Archive for the ‘Los Angeles’ Category

For the section covering the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers, please go HERE.
For the section covering the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and St. Louis Rams, please go HERE.

Six potential candidates for relocation to Los Angeles have already been discussed, but I have saved what would have to be considered the biggest surprise for last.

Vikings
Current Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
2010 Franchise Value: $774 million (30th out of 32 teams)

The Minnesota Vikings have to be the biggest dark horse in the potential LA relocation candidates in discussion.  After all, they’re part of the historic NFC North, share iconic rivalries with the Chicago Bears and especially the Green Bay Packers, and have been playing professional football in the Twin Cities for a half century.  Despite the fact that they have never won a Super Bowl, the Vikings still remain a widely followed franchise, with their fandom covering a massive swath of the upper Midwest and Great Plains.  Vikings fans are energetic, involved, and loyal, reliably packing their home field during good times and bad.  Additionally, the team is usually well-followed on the road, with at least a decent amount of purple supporters in the stands no matter where they play.

However, in spite of all these problems, the Vikings have several major problems with their current situation, nearly all of which revolve around their home stadium, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  Despite providing for an excellent home field advantage due to its loud stadium noise, the Metrodome is incredibly outdated by modern standards, which limits the earning potential of the team.  This is especially evident by their shockingly low franchise value.  If you asked a hundred NFL fans how the Vikings ranked against the rest of the league in regards to franchise valuation, I could just about guarantee you that none of them would’ve guessed that they’re the third lowest valued team in the NFL.  To be honest, I don’t even think that any would have even assumed that they were even in the bottom ten!  The Metrodome’s drawbacks recently came into the limelight during the 2010 season, when heavy snow in Minneapolis caused the Metrodome’s roof to puncture and collapse, videos of which spread like wildfire across the internet.

This collapse forced the Vikings to play their last two home games of the year at alternate sites, losing both and putting to rest even their most far-fetched postseason hopes.  It also signified an exclamation point to the continued negotiations that the team has had with the state of Minnesota over the potential to build a new stadium for the Vikings.  Hoping to emulate the deal the Minnesota Twins of the MLB received for the partial funding of their new Target Field, the Vikings are seeking public assistance in the construction of a new stadium.  While they have had agreements with the local government in the past, any and all public funding plans have fallen apart as the state legislature has expressed continued unwillingness to spend public funds on a new football stadium and the locals are uncertain about public support for funding yet another private sports facility.  Additionally, the team’s ownership has stumbled at times as well, no more so than in 2005 when they effectively forced nearby Anoka County to pull out of a public funding agreement when the Vikings announced that their planned stadium would be an open-air facility without any roof, significantly cutting back on the potential avenues for revenue in an attempt by the team to save money.  While the Vikings seem to have learned from this mistake, as their current plans are calling for a retractable roof facility, they appear to be no closer to gaining state funding for a new stadium than they were five years ago.

Pros: With all of this in mind, the Vikings have a compelling argument for considering a move to Los Angeles.  Despite their long-standing and historic status, they are one of the lowest valued franchises in the league.  Even with their fan support, they just can’t seem to get public funding for a new stadium that other teams have received, notably Minnesota’s own Twins, making the ownership feel an intense sense that they’re being unappreciated by state and local politicians.  Both of these issues would be solved instantaneously in Los Angeles, where the team would have a choice between two competing (and attractive) stadium options as well the whole-hearted support of state and local politicians.  Additionally, the Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011, meaning that there would be no possible financial ramifications of leaving the Minneapolis area if push came to shove.  All of these factors weigh heavily in favor of moving to Los Angeles.

Cons: In spite of all that however, moving such an iconic franchise out of the Midwest seems almost unthinkable, especially when their fanbase is so thoroughly energetic in their support of the team.  More likely, the Vikings will follow the example of the Colts by using a threat to move to L.A. as a bargaining chip to try to force the state legislature to finally come around and provide partial public assistance in funding a new facility.  Such a threat would almost assuredly result in a massive outcry and outpouring of demand that the team stay in the Twin Cities, which would definitely weigh heavily against the state legislature if they continued to refuse public assistance to the team’s construction plans (as well as against the Vikings moving forward with a threatened move).

