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Pro Football in L.A. Back in the Spotlight

As team owners meet in Philadelphia, the jockeying for a stadium resumes.

May 20, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Billionaires have tried and failed. So have political heavyweights, business visionaries, entertainers such as Tom Cruise and Garth Brooks. For eight years, with no luck, people have been trying to bring a professional football team back to Los Angeles.

Today, owners of the National Football League are expected to begin trying again, weighing competing proposals to relocate an NFL team at either the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or at a new stadium that the league would build in Carson. Proponents of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum -- former home to the Rams and Raiders -- will try to buttonhole owners to make their own pitch.

This time, some NFL insiders insist, it will happen: Somehow, they will bridge the gap that has separated the nation's most popular sports league from its No. 2 television market.

"It is definitely going to happen. The question is, who and when?" said Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs, who is attending the meeting in Philadelphia. The stadium proposals are not on the agenda but expected to be discussed. "It would be unrealistic to think that with the NFL being the unquestionable hottest entertainment property in the United States ... [it] wouldn't have a place in the greatest market in the United States," McCombs said.

Then again, much about L.A.'s relationship with the NFL in recent years has seemed either unrealistic or improbable, since losing the Rams to Anaheim and then to St. Louis and the Raiders back home to Oakland.

Today, there appears to be no shortage of franchises interested in moving to the Los Angeles area. The three front-runners, at least according to media speculation, are the San Diego Chargers, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints. NFL owners say there is little chance that an expansion team will be created.

The NFL's desire to have a team in the region has been frustrated chiefly by two cross-cutting factors: the ambivalence of Southern Californians, who have been insistent that they don't want public funds expended on a professional football team, and the intense competition among backers of rival stadiums.

The league's history of leveraging one site against another was part of the reason a coalition of local businessmen decided in June to pull the plug on their plans to build a 64,000-seat football stadium next to Staples Center, according to one partner in the effort.

"It's unfortunate, but all the competition means we're further and further away from trying to find the right solution," said Tim Leiweke, president of Anschutz Entertainment Group.

The competition arises partly because the Los Angeles area has two large, historic stadiums, the Rose Bowl, which is pushing 81and the 80-year-old Coliseum. Although both have powerful champions, neither has the modern amenities the NFL demands, giving rise to proposals over the years for new stadiums at Hollywood Park, in Carson, Irvine and Irwindale, not to mention the Staples-adjacent site in downtown Los Angeles. There was even a suggestion that Dodger Stadium be moved and a football stadium built in Chavez Ravine. Lately, there has been some discussion of Anaheim as a potential site.

Of these, it is the idea of a Carson stadium that is ascendant at the moment.

A new stadium could deal a death blow to the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum or both. The Rose Bowl's position is especially perilous because it almost certainly would lose UCLA football to a new stadium, whereas the Coliseum probably would keep USC.

Calling it a fight for survival, Rose Bowl officials began their quest for an NFL team last year. They engaged investment banker John Moag, who has successfully completed several high-profile sports deals, including moving the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.

NFL officials and many owners appear to like the Rose Bowl, site of five of the 37 Super Bowls. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue attended his first Rose Bowl game this year and referred to the stadium as "an institution."

That said, in order to bring a team to Pasadena, Moag must work within confining parameters. Not only is he asking the league to pay for the stadium to be rebuilt, he has proposed that Pasadena control the venue and charge rent. The city would ask for eight Super Bowls over 30 years, an unprecedented commitment by the league.

Meanwhile, Moag is straddling two worlds, trying to please preservationists and an exacting community by keeping the low-slung bowl design, while also trying to meet the needs of the NFL, which favors putting fans closer to the field with a more vertical seating arrangement.

There have been rumblings of opposition from some Arroyo Seco residents, who worry that NFL fans would intensify traffic and congestion in the surrounding neighborhoods during game days.

"The NFL crowd isn't like the UCLA crowd," complained resident Bo Goldsen. "They're rough, rowdy, drunk."

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