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A new lease on life for NFL in L.A.?

SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

The Chargers, whose stadium arrangement in San Diego makes them the team best positioned to move here, have hired an L.A. marketing firm. Of course, it could all be just another tease.

January 27, 2009|SAM FARMER | ON THE NFL

TAMPA, FLA. — The NFL is willing to consider a return to its Los Angeles roots.

Evidently, so are the San Diego Chargers.

While the league is kicking around the notion of playing the 50th Super Bowl in L.A. -- where the first one took place -- the onetime L.A. Chargers appear to be inching closer to a possible return to their birthplace.

As is always the case with the on-again, off-again saga of the NFL's flirtation with the nation's second-largest market, nothing is written in stone. In fact, it's more like murky skywriting, completely at the mercy of the fickle winds of change.

But more smoke signals came Monday when the Chargers signed a deal with Los Angeles-based Wasserman Media Group to market the franchise in L.A. and Orange County, a development that surely will be viewed by some as greasing the skids for a move north. There hasn't been a team in the L.A. area since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

"The bottom line is Los Angeles and Orange County are two of the most lucrative markets in the world," said Mark Fabiani, the team's point man on stadium issues. "There's no NFL team in those markets, and there's no reason the Chargers can't pursue those areas in these difficult economic times."

Possible motivations aside, this much is clear: The Chargers, who have been working on a San Diego stadium solution for seven years and so far have been unsuccessful, are better positioned to move than any other NFL team.

Beginning on Super Bowl Sunday -- of all days -- the Chargers will have a three-month window in which to relocate. And, under the team's current lease terms with the city of San Diego, that window will reopen every year from this point forward. The city cannot sue the Chargers or the NFL to block a move, provided it is paid a $56-million lease-termination fee that will decrease over time.

"We're definitely a lot closer to the end of this process than the beginning," said Fabiani, adding that the club has spent $10 million to fully explore stadium options around San Diego County, most recently two sites in Chula Vista. "This is not a process that can go on forever."

At stake for the Chargers is the head start they have over other NFL franchises that also are likely to be mulling relocation. The Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings, for instance, are bound to their cities through the 2011 season.

The issue in L.A. has always been, where would a relocated team play?

The latest option is Ed Roski's proposed stadium in Industry, which should have all of its approvals in place by this spring and then will receive the go-ahead from the NFL to formally approach potential tenants.

Roski wants to own part of an NFL team. That means he would have to get out of the gaming business -- he owns the Silverton hotel-casino in Las Vegas -- and restructure his offer to pay cash (and not simply trade development rights) for the piece of a franchise. That won't come cheap, considering the average valuation of an NFL club is now $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Even though NFL owners are holding their annual March meetings in Laguna Beach -- the first time in a decade those have taken place anywhere in the vicinity of L.A. -- the Roski proposal is not on the agenda.

What could be informally discussed, however, is the concept of L.A.'s playing host to Super Bowl L, the 50th edition of the game. That was first proposed by Casey Wasserman, chairman of the marketing company working with the Chargers, and Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, which owns Staples Center.

The idea is that the Super Bowl in 2016 would return to its roots; the first one was played at the L.A. Coliseum on Jan. 15, 1967. The 2016 game -- along with the Pro Bowl that precedes it by a week -- could be played at the Coliseum, Rose Bowl or a third stadium, if one is built by then.

The concept is novel because a Super Bowl has never been hosted by a non-NFL city. (That includes Super Bowl XIX, which, although it was played at Stanford Stadium, was hosted by San Francisco.) At least one owner, Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts, has made it clear he would support such a return to L.A.

"There's no doubt in my mind that if somebody were to say, 'We're going to go out and get this thing,' they'd have a helluva chance," Irsay said in November. "They'd have my vote, I'll tell you that."

Were the process a simple one, it might be a slam dunk for L.A. But the competition for Super Bowls is fierce, and Irsay might have been feeling especially magnanimous because, A) he has lots of ties to L.A., including a membership at Riviera Country Club, and B) his city has already been awarded a Super Bowl for its new stadium.

When asked about the possibility of another L.A. Super Bowl -- the Southland has played host to seven -- Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said that he would be willing to listen but that "everybody wants a Super Bowl." The Steelers, who play at an outdoor stadium in a cold-weather city, have never hosted one.

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