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A Chooser, Not a Beggar : Los Angeles will have big clout when it comes to teaming up with any pro football club

November 19, 1995

Compared to most cities that lack--and want--a professional football team, Los Angeles is in an enviable position. It has leverage.

With its coveted television market, the second-largest in the nation, and its strong sports tradition, the Los Angeles area seems a sure bet to quickly replace at least one of the two teams it lost, the Rams and the Raiders, when they smelled cash elsewhere. Unlike cities that have given away the store to lure professional sports franchises, officials here can negotiate from a position of strength.

Not every metropolis is so fortunate. Early this month, for instance, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell stunned fans when he announced his intention to move the team to Baltimore next season after more than 50 years in Ohio. The Browns are leaving behind fans who filled Cleveland Municipal Stadium year after year, and voters who recently approved a $175-million bond measure to renovate the stadium for their team. Modell will receive as much as $75 million up front for making the move.

In earlier days, fan loyalty and tough league rules checked the owners' wanderlust. But in the mid-1980s when Raider owner Al Davis successfully sued the National Football League for blocking his move from Oakland to Los Angeles, the NFL began to waver. Since then, a number of owners, including Davis, Modell and Ram owner Georgia Frontiere have relocated (Davis returning to Oakland), exacting tens of millions of dollars from their new hosts for moving expenses and stadiums and in tax breaks, parking revenues and other concessions.

Critics say demands like these make pro football look more like an extortion ring than a sport. It definitely seems that way to cash-short cities desperate to hold onto their clubs, often a focus of civic pride. But pride doesn't provide the big bucks needed to keep them.

Los Angeles, now enduring its first season without a pro club since the 1940s, appears poised to get back in the game. Parties such as L.A. Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner and ex-MCA head Lew Wasserman could bring private money to the table to attract an existing franchise or buy into an expansion team and to privately finance the new stadium that probably would be required.

How quickly the pros return will depend substantially on the degree of cooperation between government and the private sector. This means avoiding pettiness on both sides. L.A. governmental agencies would have to make some concessions, but the owners would need to make a firm commitment to this city. Los Angeles is a chooser, not a beggar.

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