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Carson Show Viewed by NFL

Pro football: There is little substance in Tagliabue visit. March 15 owners' meeting might be key to decision.


Cocooned in a blue and gray helicopter, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other dignitaries got an air tour Friday of the grand vistas of Carson, taking in the red-shirted golf giant at the Dominguez Golf Course, the Vista Loma mobile home park and the graffiti-marred South Bay Six drive-in ("Manuel loves Angela").

And, of course, the former landfill that Michael Ovitz hopes to turn into a combination mall and football stadium.

After a 30-minute flight during which the chopper flew over but did not land on the 157-acre site, lest anyone's shoes come in contact with soil blanketing a toxics-laced stew, the tour ended in a sheriff's station parking lot.

There began a procession to a community center, where Councilman Daryl Sweeney received the "great commissioner" and Mayor Pete Fajardo called it a "great day for the city of Carson" and much speechifying ensued.

What unfolded Friday in Carson, the South Bay suburb, was a carefully orchestrated media spectacle--one designed to "confirm the NFL's continued interest in Carson," as the city's invitation to reporters put it.

Or, at the very least, the league's ongoing interest in dealing with Ovitz, the former super-agent.

But the substance Friday--and there was precious little of it--could be found only in semantics and in subtle hints.

Tagliabue, for instance, began his remarks by singling out Ovitz for "vision and initiative." He noted that a key in considering a new NFL owner is "what experience does the ownership have in entertainment."

Later, Tagliabue called the design of the proposed Carson mall and stadium, which Ovitz has dubbed the Hacienda, "inspired"--yet another pointed reminder for league owners, as they head to Phoenix on March 15 to consider awarding a 32nd team, of Ovitz's marketing skills and franchise ownership potential.

As Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers and chair of the NFL's stadium committee, put it, "Michael has done a tremendous job in . . . bringing positive focus to the National Football League."

It's not yet clear that the necessary 24 votes for a 32nd team are in hand. Richardson said, "I can't predict what 23 other owners are going to do."

He urged further caution when asked if he believed he could get a unanimous 14 votes--and a signal of solidarity--from an expansion committee meeting scheduled to precede league-wide consideration of a 32nd team.

"I don't know if we can get 14," Richardson said. "I think we can get a very high percentage of that number."

Recently, however, and most particularly since an expansion committee meeting last month in Atlanta, the league has signaled its intent to announce at the Phoenix meeting that it will put football back to Los Angeles in 2002.

Where, however, remains unclear--Carson or a rebuilt Coliseum near downtown Los Angeles. The New Coliseum bid is headed by real estate heavyweights Ed Roski Jr. and Eli Broad.

Houston is also bidding for a team. Its proposal is headed by wealthy businessman Robert McNair and features some $200 million in public money.

A complicating factor may be Oakland Raider owner Al Davis' claim that he still owns the L.A. market, which the Raiders reiterated in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. Asked about that, Tagliabue asserted Friday, "I don't think it factors in at all."

The league wants the Los Angeles market, primarily for television viewership and marketing opportunities--which it has made obvious in recent months by declining to commit to the solid Houston bid.

An independent appraisal has suggested, however, that the league can do better than a new Coliseum or the Hacienda.

The NFL has indicated it is considering forming a partnership with a committee of prominent Los Angeles-area business executives and politicians and putting together a financial plan for a new stadium.

The league's hope is to find public funds to mix with money from the sale of luxury suites and club seats, along with its own contribution.

The NFL, however, will be interested in having Broad and Roski on the committee--as well as Ovitz.

Tagliabue signaled as much in answering the first question from reporters.

A stadium is key to expansion, he said. So is the nature of the ownership. And "what kind of statement the stadium and the ownership make about a vision of the National Football League, really, for the 21st century--because that's what we're talking about--that gets us into the kind of entertainment business we want to be, the type of sports league we want to be and the type of service we want to deliver to our fans."

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