Monday, March 28, 2005

N.F.L. - Not For Los Angeles

Every time I hear Paul Tagliabue says he wants to get the NFL back in Los Angeles I can only try not to cringe. Not only do I not like that idea, I don't think it's as doable as the commissioner makes it seem. I can think of five solid reasons why the NFL should stay out of LA as well as why it would be difficult to get a team here.

-1-
First, who's going to make the move? The seemingly easy way out of that problem would be just having an expansion franchise in Los Angeles. That's not going to happen. The NFL recently expanded to 32 teams and as a result realligned all NFL divisions from five five-team divisions and one six-team divisions to eight four-team divisions. That occurred in 2002 when the Houston Texans became the 32nd NFL franchise.

So what's wrong with a 33rd franchise? Well then you have an odd number of teams. Doesn't seem like much of a problem, except when you think about the fact that with an odd number of teams, not all teams can play in a given week, meaning that at least one team will have to have a bye week during each week of the season. One team will have a bye during week one and during week seventeen. If that happens, then some teams will have a schedule of twenty consecutive games including preseason.

That's the problem the NFL had between 1999 and 2002 when the Cleveland Browns came back to the NFL as a 31st team. They were a part of the six-team AFC Central. During that time, weaker NFL teams suffered by getting stuck with a bad bye week.

Now that we've established that it is not very likely for an NFL team to be added to the league, the problem becomes trying to figure out which team will make the move to Los Angeles. There aren't many teams that could make that kind of a move. The only teams I can think of would be the Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals and maybe the New Orleans Saints.

These teams have recently been under-performing teams with dropping attendances in the last decade. But if you take a team's success into account when determining what team to relocate, what would the league do if the team they planned to move started winning? Also, these teams don't have much of a history like some teams in their current markets.

Some small market teams, such as the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers, located in relatively "small" towns compared to other NFL teams might seem like potential teams for relocation to LA, but when you think about the history of these teams, can you really picture them anywhere but their current locations? The Los Angeles Packers? I don't think so! That team couldn't be anywhere but Green Bay.

Plenty of other teams are like that in the sense that they couldn't be anywhere but where they are: the Dallas Cowboys, the Denver Broncos, the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots. Each of these teams has left a legacy for the city they play in. The Los Angeles Cowboys? The Los Angeles Broncos? Yeah, right. Imagine John Elway's retired number hanging from a stadium anywhere but the mile high city?

The Arizona Cardinals don't have the greatest attendance in the league, and they have even been considering playing a home game in Mexico. Not exactly a great way to embrace your local fan base. They could make the move, but they are only one of really only two teams I could see making the move.

The other team that I could see making the move to LA is the San Diego Chargers. This seems like a much more realistic move than any other franchise in the NFL. The Chargers entered the league in Los Angeles in 1960 before moving south only a year later to San Diego. Most Los Angeles sports outlets focus on the Chargers as a "local" team. Their games are shown during the fall on CBS and FOX. The sports radio station 1540 AM is the self-proclaimed "home of the Chargers."

They might just be the team to make the move. There is - after all - plenty else to do in San Diego (which is actually a reason why there doesn't need to be a team in LA, #5). The Chargers don't have as rich a history as other franchises. They did go to a Super Bowl and were involved in one of the greatest football games ever (1981 AFC Divisional playoff game vs. Miami), but I don't know if that's enough to keep their roots in San Diego.

In ten years time, they might just make the move. I'm not sure of any deals the Chargers have with the city of San Diego that may keep them in LA, but if the NFL can get around any such deals, I would guess the Chargers would be the team most likely to make the move.

-2-
My second reason - which also would explain why the Chargers would be a good choice for which team to move - deals with Los Angeles football fans favorite teams. The majority of LA football fans mostly like either the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams. The 49ers have been the state's most successful franchise. The Raiders played in LA from 1982 to 1995. The St. Louis Rams played in Los Angeles from their inception in 1946 until 1995.

By the way, don't look for the Rams to move back to Los Angeles any time soon after all the success they've experienced in St. Louis: two NFC titles and a Super Bowl win.

Moving any team to Los Angeles other than one of the four mentioned above would be awkward because not only would the NFL be taking a team away from its current market - which I don't really agree with - they would also be introducing yet another team to Los Angeles. There are plenty of Rams fans, 49ers fans, Raiders fans and Chargers fans here. LA is big, but introducing a different team to the area alienates fans of these four teams.

-3-
Thirdly, football fans in Los Angeles also have two other teams they can root on. The only difference: they play their games on Saturday. Both the USC Trojans and the UCLA Briuns draw enough fans to fill both the Coliseum and Rose Bowl respectively. This crosstown rivarly has the ability to keep football fans in Los Angeles more than occupied.

Both schools have very strong traditional programs. And the Trojans have had more recent success than any pro football team in California: two national titles and three Heisman Trophy winners in the past three seasons. If the two of these schools can fill two extremely large stadiums on any given week, then many Los Angeles football fans are getting their fill on Saturdays.

-4-
A fourth reason that I don't think the NFL needs to be back in Los Angeles is the fact that there are plenty of other sports teams in LA. And by plenty, I mean a lot. Actually, make that more than a lot. How about too many! The Los Angeles area has two basketball teams, two baseball teams and - if they ever get back on the ice - two hockey teams.

The Los Angeles Clippers, Lakers, Dogders and Kings along with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Anaheim Angeles make up a group of six franchises in Southern California. Sports fans in LA have plenty of options when it comes to sports entertainment. And as if that isn't enough...

-5-
There is so much else going on in Los Angeles that the city doesn't need an NFL team. Yes, Paul Tagliabue would like to be able to use this mega-market to bring more revenue into the NFL, but there are very few - if any - NFL franchises currently losing money. It's not like any of these teams need the financial boost of moving to Los Angeles.

Other than the six previously mentioned major sports teams in the area, Hollywood is right here. Talk about major attractions. When people think of movies and celebrities, they think of LA. Travel down to Anaheim and you'll find Disneyland! Nearby there is also Knott's Berry Farm. What more do people here need?

-6-
Finally, the idea of getting a stadium for a football franchise in Los Angeles is not going to be easy. Unless the league puts the team in Orange County somewhere and tries to pull an "Angeles" by calling the team The Los Angeles Whoevers of Orange County, they won't have the marketability of having Los Angeles in the team's name. Where would a team play?

Would the Coliseum take the team? Would the Rose Bowl? I'm not sure. Both of those venues house big collegiate football programs, and getting those stadiums ready for an NFL game the next day would not necessarily be impossible, but it wouldn't be easy. An NFL team could potentially at the Home Depot Center, the home of the LA Galaxy, in Carson. Maybe they could play at Angel Stadium.

I don't know how much any of these venues would like to house an NFL franchise, but I'm sure that the NFL would want some major renovations or improvements to any local stadium to put in luxury boxes and suites.

-----
Paul Tagliabue has set the date for 2009 or 2010 for when he wants the NFL back in Los Angeles. In five years from now, I'd be very interested in seeing just how the "Commish" plans to pull this off.

I don't think putting an NFL team here is necessary. My biggest problem with that would be the removal of an existing team from it's current location to move it to a city that doesn't need a franchise.

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