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Thursday, October 27, 2011
The NFL will not be back in L.A. next year

By Arash Markazi

There are plenty of NFL teams who have used and continue to use the threat of a move to Los Angeles as leverage to get a new stadium built in their current city. It’s become a tradition almost as profitable for the league and its teams as the Super Bowl. Since the Raiders and Rams left Los Angeles 16 years ago, 22 brand-new NFL stadiums have opened and five others have undergone major renovations with many teams using the mirage of Hollywood to get whatever they want from the public sector.

Politicians in Minnesota and San Diego, however, shouldn’t be rushed into making any rash decisions on publically financing new stadiums for the Vikings and Chargers by the end of this year. The chances of any NFL team moving to Los Angeles next year are next to impossible.

Under the NFL’s “Policy and Procedures for Proposed Franchise Relocations” it states that the NFL commissioner must receive written notice from the team wishing to relocate and that “the notice must be filed no later than February 15 of the year in which the move is scheduled to occur.” That notice would also be published "in newspapers of general circulation within the incumbent community."

This is significant because Farmers Field, AEG’s proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles, will not be done with its environmental impact report until June and will not have a finalized deal with the city until the report is complete. Once their EIR is filed, the clock begins on legal challenges against the report and if one is filed within 30 days it will likely not be decided on until November 2012.

No team would move to a city where a new stadium was still a question mark and the league wouldn’t allow such a move either.

Warehouse magnate Ed Roski’s proposed stadium in the City of Industry, however, could begin construction as soon as a team decided to move there. He is willing to hand over 600 acres of land 30 miles east of the Staples Center in exchange for buying a percentage of the team. The problem with his plan is he wants the team’s majority owners to assume the risk of financing, building and owning the stadium. Presumably, if the team’s owners were willing to take on that kind of risk they would have already done so in their current city instead of seeking public financing, which simply isn't an option Los Angeles.

The league loves competition when it comes to the Los Angeles market. There have always been competing proposals and locations for the city’s next NFL team since the Raiders and Rams moved in 1995, with one group always driving up the cost on the other. Since only one of the proposed stadiums will be built it is unlikely the league would kill the Farmers Field project four months before it was finalized by approving a team relocating to the City of Industry. The downtown site has received support on both the city and state levels and secured a $700 million naming rights deal from Farmers Insurance, the largest in sports history. That doesn’t guarantee the stadium will get built but the league certainly won't pull the plug on the project now. They want both groups to be in a position to make presentations to team owners and outline their definitive plans before deciding which one works.

After being away from the second biggest media market in the country for an entire generation, the league isn’t going to rush back now simply because the Vikings have hit a roadblock when it comes to financing their proposed $1.1 billion stadium in Ramsey County. Or because the Chargers don’t even have schematics, let alone political support, for their proposed retractable roof stadium tied to an expanded convention center in downtown San Diego. Or because the St. Louis Rams can try to get out of their stadium lease next year if they don’t think it can become one of the top stadiums in the league. Or because any thought of a new stadium for the Oakland Raiders is as big a mystery as the future of the team’s ownership.

How and when the NFL returns to Los Angeles is bigger than those stadium concerns.

The agreement that laid the foundation for the NFL's current "Policy and Procedures for Proposed Franchise Relocations" was a 1996 "Statement of Principles" between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the NFL. The deal came on the heels of the Raiders’ move from Los Angeles to Oakland in July 1995. It was a move that occurred so late it wasn’t officially finalized until days before the Raiders’ opening preseason game against, coincidentally enough, the Rams, who had just moved to St. Louis.

The policy now states that “because League policy favors stable team-community relations, clubs are obligated to work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories, and to operate in a manner that maximizes fan support in their current home community. A club may not, however, grant exclusive negotiating rights to a community or potential stadium landlord other than one in its current home territory."

"If, having diligently engaged in good faith efforts, a club concludes that it cannot obtain a satisfactory resolution of its stadium needs, it may inform the League Office and the stadium landlord or other relevant public authorities that it has reached a stalemate in those negotiations.”

This is important in San Diego where they are trying to put a stadium measure on the ballot for November 2012 and in Minneapolis where they might have to wait until November 2012 as well for a vote on public funding and in St. Louis where the Rams and the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission will likely to go to arbitration after June 2012 to decide the future of the Rams’ lease at the Edward Jones Dome.

In each one of these scenarios the team must see the situation through before they can go to the league and propose relocation. If the Chargers’ stadium proposal gets voted down and if the Vikings don’t get the necessary public funding for their proposed stadium and if the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission cannot place the Edward Jones Dome in the top quarter of current NFL stadiums through refurbishments and is unable to build the team a new stadium up to those standards, each one of those teams would then be able to go to the league and file for relocation with proper cause.

All signs point to the NFL returning to Los Angeles by February 15, 2013. The only question now is which team or teams will it be.