Keith Strudler: Should The NFL Return To L.A.?
Los Angeles has a lot. It's got movie stars and great weather and Disney and beaches and enough night clubs to entertain the Kardashians. But what they don't have is an NFL franchise. They used to. In fact, they had two, assuming we count the LA metro area, which includes Anneheim, the former home of the then Los Angeles and now St. Louis Rams. At some concurrent moments, the Raiders called the Los Angeles Coloseum home, before they returned to Oakland. But since 1995, the city of angels has been home to exactly one less NFL team than Jacksonville, Charlotte, New Orleans, and Buffalo, respectively, cities that collectively don't approach LA's populace.
It was never expected that LA would remain bare for so long. In fact, it was widely assumed the expansion team awarded to Houston was earmarked for the West Coast. But Houston, still reeling from their Oilers dashing to Tennessee, rolled out the red carpet for the league, building a monstrous new stadium and offering generous benefits and guarantees. Meanwhile, prospective California ownership groups, and there were more than a few fiefdoms battling over what amounted to absolutely nothing, couldn't get a mere stake in the ground, much less a publicly financed stadium. In a contest that seemed impossible to lose, Los Angeles found a way to do just that. And their dysfunction was Houston's gain, although it should be noted that Houston gave the NFL essentially everything the denied the Oilers on their way out of town. So perhaps it's only winning like winning an auction, which anyone can do with enough money.
Regardless, it seems LA won't be winning NFL teams or games anytime soon. It was just reported that the city does not have a viable plan to recruit a franchise for the 2015 season, pushing the process back at least another year. Beyond the various suburban municipalities that are still quarreling for consideration, which is problem enough, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti has said he would not support public funding of a new or dramatically renovated NFL stadium in the city. And no new stadium, no new team. Despite California's reputation for tax and spend, that's historically not the case for stadium construction, particularly in comparison to other states that seem more willing to spend public dollars on ball parks than public parks. And schools, for that matter. For countless mayors and city councils, a professional franchise is the ultimate vanity buy. It seems LA already has vanity in ample supply.
Which raises two questions. First does LA need NFL? Both economics and common sense would suggest it doesn't. There's hardly a dearth of spending opportunities in the region, and money spent on football would likely simply be money not spent on something else, as most studies on the topic suggest. LA longs not for tourists nor leisure activity. And they've got a defacto pro team in USC, whose sideline was once so teeming with celebrities it looked more like a nightclub than a football game. They've got two basketball teams, two baseball teams, and more yearly days of sunshine then the entire NFC East combined. So LA can soldier on just fine, football or not.
The more important question is whether the NFL needs Los Angeles. It was long assumed that the answer was yes. Of course, the nation's dominant sports league needed the nation's second largest city. Of course they'd lose marketshare and sponsors if they couldn't give city residents a rooting interest. Not being in LA would be like Honda not selling cars in Florida, or so it seemed. It just wouldn't make sense.
That was common logic. Yet today, perhaps it's not so logical. Perhaps the NFL's most impressive accomplishment has been truly delocalizing their sports properties. My son roots for the Denver Broncos, and he's never been there. And New Jersey governor Chris Christie cheers for the Dallas Cowboys -- although in all fairness, he may also be cheering for the Texas primaries that seem like an enormous roadblock in his presidential aspiration. But politics aside, the NFL left LA and never came back. And it hasn't hurt the league one bit.
That won't keep the NFL and a couple of ambitious owners from looking, and maybe heading west. Both the Rams and the Raiders have shown interest in coming home, although St. Louis did just create a stadium plan to keep the Rams where they are. Perhaps the Raiders, with their own California sized problems up the coast, including maybe the worst stadium not facing a wrecking ball, will make the move. Then Los Angeles will have yet another thing going for it. Although to be fair, they already do have a lot.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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