So, there you have it, the seven teams that could potentially be considering a move to Los Angeles… the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings.  These teams have been reported by various media outlets and by the people behind the competing stadium plans themselves as the most likely candidates for relocation to L.A. over the past couple years.  Obviously, not to say that another team couldn’t jump in and make a surprise move to the City of Angels, or that all of the teams listed over the course of the past couple days are truly considering such an action, but these seven have to be considered the most likely candidates.

All that being said though, is the likelihood of these teams moving all equal?  Of course not.  Some teams have smaller problems than others, and some are likely only interested in using L.A. as a threat to try to get public support for new stadium construction.  I believe that this is likely the case for the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers, whom I truly believe are committed to remaining in the Twin Cities and the Bay Area respectively.  If either of these two teams are the ones that make the jump, I would honestly be quite shocked.  On a similar note, I likewise believe that the Bills are committed to the Buffalo area so long as their current owner remains alive, nixing the possibility of relocation for hopefully at least a few more years for this franchise.  On top of that, due to their presence in southern Ontario, if they were truly considering a relocation, Toronto seems like it would be a more likely home for them than L.A., although certain issues might arise from the Canadian government trying to block an NFL move to protect their Canadian Football League (potentially a topic of discussion for a later blog post).

Additionally, I believe that the troubles experienced by the St. Louis Rams are temporary, even with their recent and dramatic loss in value.  They have a young stud in the guise of Sam Bradford and are on the cusp of returning back into the playoffs, which would be a strong tonic to their financial woes in bring back the big bucks.  On top of that, despite the questions I previously brought up in their new owners commitment to remain in St. Louis, his Missouri connections are very deep and I don’t think that he’d be willing to move out of the area within the first couple years of his ownership of the team, which is the time table I’m looking at (as are the backers of the competing stadium plans in L.A.).  I’d say that the Rams are more likely to move than the Vikings, 49ers, and Bills in the immediate future, but that their relocation potential is lower than the remaining three teams.

That leaves us with three teams remaining, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers.  Even with their improvements in attendance over the past season, the Jaguars have some of the most questionable finances in the league, exist in a relatively small market surrounded by more entrenched competitors, and still have reason to doubt their fan support.  The Raiders have an oddball owner, a hated and mostly incompetent team management staff that has made mistake after mistake when it comes to roster and draft decisions, play in a horrible stadium, and have a history in the L.A. area as well as a still sizable fan presence in the city.  The Chargers, despite their success on the field, play in a stadium they want to replace and believe that they aren’t supported by the fans as much as they should be.

However, even among these final three, their chances still are not equal.  I’d highlight the Chargers as being the biggest wildcard among these three teams.  I believe that they are likely more interested in staying in the San Diego area, as they are in the process of shopping around the surrounding region for a potential home and partner for a new facility.  More likely than the Jaguars and the Raiders, I think that they’d be more interested in threatening to move to get what they want in their current surroundings versus actually moving.  However, while I’d rank them as being less likely than the Jags and Raiders, I wouldn’t put them on the same level of unlikelihood as the 49ers and Vikings.  The Chargers, more so than any other team listed, probably have the most variance in their options.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved or if they stayed, but they are not even close to being the most or least likely candidate for relocation.  Like I already said above, they will be the wild card and will be entirely dependent on if they can get San Diego-area public financing for a new stadium.

That leaves us with the Jaguars and the Raiders, the two teams I’d identify as being the most likely candidates for moving to the City of Angels.  Both teams have serious financial problems, with the Raiders having more management and stadium issues plaguing them while the Jaguars are mostly troubled by their questionable market size.  These very real issues have weighed heavily on both franchises over the years, to the point where they have to be considering their options in L.A. and are undoubtedly being courted by the competing stadium plans.  The Raiders would seem to have a less of a league barrier to a move, as a relocation would not necessitate a divisional realignment as would likely be necessary if the Florida-based Jaguars set up shop in California.  However, I’d also rank the inherent structural problems of the Jaguars as being greater than the Raiders, effectively evening their chances.

