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NFL Considers Bringing Football Back To Los Angeles


The owners of all 32 NFL teams are gathering in Houston this week, and they are determined to decide once and for all which teams should move to the Los Angeles area, which has been without pro football for two decades. From member station KPCC, Ben Bergman reports.

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: Since the Rams and Raiders played their last games in Southern California in 1995, no team has seriously considered going to the LA market. The city was more useful as a pawn to extract better stadium deals at home. But last week, three teams filed paperwork to leave; the St. Louis Rams, the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders.

MARC GANIS: It is a momentous time for the NFL and Los Angeles.

BERGMAN: That's Marc Ganis, an NFL consultant who worked on the Rams and Raiders moves. He's seen countless LA stadium proposals come and go over the years, renderings drawn up and tossed away. But he says this time is different.

GANIS: We don't have politicians bringing up plans. We don't have for-profit real estate developers doing it. What we have are team owners doing it on their own, willing to pay the freight.

BERGMAN: There's Rams owner Stan Kroenke. He's proposed a sprawling sports entertainment and shopping complex on land he owns near Los Angeles International Airport in Inglewood. On the other side, you have Raiders owner Mark Davis. He's teamed with Chargers owner Dean Spanos to build a competing stadium 14 miles to the south. Spanos has been the only owner speaking out lately, and he argued on the Chargers website it was the Rams threat of moving to LA that forced his hand.


DEAN SPANOS: Over 25 percent of our business comes from the Los Angeles County area, and another team or teams going in there would have a huge impact on that. This was a move to protect our business more than anything.

BERGMAN: And to grow it. All three owners say they can make much more money in LA. It's the nation's second-biggest media market and more importantly, has a lot of companies and rich people who will spend big on luxury boxes and premium seats. But the NFL will only allow one stadium to be built and two teams at most to go. Any move requires a two-thirds vote from owners, a level of consensus neither side has locked up, as Spanos knows all too well.


SPANOS: This is a very fluid situation. You know, you read all this stuff in the paper and everybody's tallying votes, but nobody knows anything for sure.

BERGMAN: People tend to think of the NFL as a monolithic organization. In reality, it's the often-splintered reflection of its 32 owners, says sports economist Andrew Zimbalist.

ANDREW ZIMBALIST: The owners have 32 different approaches to most policy questions. Most of them have locked horns with each other in the past.

BERGMAN: Zimbalist says who's friends with whom could play a big role in the decision. So yeah, the world's most powerful sports league can feel like high school. Raiders owner Mark Davis is not generally liked. His father, Al Davis, battled constantly with the league. Spanos, he's the prom king, most popular kid in class. Kroenke is somewhere in the middle.

ZIMBALIST: He's the guy who broke the ice in the Los Angeles stalemate, and I think that people ultimately feel like he deserves to be rewarded for that.

BERGMAN: Fans have a very different perception. St. Louis has the strongest proposal to try to keep its team, a taxpayer-subsidized riverfront stadium. Kroenke says playing there would lead to financial ruin, but fans like Jill Bower say he's just being greedy.


JILL BOWER: Are you going to throw out three NFL cities to satisfy one?

BERGMAN: Bower addressed NFL executives at a November town hall.


BOWER: Are you going to let an owner buy his way into what he wants, no matter how it impacts a city full of fans who has supported this team through many, many bad seasons?

BERGMAN: Southern California resident Tom Bateman hopes the answer to that question is yes. He remembers going to Rams games as a kid in the '80s before they left for St. Louis.

TOM BATEMAN: I think I speak for a lot of fans in that we're ready for this to be over.

BERGMAN: And after 20 years, it might just this week. For NPR News, I'm Ben Bergman in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Bergman