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Is downtown L.A. stadium a guarantee of NFL team and fans?

September 17, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • A rendering provided by developer and entertainment group AEG of what its proposed downtown football stadium next to Staples Center might look like from the air.
A rendering provided by developer and entertainment group AEG of what its… (AP photo / AEG )

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like my football. I like my football so much that I'm not sure I want an NFL team in downtown L.A.

For one thing, they’ll probably just break our hearts and leave — or just leave. Just as the Rams did, lighting out for Anaheim, then St. Louis. Just as the Raiders did, toying with us until they, like the Rams, played to empty seats and finally left.

And now, after a Planning Commission decision, the city will move this much closer to NFL football in downtown L.A. next week, thanks to a decision about a stadium yet to be built as home to a team yet to be named.

Six years ago, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared that NFL team owners couldn’t possibly say no to "a great fan base, a great historical venue, the second-largest media market in America." He was talking about the Coliseum.

Take two. Now the city hopes that AEG will put up a new stadium in downtown L.A., and that it will entice the NFL to bring its game to town.

Even in good times, L.A. was averse to putting public money into the pockets of bespoke suits and NFL warmup jackets. More than a dozen years ago, the NFL chose to put an expansion team in Houston, not L.A., in no small part because L.A. wouldn’t cough up city money, and Houston did. [It was a Texas governor named George W. Bush who signed a law that let localities ask voter approval to organize sports authorities with the power to tax tourism and sports events to pay those tabs.]

Then-Councilman Joel Wachs said spending tax money to subsidize pro sports is ‘’offensive to the public.’’ County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky thought the NFL was just using L.A. to "jack up" up Houston’s bid.

L.A. wasn’t giving the NFL any dowry; they’d have to marry us for ourselves alone. They didn’t.

Now, in 2012, the downtown stadium plan is speeding ahead — unlike the traffic we will thereafter encounter downtown on game days. And politicians are dreaming sweet dreams of themselves swanning around in skyboxes while the home team clashes on the greensward below, and maybe one day they might get to ride in a victory parade.

For that, the city would issue $391 million in bonds to pay for the construction costs and debt interest for a convention center makeover that’s part of the plan, with as much as 70% of that debt becoming the responsibility of the general fund. Taxes and lease money from the stadium would cover the debt payments, and if they don’t, the developer, AEG, would make up the difference.

L.A.’s Planning Commission concluded that the "significant and unavoidable" effects on noise, light, air quality and traffic still are more than counterbalanced by the dough this can bring in; it’s a substantial burden, "significant and unavoidable," even if downtown is on its way to becoming our own version of Times Square, where the roar and glare are part of the attraction.

I hate to give anything to the late Raiders owner Al Davis, since he took so much from L.A., but he took even more from Irwindale, which gave Davis $10 million just to have a look-see at the place as a possible site of an NFL stadium. And that’s pretty much all Davis did.

Davis had the right idea on one thing: putting a Los Angeles team somewhere other than in Los Angeles. The Raiders couldn’t fill the Coliseum consistently; neither could the Rams.

But the San Gabriel Valley, and even the Inland Empire, would have been a different story.

Granted, that wouldn't accomplish diddly squat for the City of L.A., to use one of Kurt Vonnegut's favorite phrases, and negotiating with a number of smaller cities — each wanting a a rich piece of NFL pie or at least a few crumbs not to be obstreperous if they didn't land the prize themselves — is tricky on the face of it.

Yet "L.A." in the public mind is psychology, not geography. It encompasses vast territory even beyond the huge [400-plus square miles of L.A. city, 4,000-plus-square miles of L.A. County] and could draw from a meta-L.A. region larger than some countries.

The L.A. fan is finicky, and spoiled for choice. Griffith Park, the beach, the foothills, the malls. Some Westsiders are likelier to go to New York for entertainment than to downtown L.A., or so I think. The farther east an NFL team would play, the less competition it would find for fans’ attention.

When the Raiders moved back to Oakland from L.A., a Raiders fan took the $7,000 he'd been saving for a down payment on a house and put it toward Raiders tickets. "A man's got to have his priorities," he said, "no matter how out of whack they are."

Most of L.A. is not that kind of fan. But San Bernardino, Riverside, all the way to the Colorado River — that is an NFL kind of fan base. Ed Roski was thinking of that when he proposed a stadium at the junction of the 57 and 60 freeways, a ‘’fan experience’’ on his own 600 acres, not a hulking stadium crammed into downtown L.A. like a moose on the subway.


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