However, just like how neither team could move and this entire conversation could be for naught, more than one team could make the jump as well.  With competing stadium plans, both development groups could very well push for a team of their own and still likely be profitable competing in a two-team Los Angeles area, much in the same way that the region already supports two baseball teams, two hockey teams, and two (perhaps three) basketball teams.  Additionally, the backers of the City of Industry bid have already expressed their intention to try to draw two NFL teams to share their facility in the same way that the Jets and the Giants share a home in New Jersey.  Despite that, I’d honestly have to say that two L.A. teams is a pie-in-the-sky dream for Los Angeles fans, especially when you remember that the last time the City of Angels had two NFL teams they both abandoned the area within a few months of each other.  More likely than not, if the NFL returns to Los Angeles in the near future it will just be one team…

… and if I were a betting man, I’d lay money on it being either the Jaguars or the Raiders.

Yesterday, I covered the prospects of the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers moving to Los Angeles.  Today, I’ll cover three more prospective teams that could potentially be considering a move to the City of Angels.

Jaguars
Current Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
2010 Franchise Value: $725 million (32nd out of 32 teams)

Alas, the poor Jaguars, quite possibly the single-most discussed candidate for relocation in the entire league.  This franchise has been a question mark in the league ever since they opened up shop as an expansion team in 1995.  Despite the fact that they are based in the largest city in Florida (no really, it’s true… Jacksonville is larger than Tampa or even Miami), they sit atop one of the smallest markets in the league thanks to their small metropolitan area and being stuck between the already more established Atlanta Falcons to the north and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins to the south.  Additionally, as their misfortune would have it, they are located in the AFC South, a division that has been dominated by arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history, the Indianapolis Colts’ iconic Peyton Manning.  While they have managed to put together very quality seasons, most notably their sensational 14-2 regular season record in 1999 that saw them battle all the way to the conference championship, even that high-point was marred by bitter disappointment when both of their regular season losses and their eventual playoff defeat all came at the hands of just one team, the divisional rival Tennessee Titans.  Since that highwater mark, they have only reached the postseason twice and have not won their current division, the AFC South, since it was founded in 2002.

The Jags have been going downhill pretty much ever since then, albeit with flickering bright spots here and there.  The team’s fanbase seems understandably exasperated with their on-field performance.  In 2005, plummeting attendance forced the team to permanently cover 10,000 seats in their home stadium with tarps to reduce their potential capacity and avoid bearing the wrath of the NFL’s blackout policy, which stipulates that any home game that is not sold out with 72-hours of kickoff will not be aired in the home market.  Even with this desperate measure, along with reducing ticket prices and even flat out giving away tickets, the team has lead the league in blackouts in recent years.  2009 was their utter low point, when average home game attendance for their season was only 40,000 (by far the lowest in the league), prompting 7 out of their 8 home games to be blacked out in the Jacksonville market.  While 2010 was a major turnaround for them, almost reaching the playoffs and increasing their overall attendance by league-leading 36.5%, this improvement was still blemished by the fact that their overall value was calculated as still being the lowest in the entire league by Forbes.  And, even with their big bump in fan attendance over the past season, their value still dropped precipitously in value from 2009 to 2010, from $866 million to $725 million.

Pros: Due to these problems, the Jaguars have logically been widely identified as one of the most likely targets for relocation to Los Angeles.  As they are currently the lowest-valued franchise and play in a market many question as being even large enough to support an NFL team, the Jags honestly seem like an almost perfect fit for L.A.  The franchise’s financial situation would significantly improve if they moved to the United States’ second largest media market, one which could definitely support a team with not only a sizable fanbase but also significant corporate support, something which has mostly escaped the team in northern Florida.

Cons: Truth be told… there really are only two real cons to the team moving to L.A.  Firstly, 2010 was a banner year for the franchise, even with their lose in franchise value.  They were a mere game away from reaching the playoffs this season and saw the single largest boost in attendance while the rest of the league was mostly stagnant in their draw.  Secondly, moving from Florida to California would likely necessitate divisional realignment, as having teams in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, and California would be a bit spread out for a single division.  However, the potential profit margins for the team and the league in the guise of increased revenues from merchandising, ticket sales, and television ratings could possibly make these very real drawbacks worthwhile.

Raiders
Current Hometown: Oakland, California
2010 Franchise Value: $758 million (31st out of 32 teams)

Of all the teams currently under consideration for relocation, the Oakland Raiders have to be viewed as the team that would probably make the best fit in L.A.  Having previously existed as the Los Angeles Raiders from 1982-1994, they still have a sizable fanbase and presence in the city even after their heart-breaking return to the Bay Area.  Support for this team to return to L.A. would be overwhelming and they would likely be welcomed like conquering heroes should they ever set up shop in the City of Angeles again.  More so than probably any other team, the Raiders fit the mold for almost all the prerequisites that you would expect to find in a team seriously considering relocation.

