The endorsement by owners Robert Kraft of the Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Cowboys for the NFL's return to Los Angeles is a dramatic sign that this is real and happening. Three owners with the capacity to escape their leases and move their teams have stepped forward with stadium plans in Los Angeles. They have willing partner cities, the financial wherewithal to build, and a powerful financial incentive to do so. The only impediment has been the desire of the NFL to control the process and the necessity to have other owners’ votes to approve. Last week at the NFL meetings, two of the most powerful men in pro football have given their blessing to the concept.
The question of whether these teams can move without NFL approval is not clear. Many believe that teams can follow in the footsteps of Al Davis and simply move their team. The NFL believes it has plugged the Davis loophole with rewritten league rules. Ultimately the commissioner serves at the pleasure of the 32 league owners -- and when it comes to power and influence, few owners have more clout than Kraft and Jones.
Jones boldly used his team’s brand to bring untold marketing and sponsorship revenue to the Cowboys and the league itself. While the league initially called him a maverick and challenged his methodology -- such as giving pouring rights to Pepsi in his stadium, while Coca-Cola had a league sponsorship -- they ultimately emulated his marketing genius and it has enriched the NFL.
Robert Kraft shrewdly built a dynasty for his team with vision, stability and structural soundness. He also introduced imaginative activity zones around his stadium that generated revenue. He is seen as an energetic statesman for the league.
The Cowboys are the highest valued franchise financially. Forbes estimates their valuation at $3.2 billion, with the Patriots next highest at $2.6 billion. These two owners along with the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, Jerry Richardson from Carolina and the Mara/Tisch partnership are the core of NFL leadership. When they speak, it is a bellwether as to how the League will act.
The nation’s second largest city has had no NFL team since Disneyland President Jack Lindquist and I led a losing fight in 1994 to “Save The Rams”. Fifteen million people can drive to a central stadium site within a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon. The region is abundant with major corporations and business, especially in entertainment, that will purchase luxury boxes, fund sponsorships, and do a record breaking naming rights deal. The Rams are valued at $930 million, the NFL’s lowest, and the Raiders are valued at $970 million. Both franchises would almost certainly double their value immediately in Los Angeles.
I have never favored franchise moves that break the heart of incumbent fans. I think it is ultimately harmful to the bond between fans and teams. The St. Louis area is mounting a valiant drive to save its’ team. But the forces are in motion for franchise shifts. The exact details for how the next year plays out are not clear. But, at this time next year two teams will be moving to Los Angeles. Are you ready for some football in Southern California? Build the stadium and they will come.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.