INDIANAPOLIS — Colt owner Jim Irsay and Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson announced Sunday they have agreed on a deal to build the team a retractable-roof stadium and secure the franchise's long-term future in the city.
The development officially ended the Colts' long-rumored flirtation with Los Angeles, which has been without an NFL franchise since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.
"We have always been very proud to be the Indianapolis Colts from the state of Indiana," Irsay told a cheering crowd of more than 50,000 at the RCA Dome during a pregame ceremony to announce the deal. The NFL has said that it is determined to bring a team to Los Angeles, although whether it will be an expansion team or a relocated one has yet to be determined. Now that the Colts are in line for a new stadium, and the Chargers and San Diego are taking steps to sort through their differences, the New Orleans Saints have moved to the top of the list of teams that could potentially relocate to the nation's second-largest market.
The Saints are seeking a new stadium too, although they are far from achieving that goal and their prospects of replacing the aging Superdome appear bleak.
The New Orleans situation "doesn't look like it's any better today than it was a year ago," NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told The Times last week. "If anything, it looks worse."
Earlier this month, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she would not engage in talks with the Saints, or even announce the state's position, until after the NFL regular season ends Jan. 2.
That makes an already tight time frame even tighter, since the Saints have proposed a Feb. 1 deadline for an agreement with the state that would include renovation of the Superdome and a lease to keep the franchise in New Orleans beyond 2010.
Under the current deal, the state makes annual payments to the Saints totaling $186.5 million between 2001 and 2010. Hotel taxes were supposed to cover those payments, but New Orleans tourism took a significant hit after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, leading to a big financial shortfall.
The state had to dip into the general fund last July to make a full payment to the team.
Although the Saints have pushed for a new stadium, they said they would settle for a renovated one, provided that the overall package of local revenue and state subsidy keeps the franchise at least at the mid-level of profitability among the league's 32 teams.
In 2001, The Times obtained confidential NFL documents that showed that in 1999 the Saints were the only NFL team losing money.
"In terms of the [stadium situations] that have either become more complicated or seem to have moved backward, I think New Orleans would have to be in that category," Tagliabue said. "There seems to be some negative byproduct of a second major league franchise in town. The NBA team seems to have taken some of the focus away from the Saints and what had been committed to the Saints by [former Gov. Mike] Foster. Obviously that's been pretty public down there."
Meanwhile, Tagliabue said, there are several encouraging signs concerning the Chargers' relationship with San Diego, which less than a year ago he categorized as an "urgent" situation.
The Chargers have dropped their controversial ticket guarantee and are operating under a lease that will keep them in San Diego at least through 2008.