First of all, their franchise value is downright abysmal.  While the Jaguars managed to overtake them as the least-valued franchise in the league over the past year, they still managed to drop in value by approximately $40 million from 2009 to 2010.  To make matters worse, the Raiders play in one of the worst facilities in North American sports, the Oakland-Alameda County Stadium.  While most of the hatred of the facility rightfully comes from the Athletics of the MLB, who also use the stadium, it is still very outdated by all possible football standards and is in bad need for retrofitting or outright replacement.  The Raiders also have a horrible ownership in place, headed up by the ancient and confrontational Al Davis, who many have questioned from a city loyalty standpoint as well as from a competency perspective, especially after his high-profile and controversial trade of coach John Gruden to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for cash and draft picks (which were subsequently squandered anyway).  Finally, the team has proven to be a habitual no-show on the field, oftentimes being among the worst teams in the league, and are not much better off-the field, most exemplified by their now-commonplace draft busts which have seen them sink countless millions into unproven and ultimately unsuccessful players time and time again (nowhere more evident than in JaMarcus Russell, the biggest draft bust in NFL history).  All of these factors have combined to form an environment that, despite recent efforts to the contrary, seem to almost expect losing and an atmosphere that most players seem to want to avoid at all possible costs.

Pros: See just about everything above.  If the Raiders went back to L.A., they’d instantly be playing in a larger, wealthier market that players would be interested in joining and would have their pick of not one, but two competing stadium plans, each of which would be a dramatic improvement over their current home.

Cons: There is one thing and one thing only going for the Raiders staying in Oakland, and that’s their fans.  Despite having had some issues selling out and having a few blackouts over the years, the Raiders fanbase is one of the most intense and energetic in the entire league, even when the product on the field in downright atrocious.  If the Raiders moved to Los Angeles, they would raise a massive stink and do every conceivable thing in their power to either prevent the move or to make as much noise as possible about it, and it would be very questionable that L.A. fans would be willing to put up with as much failure as Oakland fans have accepted over the years.

Rams
Current Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
2010 Franchise Value: $779 million (29th out of 32 teams)

Like the Chargers and the Raiders, the Rams are yet another relocation candidate that had previously called Los Angeles home.  Despite putting together the “greatest show on turf” in the late 90’s and early 00’s, wherein they managed to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to St. Louis, the Rams have been a troubled franchise ever since.  Like pretty much every other team on this list, the Rams have been suffering from declining attendance and profits and currently play in a facility that they believe they have long since outgrown.  They have been hit especially hard by this poor economy, astonishingly dropping over $130 million in value from last season to this season, despite signing QB phenom Sam Bradford and almost reaching the playoffs thanks to playing in the historically weak NFC West this past season.  In spite of a big on-field improvement from 2009 to 2010, their home attendance was still fairly low, ranking as the third lowest overall in the entire league.

To make matters even potentially more complicated, the Rams changed ownership over the past year, trading hands to Stan Kroenke, the owner of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, the NBA’s Colorado Nuggets, and majority shareholder of the Arsenal Football Club of the English Premier League, as well as several other sporting ventures.  While he does need to relinquish majority ownership of his two Denver-based teams to his son by 2014, as part of an NFL rule that doesn’t allow team owners to control majority control of other sports franchises located in other markets, his past successful sporting experience was viewed with hope and trepidation at the same time.  While he is originally from St. Louis and went to school at Mizzou, the state’s flagship institution, there are concerns as to exactly how committed he really is to keeping the team in St. Louis.  If he receives the right offer from one of the two proposed two stadium groups in Los Angeles, who’s to say that he wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to make his investment suddenly become a billion-dollar franchise?

Pros: Lackluster attendance, a stadium that needs continual upgrades, and a questionable commitment to staying in St. Louis all have to weigh heavily against the odds of this team remaining in St. Louis.  Additionally, in spite of the closer connection that the Raiders may have with their former home, the ex-Los Angeles Rams would still be welcomed back with open arms by L.A. residents.  Additionally, even though they are over 1,800 miles to the east of Los Angeles, the St. Louis Rams already play in the NFC West, meaning that there would be no need whatsoever to realign the divisions, as would be likely be the case if the Bills or Jaguars moved.

