion. It reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with Jerry Jones when he commented "the two most valuable franchises in the NFL will be Dallas and whatever franchise is in Los Angeles."
That clearly is the potential for the Los Angeles franchise. Ironically, St. Louis sits at the bottom of the valuations at $930 million, and Oakland is not much higher at $970 million. Both franchises have histories in Southern California. Noth franchises have the ability to move. Both franchises would immediately double their value.
It is time for the political and business structure in Southern California to unite to facilitate the return of NFL football. The time is now.