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League Could Help L.A. Bid

The Cleveland way might be the solution the Southland needs--and it could pay dividends for the other owners.

December 26, 1998|T.J. SIMERS

There is a new idea afloat in the NFL, one that could lead to the league announcing in the next few months it is awarding its 32nd franchise to Los Angeles, although L.A. continues to lag far behind Houston.

Cleveland and Washington have done something Ed Roski, Michael Ovitz and every other would-be stadium builder and franchise owner have failed to do to date: Show the NFL a way to return to Los Angeles.

Although the league opened competition between the New Coliseum Partners, Ovitz's Carson site and Houston after daylong presentations in Kansas City, Mo., in October, the NFL now understands that if it allows the best deal to triumph at the end of the day, Houston wins.

And the league ultimately loses.

Nothing has changed substantially since October when Houston delivered an acceptable deal and Los Angeles showed only promise. The league has been preoccupied with the Patriots' announced move to Hartford and the sale of the Redskins, but Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has indicated it's a league priority to add a 32nd team.

There are NFL owners meetings scheduled for Super Bowl week in Miami, again in Atlanta in February, followed by a weeklong session in March in Arizona. League strategists are running out of time, however, to provide the NFL owners with an alternative to Houston and a reason to cast their votes in favor of Los Angeles.

The solution: The NFL announces it is going to Los Angeles, provides the money and builds the stadium in L.A., expanding on the Cleveland blueprint, which included $63 million in construction loans, with the expectation of an even bigger payday than promised currently in Washington, where the Redskins and their stadium are expected to be sold for more than $700 million.

If Washington, playing in an unimpressive stadium built in Maryland, can attract offers for $700 million in 1998, why couldn't Los Angeles, playing in a stadium made to host Super Bowls in the entertainment capital of the world, bring in at least $1 billion in 2002?

That would be plenty of time for Rupert Murdoch to get his Dodger Stadium affairs in order, and then focus on football--just a thought.

Tampa Bay owner Malcom Glazier contended the Cleveland expansion opportunity was worth at least $1 billion. Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who thinks L.A. has the potential to be the league's most valuable franchise, expected $700 million to $800 million for the Cleveland opportunity.

NFL owners, like Jones and Glazier, might welcome the opportunity to test their theories, driving up the price for an expansion franchise in Los Angeles in exchange for a $350-milion loan to build a new stadium.

Here's how it would work: In Cleveland, the NFL loaned $48 million to supplement more than $200 million in public money to assist in the construction of a new stadium, and later provided an additional construction loan of $15 million, while also paying for staff and practice-facility costs in the absence of the Browns.

In effect, the NFL had advanced Cleveland more than $75 million. How much of a stretch would it be for the league to use some of its TV money to go beyond that, and maintain control of L.A.'s new stadium, while footing the bill?

In Los Angeles, the NFL would provide all the money for the construction of a stadium, or, for example, would supplement the public money that has already been identified for the construction of a New Coliseum.

The league would appoint a project coordinator, possibly one of its high-ranking executives, or what's Peter O'Malley doing these days now that he has left the Dodgers? Or, the league might have a short-term expansion-team owner to supervise the L.A. experience. It can be said that some names have already been tossed around in the league offices for discussion.

In Cleveland, once the stadium was built, the NFL organized an auction, offering all the revenue that could be made in a new stadium and an expansion franchise to the bidder with the most money. Initially, an assortment of seven millionaires and billionaires came calling, promising whatever the NFL wanted in order to purchase another toy for their collections.

A billionaire won out. Alfred Lerner paid $530 million with part of that money being returned to the NFL to repay the stadium loans and practice-facility maintenance.

After expenses, NFL owners ultimately divided $476 million--the official expansion fee for Cleveland--among themselves.

Five years earlier the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars essentially paid $140 million each for their expansion opportunities.

The price of the Washington franchise, which has attracted eight bidders, includes almost $200 million in debt on Jack Kent Cooke Stadium as well as some other property and the team's practice facility, leaving the ultimate cost of Redskin franchise around that of the Cleveland expansion opportunity. The cost of a franchise is not expected to drop anytime soon.

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