Cons: Despite the questionable commitment that Kroenke may have for staying in St. Louis, the fact of the matter is that he still has deep connections to the area and that could be enough to anchor him down.  Additionally, the team, despite their drop in value, has every indicator of a franchise on the rise, with a potential future star in the guise of Sam Bradford and a market that has shown to be more than capable of successfully supporting major sports teams, meaning that the negatives that the team is currently facing are much less than what other teams are experiencing.

Coming up next will be the third and final entry to this article, which will cover a final, dark house franchise that could be considering moving to Los Angeles, as well as a recap and overview of the likelihood of teams I’ve gone over actually moving to L.A. in the foreseeable future.

Considering that I have already written an article on the competing stadium bids in Los Angeles that are currently being considered in an effort to draw an NFL team back to the City of Angels, I figured that it might be a good idea to discuss a list of potential teams that could make the jump to L.A.  Each of the options listed below have very real problems with their current home situations and would likely benefit from a move to Los Angeles, but they likewise all have major barriers and could negatives consequences that might potentially block any such move.

For the sake of convenience, I will just order the teams by alphabetical order.  Additionally, due to the amount of subject material and number of teams that will be discussed, I will be splitting this up into three parts.  Today’s entry will cover the first three potential teams, tomorrow’s entry will cover even more relocation possibilities, and the final part providing a round-up and synopsis will be posted on the day after that.

Bills
Current Hometown: Orchard Park, New York (suburb of Buffalo)
2010 Franchise Value: $799 million (28th out of 32 teams)

The Buffalo Bills are an unfortunate franchise.  Despite managing to put together an AFC dynasty in the early 90’s that saw them appear in four consecutive Super Bowls, the franchise has unfortunately never won the Super Bowl in their over four decades in the league (though they did win two AFL championships prior to the NFL-AFL merger).  Since their fourpeat failure to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, the Bills have been experiencing a long and harrowing decline into mediocrity.  Playing in the very tough AFC East against the perennial New England Patriots, the sometimes high-quality Miami Dolphins, and the recent upstart New York Jets, the Bills have been squeezed into the cellar and have not made it into the playoffs in this new millennium.

Despite boasting one of the most loyal and passionate fanbases in the league, the Bills have additionally suffered as economic downturns have hurt their already fairly small market, eating away at the revenues that the team can raise.  To make matters worse, in a desperate effort to bring in some money, the team has scheduled five regular season home games to be played in Toronto from 2008 to 2012, raising speculation and fears that the franchise was testing the waters for a potential move to Toronto.  Despite their beloved owner’s assurances, there is still wide-spread concern that the Bills could very well move in the near future, and many even fear that there will literally be nothing holding the next generation of the team’s ownership in Western New York once Ralph Wilson passes away.

Pros: Playing in a small market and in an old stadium, the Bills obviously have to be considered a major candidate for relocation to Los Angeles.  The prospect of playing in the second largest media market in the nation, in a brand new stadium (whether it ends up being the Los Angeles Stadium in the City of Industry or Farmers Field in downtown L.A.), the Bills would undoubtedly receive a massive economic boost if they jumped from Buffalo to the City of Angels.  Additionally, and I hate to bring this up, but the age of the team’s owner is also a factor, as his heirs could very well be looking into possibly liquidating the team for the franchise’s hundreds of millions of dollars in value once Ralph Wislon passes away, something which the principals behind both stadium projects in L.A. could very easily afford.

Cons: Despite their issues, the Bills fanbase is extraordinarily energetic and would definitely put up a major fight if the team tried to leave.  Additionally, based on their own already-existent fanbase in Ontario, if the Bills really were contemplating relocation, Toronto seems like it would be a much better fit for the team.  Finally, a move from the Eastern Time Zone to the Pacific Time Zone would likely result in a need for the league to reorganize their current divisional alignment, as it would be very unlikely to think that the NFL would want to have an eastern division with a franchise in California… although, now that I think about it, having rival teams from New York, Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles all in the same division might very well be a very attractive prospect to the NFL…

Chargers
Current Hometown: San Diego, California
2010 Franchise Value: $907 million (24th out of 32 teams)

The San Diego Chargers might, at first glance, seem like a very odd relocation potential.  After all, despite their habitual early season troubles, the Chargers have been regular playoff contenders over the past couple years, highlighted by the fact that they won the AFC West four straight seasons from 2006-2009.  Additionally, they have an extremely solid core of talent, centered around arguably the best active quarterback in the league right now that doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring, Phillip Rivers.

