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T.J. SIMERS

NFL really knows how to rough it in tough times

The St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point, where a room with a garden view goes for $625 a night and a room with an ocean view goes for $1,485, is the choice of team owners for their annual meetings.

March 24, 2009|T.J. SIMERS

For the first time since the Raiders and Rams left the L.A. area in 1994, the NFL is back, this time for its annual March frolic, but how fitting they'd get the cold beach here.

AIG stayed at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Dana Point last September, spending more than $400,000 in bailout money, and now it's the NFL, meeting here to talk about tough economic times.

Today's agenda calls for an "NFL Alumni Dire Need" meeting in the Napoli Room, and here's guessing if the league stayed at the Ayres Hotel on Bristol Street in Costa Mesa and conducted its meeting in the Essex room, the NFL Alumni would no longer be in dire need.

A room with a garden view at the Monarch, as cheap as they come, goes for $625 a night, and a room with an ocean view goes for $1,485. "I couldn't have that much fun in a room," said Melanie Salata Fitch, here for the day to remind everyone of Irrelevant Week later this year -- Irrelevant Week a much better name for these NFL March meetings.

The Presidential Suite is a cool $6,000 every night, and surprisingly the NFL Network didn't have exclusive video of Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell doing rock, papers and scissors to determine who will appear to be the most important here this week.

"We've got rooms for $120 to $140," said Don Ayres, who runs the Ayres, a very nice family property complete with a pool.

When asked about the possibility of calling one of the redone bigger rooms "the Commissioner's Suite," Ayres said, "we could do that -- for another $40 a night."

Hamburgers at the Monarch cost $23, a soda $5.50. There's a Denny's just down the road from the Ayres, and with almost every owner here seemingly over 80, they'd all get senior discounts.

The NFL, like so many other big corporations, has been laying poor people off, and while they might've gotten a group rate here to reduce costs on expenses, including a swanky poolside party Monday night, why moan and groan about the tough times while living it up?

"We committed to this [four years] ago," said Goodell, leaving the impression the NFL could not cancel this stay. You call before 6 p.m. at the Ayres, and there's no charge.

When I checked with Monarch management about its cancellation policy, I got Lorraine.

"You fishing for a story?" she said.

I worried she was asking because there was a charge for such a thing at the Monarch.

She had me call Michael Mustafa, director of sales and marketing, who said if the NFL is leaving folks with the impression it could not cancel, "that's not true. They just chose not to do so. There are clauses in every contract, and while there are charges for canceling, it depends on how far out notice is given."

I mentioned to Mustafa that one of the Monarch desk clerks said room rates might be cheaper online, but he agreed with Page 2 that he just couldn't picture Goodell checking with Travelocity.

Now you'd think if the NFL was returning to the area for the first time in more than 14 years, it'd have something to say to football fans living in the area. It's not like the league doesn't have experience in making nothing sound as if it's really something, which brought me to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

"I'm not going to have the Commissioner sit down to talk about L.A.," Aiello said. "What's there to talk about?"

What's the alternative, speaking with Al Davis about the latest Raider to be accused of beating up a woman?

"How's the newspaper business going?" Mike Taylor, the Raiders' PR guy, said by way of response.

I asked Denver owner Pat Bowlen about L.A. getting a team, and thought he was going to say, "I have just the right guy to be L.A.'s new quarterback."

Instead, he said, "I haven't given a thought about L.A."

A few hours later the Commissioner conducted a news conference, the biggest news of the day: "We started the meetings right at 9 o'clock."

He said the NFL is sensitive to the current (economic) environment probably much like Jones, who will be opening a $1.1-billion stadium/palace for the Dallas Cowboys this season.

I asked Goodell whether L.A.'s chances of getting a football team were just as far away as ever, and he began his double talk in the following way: "I don't think so," but added, "until there's a solution that works for the NFL, we're not going to pursue it."

"So the chances are really just as remote," I said.

"I didn't say that," the Commissioner said.

"We both said it," I replied. "We just didn't say it the same way."

Now as you know, our Sam Farmer is all over this L.A. football story, as well as "The Real Housewives of Orange County," announcing he spotted Lauri here the night before. I don't think the guy could pick Indianapolis Coach Jim Caldwell out of a lineup, but he knew what Lauri's husband looked like too.

Bravo must have gone to a commercial, because Farmer took the time to call Ed Roski's blowhard, John Semcken, to find out why Roski wasn't here with the NFL in L.A.'s backyard.

Semcken said Roski isn't here because he doesn't want anyone asking about lawsuits that must be handled before proceeding. Now the owners are going to have to ask Farmer about it, although they're probably more interested in knowing how Lauri looked the other night.

Roski has a stadium project in the City of Industry, although no one in the NFL cares -- given Aiello's pronouncement earlier in the day -- what's there to talk about in L.A.?

Semcken, though, predicts the NFL will have two teams here by 2012, the first arriving in 2010, likening the situation to Staples Center, and two teams rushing to be the first like the Lakers to get the best deal.

No idea who that might be in the NFL, but when it comes to filling the Clippers' role as losers once again, the Raiders and Rams come immediately to mind.

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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