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Man and the Move

Ken Behring Says His Team, Whatever the Name Is, Will Be in L.A. 'Very Soon'

February 04, 1996|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ken Behring, owner of the Seattle Seahawks, said Saturday he is committed to immediately bringing his football team to Los Angeles with the dream of moving into a state-of-the-art football facility for the 1998 or 1999 season.

In his first interview since announcing in a statement that the Seahawks were leaving Seattle, Behring said his organization is close to finalizing details with the Magnolia School District for the use of Rams Park in Anaheim, and he said his team will be moving there "very soon," as soon as this week.

Speaking from his Danville, Calif., land developing offices, he said he has not contacted the Rose Bowl because of legal considerations, but his intention is to have his team play there on an interim basis.

"We couldn't contact the Rose Bowl yet because we don't want any possibility of Seattle starting legal action to take the team away from us," he said. "It just depends on when our legal counsel determines we can do that, but I can tell you this, I'm committed to Los Angeles."

Behring, who is expected to tour the Rams Park facility Monday, said his first order of business will be finding a Southern California partner, and he said he will concentrate his efforts on the entertainment industry here, including the Walt Disney Co.

"A partner from the area helps us meet people much faster and lets us know what people here are looking for," said Behring, who owns more than 95% of the Seahawks. "We want to do everything we can to make this the type of team people will like. We want to have a great stadium, a stadium that still has some reasonably priced seats available for people."

He said he has no deal in place with a prospective minority owner or no understanding as such with Michael Ovitz, a close friend who is now president of Disney. He said that won't preclude Ovitz from possibly becoming his partner at some time, but he said Ovitz's ties to Disney and Disney's reluctance to attach itself to a team leaving another city have forced him to be cautious in his dealings with Ovitz.

"I'm a Californian, and this is where I want to be," Behring said. "We're going to come down there with all the advantages of an expansion team and yet still have the advantage of having an organization in place. We're leaving all logos, pictures, trophies, stationary, everything behind and starting out as Los Angeles' team."

Behring, 67, said he will let the area determine the name of the team, whether it be by contest or some other idea suggested, and he indicated his son, David, who is president of the team, will be moving to Los Angeles immediately to oversee the organization.

"We'll let the people decide the colors for the team too," Behring said. "We want this to be an L.A. team all the way."

In Washington, a King County judge issued a 14-day temporary restraining order Friday, but the Seahawks have interpreted that to mean the team cannot be sold or play its home games anywhere besides the Kingdome. They do not believe it keeps them from moving their administrative offices and practice facilities here.

"The most that could happen if everything goes bad is flying up to Seattle a certain length of time for Sunday games in the Kingdome," Behring said. "But I don't know how they can make us go in there.

"We know morally we can't play in the Kingdome. We cannot take the liability, morally or financially, to play in a place where we are fully aware of the dangers. Their own report addresses the seismic concerns."

For that reason, Behring said, he does not expect the NFL to block the Seahawks' move to Los Angeles. He said he will present his case to fellow owners at this week's meetings in Chicago.

"We have been working with the NFL for the last year, and we will try to do everything within the rules when we start talking about a permanent site for a stadium," he said. "But who knows?

"But then what team owner is going to let his players play in a stadium when they are aware that if an earthquake comes, people will be injured or killed?" Behring said. "I don't know of anybody willing to take that liability on."

Behring said he is familiar with all the sites that have been mentioned in the Los Angeles area for the construction of a football stadium, but he said he has conducted no negotiations with anyone at this time. Anaheim city officials, in exchange for their cooperation in providing Rams Park, believe they will have a six-month window of opportunity to court Behring.

"I don't know who will want us," Behring said. "We want to get started as soon as possible and have a new stadium by at least 1999. I'd like it to be 1998."

Behring said he can foresee no scenario in which a deal could be struck to remain in Seattle. And although King County officials are urging him to sell the team, he said, "That would only be the last resort. I'm sure that's what they [King County] would like to see happen, but it would be absolutely the last resort. I don't need the money."

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