Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States, home to over 17 million people in the greater LA area. The NFL is the most valuable sports league in the world, accumulating over $9.5 billion dollars in total revenue in 2012. The match of the world’s biggest sports league and the second largest city in America seems like an obvious one. However, since 1995 when they lost not one, but two NFL franchises, Los Angeles has been without pro football at its highest level. Why has the NFL been unable to achieve success in its second largest market, and what needs to be done differently in the future to allow the NFL to flourish in the City of Angels?
Case 1: The Rams
In 1946 the NFL champion Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles. For the first 33 years of their stay in LA, the Rams played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a carnivorous 90,000 seat stadium originally built to host the 1932 Summer Olympics. The Rams had to share the Coliseum at times with both the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins of the NCAA. Although a 90,000 seat stadium works extremely well for events like the Olympics or college football bowl games, it was difficult for the Rams to sell out on a regular basis. The television broadcasting rules of the NFL state that if a team fails to sell out a home game, then it is prohibited from airing the game on local TV. In a 90,000 seat stadium, the Rams had frequent TV blackouts as a result of their home field disadvantage. In the late 70s, the Rams had grown frustrated with the size of the stadium, and its location in dangerous South Central Los Angeles, and moved to Anaheim in Orange County.
|Angel Stadium configured for a Rams game|
For the final 14 years of their stay in the LA area, the Rams played at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, also home to the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels. The stadium was retrofit to accommodate football, new seating was added and brand new luxury suites were built. However, the stadium was owned by the city of Anaheim, and the Rams were a tenant there, meaning that they did not receive all of their gate revenues or cuts of the revenue from other events held there, such as concerts. By the early 90s, the renovated Angel Stadium had once again fallen behind the rest of the NFL stadiums in terms of shared revenues and luxury boxes. Georgia Frontiere, the owner of the Rams, began to shop the team around to other cities, mainly St. Louis and Baltimore, hoping that she would be able to use the rumours to leverage Orange County into building a new stadium for the Rams. However, Anaheim was going through a budgetary crisis at the time and refused to fund a new stadium. Fans, bothered by the talk of relocation, coupled with the team’s poor performance on the field, abandoned the team, who ultimately moved to St. Louis.
The Rams were the victim of an oversized stadium in the first part of their run in LA, and then of a failing economy and poor football stadium during the latter half. The Rams did not necessarily need to move out of the LA area, but ownership had decided that their stadium deal was no longer sufficient for an NFL team of their caliber, and ownership played the game of “stadium or we’ll move” which has become all too familiar to modern sports fans.
Case 2: The Raiders
|The Raiders during their time at the Coliseum|
In 1982, the ever controversial Al Davis moved the Oakland Raiders to LA to play at the Coliseum without the consent of his fellow owners. The Raiders were well aware of the flaws of the Coliseum as a football stadium, but were under the impression that a forthcoming NFL broadcast deal would allow for pay-per-view broadcasts of games, which would open up an extremely lucrative TV monopoly in the second largest market in the league. Davis also hoped that he would be able to convince the owners of the Coliseum, the LA Coliseum Commission, to renovate the facility, specifically through the addition of luxury suites. To Davis’ dismay, the NFL pay-per-view contracts never emerged, and although renovations to the Coliseum began in 1993, they were halted following the extensive and costly repairs that had to be made to the stadium following the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The Raiders were plagued by many of the same problems as the Rams were during their stay at the Coliseum and they ultimately returned to a renovated Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum after the 1994 season.
After the Raiders and Rams
After the loss of the Rams and Raiders, NCAA football continued to thrive in the LA area, with USC and UCLA continuing to be two of the most popular programs in the entire nation. LA is frequently mentioned as a possible relocation destination for Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Seattle, and Tampa Bay, amongst others. LA actually was granted an NFL expansion franchise in 1999, on the condition that they could agree on a new stadium site and financing plan. Ultimately the city did not, and the expansion franchise became the Houston Texans. The NFL is happy with their 32 team setup at the moment, and would not likely expand into LA without having at least two, and possibly 4, new teams added to the league. Los Angeles has not been home to professional football in any league since the 2009 collapse of the Arena Football League.
Without a new stadium, the NFL will not return to Los Angeles. The State of California is broke, and will not spend a single cent on building a new football stadium while they cannot afford to repair their highways and pay their public sector workers. Originally, there were plans to extensively renovate the LA Coliseum to make it home to a new NFL team, but the plans were deemed too costly to proceed, at an estimate of over $650 million. In 2008, the Coliseum Commission chose to sell naming rights to the Coliseum, further dampening any hopes of an NFL franchise making it their home, as naming rights usually provide a significant source of income to a team. Fortunately for the NFL fans in the greater LA area, two privately financed plans exist to build facilities that would enable an NFL team to return to the city.
|A proposed design for Los Angeles Stadium|
The first proposal is for Los Angeles Stadium, which would actually be built in the City of Industry, 22 miles east of Downtown LA. The $800 million, 75,000 seat stadium would be entirely privately financed by LA real estate billionaire Edward P. Roski, who helped build the Staples Centre. Roski’s plan was approved by the city council in a 5-0 vote in 2009. Roski refuses to build his stadium until he is guaranteed an NFL tenant, in which he wants to own at least a 30% share. Without a plan of expansion or a team that may move soon, Roski’s plan has entered a period of stagnation, approved in theory, but never to enter reality.
|An artist's concept of Farmers Field|
The second proposal is for a $1.2 billion dollar, 72,000 seat stadium, with a retractable roof, to be built next door to the Staples Center. This would create a sporting complex home to LA Lakers, Clippers, Kings, and the NFL team. Naming rights to the proposed stadium were sold to Farmers Insurance in 2011, in a deal worth $700 million over 30 years. The value of the naming rights contract could rise to $1 billion if the stadium were to attract two teams. Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) the owners of the Staples Center, London’s O2 Arena and a minority shareholder in the Lakers, has agreed to finance the stadium in whole. The proposal was approved by a 12-0 vote of the LA city council in September of 2012. The stadium would take close to three years to complete, and construction will not begin until a tenant is guaranteed. This means that a new NFL team would need to have either a long divorce with its current city, or make use of a temporary stadium in either the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl.
Under either of the proposals, LA would be in a much better position for its team(s) than it ever was for the Rams or the Raiders. Either stadium would be state of the art marvels, comparable to the new Cowboys Stadium, or Metlife Field. These brand new, smaller stadiums, would be equipped with every modern convenience, from cutting edge workout facilities to suites that rival the levels of luxury afforded to Roman emperors. The smaller capacities would hopefully ensure no more blackouts, and once again Los Angeles, could call themselves home to an NFL franchise.