As we near the twentieth anniversary of the Rams and Raiders leaving for supposedly greener pastures, Los Angeles is close to having one, or quite possibly both teams, come back home. Of course, this isn't the first time, or the twentieth time, there have been rumors of the NFL's return to Los Angeles, yet there's reason to believe the return is more imminent than it ever has been before. Recently, both Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Steelers owner Art Rooney have made comments suggesting there will be a L.A franchise very soon. The latest buzz reached it's apex when Randy Karraker, a radio host on ESPN's St. Louis station, proclaimed that the decision to move the Rams back to L.A has already been decided and an announcement will be made after the Super Bowl. Serious reports that the Raiders and Chargers ownership also have a desire to return to Los Angeles quickly followed.
The Rams path to L.A. might be the easiest. Owner Stan Kroenke recently bought 60 acres of land in Inglewood that could be used to build a stadium. However, the Rams moving to L.A. wouldn't preclude the Raiders or the Chargers from also relocating to L.A. AEG has been attempting to lure a team to a possible Downtown stadium site, which would hypothetically be located right next to Staples Center by the L.A. Live complex.
The details of the hypothetical Downtown site are where things get interesting. Often times, you will see cities giving stadiums and owners tax breaks or funding when attempting to woo or keep a team. But, as Professor Kenneth Shropshire of the Wharton School of Business states in the excellent book, The Business of Sports, "...the only reward a city that successfully attracts a sports franchise may receive is the public perception that their metropolis has been thrust into that class of cities nebulously described as 'big league.'" So what does L.A. gain by financially wooing a team? Clearly the second biggest market in the country doesn't need any help proving it's a, "big city."
Instead, L.A. is demanding something of AEG in return for promoting the possibility of a Downtown stadium. AEG has taken over management of the L.A. Convention Center, which has been running severely in the red for years. AEG is responsible for turning the finances of the Convention Center around, and if the stadium does end up being built, AEG will be responsible for building a new wing for the Convention Center and linking it up to the stadium.
In an era when cities are giving huge amounts of money to already wealthy owners (Cobb County is spending $368 million on a new stadium for the Braves), it's extremely refreshing to see a city like L.A. realize they are the ones with leverage. To once again quote Shropshire, "[taxpayers] do not always realize the consequences of urging their politicians to do 'whatever it takes' to convince a team to stay, to attract a new team, or in some cases, to coax a team back home." That quote feels especially prescient right now, and I am glad that the city of Los Angeles is refusing to be blinded by the possible return of its long-absent franchises. Hopefully, this strong stand can create a precedent for cities everywhere.