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Twenty years after Los Angeles lost not one but two franchises to St. Louis and Oakland, the nation’s second-largest metropolis could next season regain not one but two NFL teams, a nationally known sports agent asserts.
And a top NFL executive — newly assigned to restore the league’s L.A. footprint — is not exactly denying that notion.
The two NFL teams with the highest odds of executing an L.A. re-lo, according to player agent Leigh Steinberg? The St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders.
“Poetic justice,” said Steinberg, who lives in the L.A. area and, in 1994, chaired a group of business leaders who worked to keep the Rams in town. Steinberg has deep knowledge of the NFL business machine: He secured over $3 billion for pro athlete-clients — and he's often credited with being the agent on whom the 1996 movie “Jerry Maguire” was based — before lawsuits and bankruptcy brought down his empire.
“This market is empty. Who will claim it?” he asked. “Jerry Jones, whose Dallas Cowboys are the highest-valued NFL team (according to Forbes) at $3.2 billion, once told me: ‘The only franchise that would be as valuable as Dallas is Los Angeles.’
“There’s a reasonable chance those two teams could come and share a stadium,” Steinberg added. “They are two of the lowest valued teams in the league. (Forbes estimates the Raiders are worth $970 million, the Rams, $930 million.) If they moved here, their franchises would almost immediately double in value. Just by being here.”
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Based on that business case — and three additional financial forces — the NFL energy in Tinseltown is rising like the climax to a blockbuster movie. Consider the key plot points in that script:
Act One: Stadium leases for both the Rams and the Raiders end after the 2014 season. In both St. Louis and Oakland, financial uncertainties swirl around those expiring deals.
Act Two: Billionaires Phil Anschutz and Edward Roski — part owners of the L.A. Lakers and L.A. Kings — each have large swaths of land, blueprints and municipal backing to build privately financed football stadiums. Anschutz’s proposed Farmers Field would arise in downtown L.A., and Roski’s planned Los Angeles Stadium would be constructed 15 minutes from Disneyland. Meanwhile, Rams owner Stan Kroenke recently purchased a 60-acre lot near Hollywood Park, a possible site for yet another NFL stadium in the L.A. suburbs.
Act Three: NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman has surrendered his day-to-day duties to lead an in-house team, he said, “to focus on the different opportunities that are presented in the broad LA market.”
The timing of that shift, Grubman confirmed, correlates to the expiring leases in St. Louis and Oakland, the stadium projects in L.A. — and the fact that the league has achieved long-term labor and TV deals that allow the NFL “to perhaps take some additional risks that we might have been uncomfortable taking a few years ago.”
Could one of those risks include an NFL-built, NFL-owned stadium in the L.A. area to house a relocated franchise — or two?
“The NFL may very well come back and offer a concept, which it hasn’t done anywhere else, to build the stadium themselves,” Steinberg said. “The league has always shied away from situations where there were multiple groups with multiple venues. There needs to be coalescence around one.”
If a football stadium is erected in or near L.A., a relocated NFL team or teams could temporarily play at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Steinberg suggested. That venue housed the Raiders from 1982 to 1994 and the Rams from 1946 to 1979.
"If we build a stadium there, whether it’s league-built or club-sponsored, it’s likely that stadium would be built to accommodate two teams."
At NFL headquarters, Grubman called the idea of a league-built, league-owned stadium “visionary.”
“It would serve a greater purpose than simply returning a team to Los Angeles — team, or teams. It would serve as a West Coast center of gravity for the NFL as an entertainment property,” Grubman said. “There’s no better place on the planet to do that than the Los Angeles market — the intersection of entertainment, celebrity and business.”
A league-owned stadium in L.A., Grubman said, could theoretically host the NFL Pro Bowl, Super Bowls and the NFL draft, serving as a catalyst to propel the NFL even higher into the business stratosphere.
An NFL-built stadium for — maybe — two NFL teams?
“It’s a market that could support two teams. Therefore, if we build a stadium there, whether it’s league-built or club-sponsored, it’s likely that stadium would be built to accommodate two teams,” Grubman said.
But a generation of Angelenos grew up without a local NFL team. Many scorn the idea of sapping public tax dollars for a return to pro football, whether that’s for rearranging roads or reallocating cops on game days.
Politicians, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, are listening to that constituency.
“The mayor is a fan and would love to see football here in L.A. But we do not support the use of city resources for stadium construction,” said Yusef Robb, Garcetti’s spokesman. “Any deal would have to make sense for our quality of life, our neighborhoods and our economy.”
On the flip side, a sporting mecca already home to two NBA teams, two NHL teams and two Major League Baseball clubs also contains throngs of NFL fanatics. Some pack the Blue Dog sports bar in Sherman Oaks to scan NFL games on six TVs.
“People from all over Southern California flock in here to watch,” said Eric Walsingham, assistant manager at the Blue Dog. “I’ll have people who’d rather see a pre-season NFL replay than a regular season baseball game.”
Would they be doubly excited if two teams arrived? “Maybe,” Walsingham said. “But, baby steps.”