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L.A GOES FOURTH AND LOOOOOOOONG : Every Answer to Every Question About the Future of Pro Football in L.A.

January 28, 1996|T.J. Simers | T.J. Simers covers football for The Times Sports section

"Secretly, a lot of the networks will tell you it's better for us because we're not blacked out there anymore," says Pat Bowlen, Denver Broncos owner and chairman of the NFL's TV Committee, referring to the practice of blacking out local coverage during the many times when the Coliseum or Anaheim Stadium didn't sell out. "If you got Dick Ebersol [president of NBC] in a private conversation, I'm sure he would tell you that. They can show any game they want in that market and get ratings.

"In the next go-around with the networks I don't know what's going to be the driving force. If there is no competition for the TV packages, then you're going to hear a lot of whining about the L.A. situation. If there is competition, like CBS jumping in, then you're not going to hear a peep about L.A."

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So who's who in the rush to bring football back to L.A.? Who has the best chance?

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The Walt Disney Co.: It has so much going for it and so much going against it. Disney's marketing genius would be a boon to NFL Properties, especially in its plans to expand internationally with broadcasting and merchandising and perhaps even franchises. The company's success in merchandising and selling tickets for the National Hockey League's Mighty Ducks further enhances Disney's resume.

"You have to understand the history of Disney to understand its strategy," says a former employee. "When Walt wanted to build Disneyland in 1955, he didn't have enough money and could only buy 450 acres in Anaheim, and so he lost control of the economic and aesthetic situations around Disneyland.

"Disney vowed that would not happen again, and so when it came to Disney World in Orlando, it bought 28,000 acres. It's all about critical mass, having everything in one place for its customers so they get every one of those vacation dollars.

"You see it happening in Anaheim now with Disney's investment in the Ducks and the Angels, and I would expect an announcement on basketball. I can see them adding football, but their preference would be Anaheim--that critical mass again."

Disney has expressed an interest in 47 acres of land in El Segundo near LAX. But the NFL believes Disney will ultimately push for Anaheim, and it has no interest in returning to Los Angeles via the Orange County site.

Disney also is known as a value hunter, and the NFL doesn't like dealing with hard-liners when it comes to passing out franchises. The NFL demanded a $140-million expansion fee--and got it--when it approved the expansion Jaguars in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Carolina Panthers, who will play in Charlotte, N.C. It then divided the fee among the team owners.

Disney also runs contrary to the NFL's rules prohibiting corporate ownership, although Michael Eisner or Michael Ovitz could put the team in their names. "Will someone let Disney buy a team? No, it will not happen," Bowlen says. "A 25% interest in a team, however, might be a reasonable rule change and earn a favorable response from ownership."

Disney spokesman Ken Green bristles at the suggestion of making Eisner available to comment on football, saying he is too busy for such matters. (Hopefully, Deion Sanders will get through if Disney ever owns a team.)

Ideally, the NFL would like Disney to get cozy with O'Malley in Los Angeles. The two have already talked, and if compatible, the NFL would undoubtedly don blinders and ignore all other efforts in Los Angeles.

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O'Malley: It began with a last-ditch effort to keep the Raiders from moving to Oakland.

Businessman Steve Soboroff, vice chairman of Riordan's Football L.A. Task Force, paid $850 to rent a helicopter and search greater L.A. for a stadium site. The helicopter passed over Van Nuys, Long Beach, El Segundo, the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium.

"I saw this land around Dodger Stadium and said let's run a title report and see who owns it," Soboroff says. "The Dodgers owned it. I thought it was park property, and if it was park property no one would support it. Let me tell you, you don't have to have the vision of Ray Bradbury to see another stadium sitting up there."

O'Malley now shares that vision. No one approached him about saving the Raiders, but when it became clear that Los Angeles would no longer have professional football, Soboroff pulled out the photos he had taken on his helicopter ride and alerted Mayor Riordan. Riordan placed a call for help to O'Malley, and O'Malley became intrigued.

Intrigue graduated to enthusiasm, and now O'Malley finds himself challenged by the prospect of building the world's finest football stadium and securing an expansion franchise. He is also cautious, because he does not wish to wage war with the neighborhood surrounding Dodger Stadium.

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