For more than 20 seasons the NFL has enjoyed its most diverse and active fanbase in greater Los Angeles—without a franchise there. As new California laws are making it easier to ease through community and environmental impact studies through ballot initiatives, the real bulwark may come from the league itself.
The bureaucratic red tape, the environmental impact reports, the public commentary forums, the denuded forests of paperwork—no more. At least not as far as a trio of NFL team owners looking to build in Los Angeles are concerned.
The league and the rest of its current owners, on the other hand, are a different story.
Since January, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroeneke has dished out $1.7 million for a successful Inglewood stadium ballot initiative. Ownership of the Chargers and Raiders spent about a third of that for the consulting fees and polling agency services required to convince 15,000 Carson residents to align themselves and their taxpayer dollars with the pair of professional sports franchises. The stadium projects, which could top out at $2 billion each, have gone from spaceship-looking renderings and notions of grandiosity to being just a few fundraising cycles away from that first golden shovel scoop.
…But using a new state law which exempts projects proposed by ballot initiatives from environmental impact reviews doesn’t make the most expensive stadia builds in the world a sure thing.
Just ask AEG.
On March 10, the Los Angeles-based music and sports presenter gave up on its half-decade-long journey to build a megastadium complex in downtown LA next to the Staples Center. The group spent an estimated $27 million on a Game of Thrones-length environmental impact report (10k pages nobody will ever read would’ve been averted under the new law) and another $50 million on consulting and design fees for an infill project in a now-thriving and accessible sector of Los Angeles.
“After years of work on the stadium project, including execution of a term sheet with the NFL and over a year of negotiations in earnest with the league, it has become evident that a transaction that would be satisfactory to AEG, the City and the NFL is not achievable in any foreseeable time frame,” was the released statement from Ted Fikre, AEG’s vice chairman.
Translation: It was the NFL that cock-blocked us.
The league ostensibly killed AEG’s deal after the promotion company requested a potential stake in team ownership in exchange for building the venue.
AEG in turn said, “Fuck us? Oh yeah. Fuck you!” and started making attempts to stop Kroeneke’s Inglewood plan as well as shooting holes in the Carson project. This, ironically, likely will result in AEG doing the dirty work for the NFL.
By threatening a move to the most underserved metro on the West Coast, owners have bled their team’s hometowns dry over the past two decades.
But AEG’s sour-grapes studies revealing stadiums near airports may encourage terrorism (totally ignoring the fact that their proposed structure would’ve been built in the shadow of Nakatomi Plaza) are small time. Over the last 90 days, the NFL has quietly established an owners committee to look further into LA—meaning they’re waiting for the right time to sweep the out-of-town money off the table. The league’s head henchman Eric Grubman, who also runs point in Southern California, has been careful to laud the efforts of all groups to build in Los Angeles without giving any specific indicators that the NFL takes any of these bids seriously—or even wants a team in LA.
“I honestly don’t know if we’ll get a proposal this year,” Grubman recently told The New York Times. “It’s not ripe until it’s ripe.”
LA has been a NFL cash cow not only with the hoards of expat fans who buy into the league’s many cable, satellite and merchandising offerings, but by threatening a move to the most underserved metro on the West Coast, owners have bled their team’s hometowns dry over the past two decades.
To stay in Indianapolis, the Colts received more than $670 million to build a new stadium from taxpayers. The Vikings and the Saints got $500 million from the public to stay in Minnesota and New Orleans respectively. The Bills got a quarter-billion-dollar renovation to its stadium courtesy of the ballot-stuffing Bills faithful.
…But nothing compares to the bill Santa Clara voters signed to keep the 49ers from flying south. In June, 2010 Santa Clara approved a $937 million plan to pick up the tab of what is now Levi’s stadium. The cost to the city eventually swelled to $1.3 billion, 36 percent more than the original estimate. That’s a nice chunk of community change to pad the York family’s and the league’s coffers.
The only stumbling block for the league to keep the joke going comes in the form of the Raiders and the Chargers. Both franchises were founded in Los Angeles in 1960 and have been hitting voter roadblocks in Oakland and San Diego on new stadium proposals for decades. Recent negative comments from Oakland City Council members on top of a lifetime of struggle with the Davis family along with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s lashing out at the Chargers after the Carson stadium announcement, means both current municipalities may rather see their moribund AFC franchises walk then deposit one more cent of public funds to keep them.
If only for PR, St. Louis still has (pig)skin in the game. City officials from the Gateway to the West have hired a consultant to measure voter interest on construction of a potential $800 million riverfront stadium complex in St. Louis—using taxpayer dollars.
Whether any of the three current teams in the hunt for a new home ends up in the Los Angeles Basin, voters from around the country have already spoken with their wallets over the last decade. Despite facing the challenges of paying for crumbling infrastructure as well as the untenable salaries and pensions of elected officials, staffs, police, fire and municipal workers, there is one need that trumps them all: Keeping satisfied a non-profit $10 billion/year league and its profit-sharing owners.
NFL owners, three-fourths of whom are required to OK a move, are loath to kill off their Golden McGuffin in the city of make-believe.
Whether Kroeneke snagged Hollywood Park to lord over St. Louis Rams fans or the Raiders/Chargers group secured the services of Goldman Sachs’ Tim Romer (who orchestrated the 49ers’ stadium deal with Santa Clara) just to make a potential fake move look legitimate, it is the NFL’s LA ruse that trumps them—netting more than $3 billion in public funds to date.
Not a bad bluff at all.