In spite of these obvious pluses though, the Chargers have built up a reputation as being underachievers come playoff time.  Despite reaching the AFC Championship following the 2007 season, the franchise has onlyo reached the Super Bowl once in their entire existence, and have yet to win it.  Their poor early season play coupled with their inability to reach the big game in the playoffs has somewhat hurt their draw, leading to empty seats that you wouldn’t expect to find in a regular playoff contender like the Chargers.

Having a naval battle at Qualcomm when it floods would actually be pretty awesome. (Ulpiano Checa, 1894 painting)

To make matters worse, the Chargers view their current home, Qualcomm Stadium, as being horribly out of date and not very pleasant for the fans from an atmosphere perspective.  Most recently, during the lead up to the scheduled college Poinsettia Bowl that takes place annually in San Diego, Qualcomm was severely flooded following heavy rains, making national news for having temporarily taken on the appearance of lake prepared to host a veritable Roman naumachia (naval battle).  While the game went off mostly without a hitch after the million or so gallons of rain water were pumped out of the stadium, the damage from the rain is still being investigated.

Pros: The Chargers have most of the features that you would expect to see from a team contemplating a move.  A fanbase not as loyal as they believe they deserve, an outdated stadium that badly needs to be replaced, and a potential nearby relocation site that would be many times larger and more profitable than their current home.  And the team has more or less admitted that they would consider relocation if a planned (though unpopular) 2012 ballot measure to allow for public funding of a new stadium doesn’t go through.  With the measure, as of right now, unlikely to even appear on the ballot in 2012, much less pass, you have to consider the Chargers as a very likely candidate for relocation, especially as they were actually originally founded in Los Angeles and could label the relocation as a triumphant homecoming even though almost no one remembers the short days they spent in L.A.

Cons: While the franchise would undoubtedly benefit from the short move to L.A., they would kiss all potential SoCal support from outside the L.A. area goodbye if they ever abandoned San Diego.  Additionally, despite some of the problems that San Diego has had, it still remains a large market that the NFL would likely not be willing to let go of so easily.  Finally, the threat of moving to Los Angeles could very well be used to drum up support to pass the ballot measure to fund a new home for the team in San Diego, much in the same way that the Colts owners did following a visit to Los Angeles prior to receiving public funds for the construction of their new Lucas Oil Stadium.

49ers
Current Hometown: San Francisco, California
2010 Franchise Value: $925 million (22nd out of 32 teams)

The second, but not last, California team to make the list, the San Francisco 49ers are also another seemingly odd potential relocation target.  After all, the franchise has an incredibly rich tradition as the oldest major professional sports franchise on the West Coast.  They had two all-time great quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, as well as arguably the greatest single NFL player in history, wide receiver Jerry Rice, on their roster of Hall of Fame 49ers.  Additionally, the Niners are tied for second with most Super Bowl wins in NFL history at five with the Dallas Cowboys and behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers with six Lombardi Trophy wins.  Finally, they have a rich and ingrained tradition in the Bay Area, being as much of a part of San Francisco as just about any other institution in the region and have a passionate fanbase spread across much of California.

So why include the 49ers on this list?  One reason… their stadium.  Candlestick Park, despite being an iconic and historic landmark, has not weathered the passage of time very well.  While not the oldest stadium in the NFL (Lambeau Field in Green Bay is 3 years older and Soldier Field in Chicago is over 35 years older), Candlestick remains the oldest park to have not received major renovations.  So, while Lambeau has weathered the passage of time phenomenally due to several upgrades, and Soldier Field was practically completely rebuilt in 2003, Candlestick more or less remains the same as it was in 1960, aside from changes that were made in the 70’s to allow baseball to be played there.

