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BILL DWYRE

L.A. couldn't care less about NFL labor agreement

The league punted on the city long ago, choosing to put a new team in Houston, after it had awarded one to L.A. in principle, because there was a whole lot more cash to be made there from expansion fees. So, as teenagers say, 'Whatever.'

July 25, 2011|Bill Dwyre
  • DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFL Players Assn., left, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell shake hands during a news conference in Washington on Monday.
DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director of the NFL Players Assn., left, and… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

The NFL will play games this fall, it was reported Monday.

We are told this is a good thing because, had there not been a labor settlement, fantasy league players would continue to throw themselves off tall buildings at an alarming rate. Now, sadly, it will be the spouses of fantasy league players who will be taking stairs to the rooftop.

We hadn't followed this closely, because the NFL has been pretty much dead to us, and most of Los Angeles, since Oct. 5, 1999. That's when the best efforts of Los Angeles businessmen — and we might put little quote marks around the words "best efforts" — were drowned by a Texas oil gusher.

Harken back: In the spring of that year, the NFL had awarded, in principle, the 32nd franchise to Los Angeles. It had been four years since Georgia Frontiere took her Rams to St. Louis and Al Davis took his Raiders back to Oakland. In those four years, Los Angeles had wrinkled its collective brow and wondered whether losing Frontiere and Davis in one year was a bad thing, or if we had hit the jackpot.

Nevertheless, when an NFL team leaves a city there is always community hand-wringing. Two departures double the angst.

Soon, people with money and skill at putting big projects together were doing just that. Through the efforts of the likes of Michael Ovitz, Mayor Richard Riordan, Ron Burkle, Eli Broad and Ed Roski, the deal seemed done. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stood on the Coliseum steps, had his picture taken and said it would be so.

Then, in that expansion meeting in Atlanta in October 1999, a Texas oilman named Bob McNair offered the NFL a $700-million expansion fee — at least $200 million above Los Angeles' best offer.

Game over.

You can say all you want about those existing 31 NFL owners, but they all knew how to add, subtract and divide by 31. The 32nd NFL team became the Houston Texans and L.A. became a great NFL TV market.

Still is.

Which brings us to Monday, and the news that sent joy sweeping through the land. We will all have something to do again Sunday afternoons. Also Monday and Thursday nights. Give us the Jets and the Broncos on TV, plus two beers, and we are a happy country.

Interestingly, sprinkled about in this burst of NFL happiness is the opinion that this somehow means Los Angeles will get a team more quickly.

Part of that is that there are two viable stadium projects — Phil Anschutz downtown and Roski out in Grand Crossing (formerly the City of Industry) — sitting on drawing boards and allegedly ready to happen. More so, in the NFL agreement, some extra money has been set aside for loans to help build stadiums.

Golly, gee whiz. This could be it.

Or, taking the contrarian side, this could be yet another kick to L.A.'s groin.

Consider that this new agreement is designed, fairly quickly, to make everybody in the NFL happier and richer. Millionaire players become multimillionaire players. Billionaire owners are now being invited to lunch in Greece.

We have questions, all rhetorical.

•Does bloated contentment breed more change, more risk-taking?

•Do people with new cash in their already fat wallets quickly look for start-up ventures?

•Are owners who might have been down to their last half a billion (read Jacksonville and San Diego) as eager to fix things by moving to Los Angeles as they might have been before things got fixed; before they became newly enriched?

•If you have just worked long and hard and secured your future status quo with some nice maneuvers and creative vision by leaders and lawyers on both sides, does getting a team in Los Angeles become a bigger priority, or a smaller one?

The NFL, never even close to being broken, is now even more emboldened. The richest and most successful sports league in the world has its swagger back, not that it ever really lost much of it.

Even if the smart thing is to not sit on your successes, not get fat and happy, there is a future revenue stream that will easily solve that concern for the NFL. Some of its TV contracts come up for negotiations after this season. Think of the climate in which those talks will be held. NBC just paid $4 billion for the Olympics in 2014, '16, '18 and '20, and a single team, the Lakers, received something approaching $3 billion from Time Warner Cable for a 20-year TV deal.

And what is the best television property in the history of sports? The NFL, of course.

You do the math.

All this, plus the NFL loves to be wanted, to be romanced. Think of it as a 32-member country club, which chooses very carefully whom it allows into its cocktail parties. Schmoozing and begging work best.

Since the oilman uncapped his wells that day in 1999, Los Angeles has been less inclined to do either. So, no cocktail party. And, for much of L.A., no harm, no foul.

With this labor agreement, the NFL got fatter and happier. Also, less needy for L.A.

But that's OK. The fantasy players are thrilled.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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