So far this year I’ve mostly held off from commenting the routine every-six-weeks rumors about a NFL team or two moving to LA. Buttressed by nothing but anonymous sources and a whisper campaign, I chose to sit back and wait for real news to come forth. Unfortunately for the three cities in line to have potential relocation candidates – San Diego, St. Louis, and Oakland – there’s now too much going on to dismiss it all as mere rumors. Something else is happening, and chances are the NFL is directing the whole affair.
It always starts out with the NFL leaking info to two national reporters, NBC Sports/Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. “Fresh” rumors will cycle about the aforementioned teams, or even the Bills, Jaguars, and Vikings prior to their respective ownership or stadium changes. The nature and frequency of such leaks – with little subsequent activity to make them pay off – made them easy to dismiss. Now, I’m not so sure. Last week AEG asked the City of Los Angeles for a six-month extension to bring in a team. The current agreement is set to expire next week, on October 17. An additional six months would allow AEG to cover the postseason window during which teams are allowed to declare their intent to relocate, usually in February. That could easily happen with the Rams and/or Raiders, who are unencumbered by leases past this season.
Then yesterday, LA Times football reporter (and former Merc scribe) Sam Farmer revealed that the NFL may consider Dodger Stadium as a temporary stadium. That would put three venues in play in LA: the Rose Bowl, LA Memorial Coliseum, and Dodger Stadium. Each comes with a sticking point, even for temporary use. The Rose Bowl has a restriction on the number of large events that can be held there, yet the City of Pasadena wants to encourage additional events that could help it pay for $168 million in recent renovations. The LA Coliseum is controlled by USC under a new lease agreement. An NFL team having to play tenant to a college is not something the league prefers, and the size and condition of the venue are not ideal either. Dodger Stadium, not previously considered as a temporary venue, has a hard cap on the number of seats inside the venue at 56,000. That’s small for NFL’s taste, and it’s obviously not a football stadium. However, Dodger Stadium has plenty of suites and luxury amenities that any team could use to make up for the lack of capacity by jacking up prices. Previously Dodger Stadium had been considered as a potential football venue, with new construction either adjacent to or replacing the current venue with the baseball team moving downtown. That’s an extremely far-fetched idea that has far too many moving parts (AEG, Guggenheim, City) to take seriously at the moment.
One idea that seems possible is the NFL making agreements with two or perhaps all three venues to host some numbers of games. This is especially important if two teams come to LA. The NFL would be able to play matchmaker, juggling three teams and three venues. Eventually one team and one venue will lose out, creating a competitive environment largely controlled by the league. They already wield control in the form of the G-4 stadium financing program and the associated hookups with banks and large financiers such as Goldman Sachs. Those hookups are just as important as G-4 because they mean that the bulk of the stadium construction cost wouldn’t have to be bonded through an open market (read: more expensive) process. Stan Kroenke is certainly rich enough to build a stadium at Hollywood Park himself, but he’s not going to turn down savings of several million per year in order to do it.
Moreover, the NFL has assigned an executive to oversee the LA market. From the LA Times:
Eric Grubman, an NFL executive vice president, said the league was guardedly optimistic about its discussions with AEG and supported the company’s request for an extension of its agreement with the city.
“The discussions are very preliminary, but we are encouraged enough by recent progress that we share AEG’s view that continued conversations would be worthwhile,” he said in a statement. “An extension could well provide the time necessary for us and AEG to determine whether the downtown site can be considered by our membership during our next off-season period.”
AEG’s seemingly dead Farmers Field project has suddenly gotten a boost and some level of validation from the league. The NFL probably still doesn’t like the terms (AEG gets piece of relocating team in exchange for building stadium), but such an exchange may be unavoidable in the future. It certainly doesn’t hurt or cost the NFL to keep Farmers Field in play for now. Ed Roski’s City of Industry plan, a frontrunner several years ago, appears beyond dead though the land remains available if the NFL is willing. There’s even the crazy concept of the NFL building a stadium on its own and housing two teams within. It would be the ultimate in control, though the league would have to go through the lengthy, arduous CEQA process to get it done.
Finally, there’s the very basic notion of teams and the NFL using LA as a stalking horse, which it has done successfully for nearly two decades. While that card will always be in play, inaction on the local level by San Diego, Oakland, and St. Louis make the tactic less effective than it has been previously. If the NFL can use scare tactics to cajole one of these cities to pony up for a stadium, I imagine that they’ll consider it a success. The other two can relocate under the NFL’s guidance and supervision. Relocation fees would probably be baked into the stadium deals and a sale of an ownership stake, with the payoff coming in the form of a 2X franchise valuation.
Now that the FCC has struck down local market NFL blackouts, the ratings-related advantages for keeping teams out of LA will disappear after the current broadcast agreements expire in 2022. It’s a good time for the NFL to act.