As a result, 49er ownership have been pushing hard for the construction of a new stadium over the past several years.  While San Francisco voters did approve a $100 million bond to publically finance the construction of a new stadium in 1997, a series of screw-ups by the franchise and the firm contracted to design a new stadium prevented the plan from every really developing.  The 49ers again seemingly dropped the ball in 2006 as part of San Francisco’s attempted bid to become a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.  The construction of an Olympic Stadium that would become the new home of the Niners was paramount in this plan, but the team refused to agree to city requests regarding the location of the stadium and size of the Olympic Village, eventually leading to the outright cancellation of not only the new stadium plan, but also of the entire Olympic bid, much to the anger of the city and local residents alike.  This lead to a massive outcry against the Niners ownership and, coupled with reports that they were considering moving elsewhere in the Bay Area, even resulted in discussion on the floor of the California legislature to pass a bill barring the 49ers from building a new stadium within a hundred-mile radius if they ever left San Francisco (though this bill failed to pass).

Pros: Despite their long history, the 49ers have in recent years built up an obvious antagonistic relationship between themselves and their hometown.  As a result, they have been looking for chances to move out since even before the aborted Olympic bid was dead.  While they have in recent years looked to nearby Santa Clara for the construction of a new stadium, the team has yet again been running into a series of delays that have prevented their plans from moving forward.  This is in spite of the passage of a public bond to partially fund a new $937 million stadium for the franchise and tentative plans to begin construction in 2012.  If delays continue to hamper their plans in Santa Clara, the possibility of potentially moving to San Francisco instead with two competing stadium options on the table could be viewed as a very attractive alternative.

Cons: If leaving their historic San Francisco environs was bad, then completely abandoning the entire Bay Area would be catastrophic.  A potential move for such an iconic franchise would be vehemently opposed, not only by local residents and fans, but also by elected officials and other civic leaders as well, which could very likely put enough pressure on the team to prevent a move from taking place.  Additionally, Santa Clara has already shown a willingness to work with the team in funding a new stadium closer to their own backyard, so a move to Los Angeles at this point in time honestly does seem very unlikely, even if just used as a threat to try to get more concessions from the local government.

Tomorrow, I will continue this story with part two, which will cover more potential relocation targets.  Stay tuned!

The Battle of Los Angeles is more than just a Rage Against the Machine album and an example of wartime paranoia.  It is a struggle between two competing multimillion dollar development projects centered around using rampant public support for a return of the NFL to the City of Angels for their own ends.  The second largest market in the United States has been without an NFL franchise since 1995, when the Raiders moved back to Oakland and the Rams moved to St. Louis.  While the reasons for these moves were many and diverse, and the fact that a team hasn’t moved back to L.A. in the 15+ years since then have raised cynical questions about whether or not the city really is a strong professional football market, there can be no denying the apparent strength that both stadium plans over the options several teams face in their current home cities.

The City of Industry plan, so named for the fact that the proposed stadium would be built in the east L.A. suburb of Industry, was the first major NFL stadium project to gain serious traction in Southern California in years.  The City of Industry plan is backed by Edward P. Roski, areal estate developer ranked as the 163rd wealthiest American in 2008 with a net value of $2.5 billion.  Roski is a major player in various Los Angeles circles, owning over 70 million square feet of urban property in L.A., Las Vegas, Denver, and Dallas and is a part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA and the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL.  With very deep pockets and strong connections to innumerable business owners, construction firms, and state, local, and federal politicians in California, Roski’s plan seemed like a slam dunk of sorts.

Roski's City of Industry plan. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia and losangelesfootballstadium.com)

The Los Angeles Stadium (yet to receive a corporate naming-rights deal) would be an $800-million, 75,000-seat open-air facility and act as the centerpiece of a 600-acre development project promised to create thousands of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.  The state legislature and former Governor Schwarzenegger showed their whole-hearted support by passing a law specifically exempting the City of Industry plan from state environmental laws and potential nuisance suits in October, 2009, effectively quashing a lawsuit filed by several local residents worried over the increased traffic and noise concerns that would invariably result from such a plan.  Executives attached to the City of Industry plan were obviously so enthused with the project’s outlook that they already began acting as if they had everything in the bag.

In December, 2009, John Semcken III from Majestic Reality, the director of development of the stadium project, spoke in no uncertain terms by promising the return of the NFL to Los Angeles in the very near future. In the course of an interview with a local Fox affiliate, Semcken explicitly stated that there was a 50% chance of an NFL team returning to Los Angeles in time for the 2010 season and a 100% of a team’s return by the start of the 2011 season (at a temporary home in either Los Angeles Coliseum or the Rose Bowl while the Los Angeles Stadium is constructed).  What’s more, Mr. Semcken seemed to strongly indicate that there was potential for not only one team returning to Los Angeles in that time frame, but two.

