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Dilemma for L.A.: Pay Raiders or Pay for Losing Them

February 19, 1990|MELVIN DURSLAG

Assuming Oakland doesn't waver in its bid to recapture the Raiders, and the team returns to its ancestral cradle there, you picture the response in Los Angeles, bereft of pro football.

Instantly, the mayor will assure villagers that the blue ribbon panel he appointed to perpetuate the sport in this city will whirl into action.

The Coliseum Commission will announce it is naming a search committee. Those composing it will be named Larry, Curly and Moe.

Asking the two groups what team they aim to go after, they will scratch their heads.

"Doesn't Washington have a contract coming up?" a committeeman will inquire.

You advise him not to hang from the goal post waiting for the Redskins to leave Washington for Los Angeles.

"What about the Rams," another committeeman asks. "They have dropped hints about wanting to return to the Coliseum."

The Rams are an interesting study. They left the Coliseum cold for Anaheim, bagging 90 acres of precious real estate for private development. But Anaheim has welched. And the acreage is no longer there for the Rams. Claiming breach of contract, they have suggested they are free to move.

But are they? They signed a 35-year lease. Anaheim spent almost $30 million to enlarge the stadium for the Rams, who may be free only to muscle Anaheim for further benefits.

Muscling is synonymous with pro football ownership. The Colts leave Baltimore, muscling Indianapolis for what was big stakes at the time.

Muscling Phoenix for bigger stakes, the Cardinals leave St. Louis.

The lease expires in Houston. With the threat of fleeing to Jacksonville, the owner muscles Houston for major improvements in the Astrodome and for rent so cheap it may not be visible to the eye.

The lease expires in Atlanta. Jacksonville, old faithful, provides the leverage by which the Falcons muscle Atlanta for a new $210 million domed stadium, which is under construction.

The Raiders enter the muscle game with relish, but don't invent it. What makes their case unique is the change in the market, which allows muscling for bigger chips than those befalling colleagues in recent years.

Cities must ask themselves how much a pro football franchise is worth to the economy and to the inhabitants. They must ask, too, whether today's price makes sense in the context of what money is going to be all about 10 years from now. Answers can vary.

Long renowned as a prime sports center, Chicago faced a delicate baseball problem recently. It stood to lose the White Sox to St. Petersburg. Do you know why? The White Sox owners were on the muscle for a new stadium. If Chicago wouldn't provide one, St. Petersburg would.

Weighing the issue carefully, Chicago decided that losing the White Sox to a rural outpost such as St. Petersburg was an indignity is couldn't live with.

It is building a new park for the Sox, one of the worst teams in the majors. Approximate cost: $150 million.

But San Francisco rejected a stadium for the Giants, National League champions, and will lose them. Each city evaluates such matters and makes its judgments.

What you don't want to hear in Los Angeles is bamboozling at city hall and at the Coliseum on how any football team would be flattered to receive an invitation to play in precincts as glamorous as these.

In such pronouncements, you hear voices of the demented.

No one among the family of cutthroat sports owners today is going to come here with stars in his eyes, awed by the vibrancy of the town and believing that this is the sports capital of Earth.

It is a decent sports city, but the prospect also will recall that Chargers died here, shifting to San Diego. The Angels died in Los Angeles, shifting to Anaheim. The Kings died here for years. The Clippers retain a pulse, but it's weak.

Hollywood Park, once one of the showplaces of the race-track industry, is struggling.

And the Raiders the last few years? They have unfurled their art in the sports capital before throngs of 40,000.

Now will L.A. impress an owner with the historic magnificence of its stadium, home to two Olympics. What it has is a tenement with old credits.

If the city wants pro football, it will pay or it will watch its historic treasure in Exposition Park gather dust on Sunday.

Folks here can endure that. What they can't endure is the deceit that someone is going to move his team here for the sunshine.

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