The California State Senate has granted an environmental exception for developers to build a football stadium outside of Los Angeles in an attempt to lure an NFL team back to Southern California in the coming years. With this legal hurdle now in the rearview mirror, the realistic possibility of building an NFL-ready stadium in the City of Industry (roughly 20 miles east of downtown LA) now faces perhaps the biggest challenge: attracting a team.
Some teams mentioned as possible candidates are the three California-based NFL franchises (the San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders), along with a former local team the St. Louis Rams, as well as smaller market teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills.
And please don't bring up the idea of an expansion team. It's not happening unless there is an even number of teams entering the league at the same time.
More than four years ago when then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue was pushing for an NFL team in LA, there were several reasons why it wasn't a good idea, many of which still hold true today.
N.F.L. - Not For Los Angeles (March 28, 2005)
So which of the seven teams we've listed could most easily make the move to Los Angeles, a city that already has enough going on, both in the pro and collegiate sports realm and outside of it that it hardly needs an NFL franchise. There are several elements to consider including a team's history in its current market, any potential need for division realignment, and would current NFL fans in Los Angeles accept the franchise in question after already spending time with other teams. The follow seven teams all could use new stadiums. Who might call Los Angeles home?
Let's start by looking at the currently 1-4 Buffalo Bills. This franchise has a strong history in Buffalo as an original AFL team. The franchise has been to a record four consecutive Super Bowls and does have a die-hard following. However owner Ralph Wilson has recently been pushing for regular season games in Toronto, so it's not entirely out of the blue that this franchise might leave Buffalo. If it did happen, however, I would assume they would stay in the region as opposed to moving to the west coast. The five-year deal to play eight regular season games in Toronto runs through 2013. If Buffalo's Bills moved to LA, I can't imagine them still playing in the AFC East with trips every year to New England, New York and Miami. That's rough.
Onto the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are currently 2-3 on the 2009 season. An expansion team in 1995, the Jags don't have nearly the extensive history as the Bills. Jacksonville has been to the postseason six times in 14 seasons but only twice in the last nine years. Their stadium is relatively new, built for the team when they joined the NFL, but only three 9+ win seasons since 1999's 14-2 mark aren't stellar numbers. Yes there are worse teams, but have the Jaguars put down deep enough roots not withstand the lure of Los Angeles? Of the three teams that don't have California ties, Jacksonville seems like the most likely, and the rest of their division opponents are geographically west of them. It's not a graceful move, but it's not impossible.
Moving to the north, the Minnesota Vikings are coming up on the end of their lease at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which runs through 2011. There are proposals for a new Vikings stadium, but nothing has gotten quite off the ground yet. Owner Zygi Wilf wants the new stadium located in downtown Minnesota, but that may not be as easy as it sounds. Most new monster stadiums end up being out in the suburbs where land is cheaper and more readily available.
Could the Vikings end up following the Lakers from the state of Minnesota to the hills of Hollywood? The City of Angels has already made the former Minneapolis Lakers arguably the most recognizable and successful franchise in the NBA. The Vikings do have a strong history in Minnesota, but they need to find a way to get their stadium deal done in the land of 10,000 lakes. If not, the draw of 75,000 fans from all over Los Angeles might be enough to pry Ragnar from the Twin Cities. Moving the Vikes would break up the nice cluster of NFC North teams (Minnesota, Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit) which is perhaps the most geographically close-knit division.
Now the teams with California ties. Each of the following four teams have strong followings in Los Angeles, which is why I feel bringing any other team from the outside into LA would alienate fans of the 49ers, Rams, Raiders and Chargers.
Another positive for moving any of these four teams would be to avoid problems with division realignment. All of the following teams play in the NFC or AFC West, so there won't be an cross-country rivalries that get broken up. So which of these four teams is most likely to make the move to LA, or in three of the four cases, back to LA.
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.
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.
At first glance, the San Francisco 49ers appear to be the least likely of the quartet. Unlike the others, they have never played in Los Angeles and have a strong history in the Bay Area to the tune of five championships. The team has been trying to get a new stadium deal done for several years in the city of San Francisco but couldn't get on the same page with the city. With the team looking outside the city at other Bay Area locations, there is always the outside chance of the franchise moving much farther south than just Santa Clara. Again, the least likely of the four teams with strong California ties.
What about LA's original team, the St. Louis Rams? Even without Rush Limbaugh, there is still a St. Louis-based group interested in buying the team to keep it in place. The Rams have had more success in St. Louis since 1995 than they did in the nearly 50 years of football in LA that preceded. Two Super Bowl berths and one championship however seem like a long-time ago for the currently weary and dreary Rams who are 0-5 so far this season. The Ed Jones dome is a more than suitable facility in St. Louis, but the Rams still have plenty of fans in LA despite them walking out on the city like an angry ex-girlfriend almost 15 years ago.
The Oakland Raiders are a wild card simply because of owner Al Davis. He bounced the team from Oakland to LA to Oakland like Marcus Allen bounced off defenders. Would he do it again? I'm inclined to say no simply because he's much older now - although not necessarily wiser - but he may not have the energy and resolve for that kind of move. The Raiders still have more than enough fans in the Los Angeles area (just visit the cheap seats at Dodger Stadium), and their current stadium in Oakland is a pit. If they did come back, it wouldn't be to the Coliseum, the place that Al Davis was trying to get away from in the late '80s. He would move to get what he originally wanted, a new stadium. The old guy is just crazy enough not to put it past him. This could potentially be the "last big thing" Davis does while still acting as captain of the pirates.
The last piece of the puzzle is the closest NFL team to Los Angeles, the San Diego Chargers, who play at the aging Qualcom Stadium. The "Q" opened in 1967 as the home of the Padres and Chargers. The organization has been pushing for a new stadium but with little success. They are currently looking at other cities outside the city of San Diego but still in the local area. Nothing looks solid, and there is history of San Diego teams moving north to Los Angeles, although perhaps adopting the Clippers was a step backward for Los Angeles sports. San Diego may not have as strong a fan base as the Raiders have in Los Angeles, but getting on the bandwagon wouldn't be a major leap for most LA sports fans.
CONCLUSION: Now that Los Angeles has a more realistic ability to built a new stadium, it's not unrealistic to think that any of these seven NFL teams would consider a move. Los Angeles is, after all, the second largest metropolitan area in the nation with over 7-million people. With such a dense population, selling out a 75,000 seat facility should be cake. The Chargers or Raiders would appear to be the two most likely candidates to make a move, but really, what owner wouldn't want a guaranteed stadium packed full of people and all the hype to go along with it. It would have to be a team with existing branding power in the area (seriously, the Los Angeles Jaguars?), but it's entirely possible. The group building the stadium says it will begin pitching plans to various NFL franchises as the 2009 season draws to a close. I admittedly said N.F.L. stood for Not For Los Angeles, but as it turns out, that might be Not For Long.