In the 14 months since he gave that interview however, events almost seemed to have turned against the City of Industry plan.  The 2010 season came and went without a team even so much as hinting that they were interested in moving to Los Angeles, and with negotiations over the current collective bargaining agreement in the NFL reaching new heights between the players association and the owners, the likelihood of a team moving to L.A. in a year when there could very well be a lockout seems increasingly unlikely.  During that same time period, a second stadium plan was unveiled to directly compete with Roski’s seemingly-moribund City of Industry plan.

In 2010, the president of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), Timothy Leiweke, and Casey Wasserman, the former owner of the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League, formed a partnership to develop a competing stadium proposal to Roski’s City of Industry plan.  Rather than basing their project in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Leiweke and Wasserman intended instead to construct their stadium right in downtown L.A., right across the street from the renowned Staples Center, home of the Lakers and the Clippers of the NBA and the Kings of the NHL.  While obviously somewhat annoying to Roski, given the fact that the competing proposal was being planned right across the street from the homes of two teams that he partially owns, at first glance everything seemed to favor the City of Industry plan. Roski already had a deep connection in the American sports world, had already been given the green light by local and state officials to construct his stadium plan, and was (allegedly) already in the process of discussing terms with several NFL franchises to relocated to his stadium.  Additionally, despite Wasserman’s deep social connections in the Los Angeles area and Leiweke’s experience at the helm of AEG, which currently owns several Major League Soccer (MLS) teams, the plan seemingly had its legs kicked from underneath it when Philip Anschutz announced that he was not supporting the project. Mr. Anschutz is not only the owner of AEG and Timothy Leiweke’s direct boos, but also the partial owner of the Staples Center, the Kings, the Lakers, and a number of other professional teams across the United States.  Without Mr. Anschutz’s involvement, a significant amount of assumed support for the downtown stadium plan was seemingly lost.

Farmers Field in Downtown L.A. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia and farmersfield.com)

However, the downtown L.A. plan received a huge boost in February, 2011, when Farmers Insurance Group signed a staggering 30-year, $700 million naming-rights plan that would name the stadium Farmers Field should construction of it move ahead. Almost overnight, the downtown stadium proposal, which would be a $1 billion, 68,000-seat retractable roof facility appeared to overtake the City of Industry plan as the odds-on favorite, even without Mr. Anschutz’s support, thanks to the guaranteed money significantly reducing the project’s potential cost risk.

In the days that have passed since the initial announcement, both sides of this titanic development battle have mostly been forced to sit on the sidelines waiting for things outside of their own control to progress before they can move ahead.  Bitter labor negotiations between the league owners and the players association is continuing, with reports of the two sides repeatedly bumping heads being repeated ad nauseum on ESPN and on sports talk radio since even before the extremely high-rated Super Bowl. The logistics of moving a franchise to L.A. and the risk of the league in alienating an entire market for allowing a team to uproot are both very difficult barriers to overcome as well.  And, perhaps most importantly, there remains questions over which, if any, team is really interested in moving.  While potential targets for a move to L.A. are open to speculation (and which might be discussed in a later article, as this one is already far too long to prolong even further!), the fact remains that while there appears to be plausible consideration among a number of teams to consider a move to Los Angeles, the threat of moving appears to be just as equally as powerful in forcing government support in the funding of new stadium construction plans.  This is perhaps most evident by government support that the Colts were able to receive following a well-publicized visit to Los Angeles, which stoked fear in Indianapolis that their beloved Colts were considering a move if they didn’t receive support in building a replacement to the outdated RCA Dome.

Regardless, there are going to be no clear winners and losers of this battle no matter how it turns out.  There remains the risk of alienating an entire fanbase, either through disappointing waiting Los Angeles fans if a team doesn’t materialize or angering fans if their beloved team abandons their home.  Supporters and detractors of both stadium plans continue to bump heads and argue, potentially jeopardizing the entire process of luring an NFL team to the City of Angels if teams are planning on waiting to see which one receives the most support.  And even if the NFL doesn’t move to Los Angeles by the promised-2011 start date given by Semcken, the debate over when (or if) a team moves to L.A. will continue for years to come.