By DANIEL TAUB
Miami has 3.5 million people in its metropolitan area, and it has the Dolphins football team. Pittsburgh has 2.4 million people, and it has the Steelers. Green Bay, Wis., has a mere 213,072 people, and it has the Packers.
So why does Los Angeles the second-largest media market in the country with 15.5 million people in its metropolitan area, and home to two Major League Baseball teams, two pro basketball teams, two pro hockey teams and a pro soccer team not have a National Football League team?
Much of the answer involves the area's last two pro teams, the Raiders and Rams, which wound up moving to much smaller cities. Why? In part because their popularity in L.A. and Orange counties wasn't very high.
The Rams' popularity declined steadily, as did the team's number of wins, after Georgia Frontiere took over ownership of the team and after the team moved from the Coliseum to Anaheim.
The Raiders left for Oakland in 1995 after first trying to move to Irwindale in 1984, then to Inglewood 11 years later and then, after the commissioners of the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, where Raiders played in Los Angeles, tried unsuccessfully to keep the team in town by offering multimillion-dollar payments, debt forgiveness and Coliseum renovations.
But when the team did leave, there was little protest from L.A. football fans. "It's just not in the nature of Angelenos to do that," said Coliseum General Manager Pat Lynch.
Indeed, the Raiders gave L.A. football fans little to cheer about. As an L.A. team, they only played in one Super Bowl, defeating the Washington Redskins in 1984. During many subsequent home games, fistfights frequently broke out among fans. Hats and jackets with the Raiders logo, meanwhile, came to be associated with inner-city gangs.
So while it may not be much of a surprise that Angelenos didn't fight hard to keep the Raiders here, how come it's taken so long to get another team?
The reasons include the nature of L.A. politics, competing stadium proposals, the National Football League's reluctance to expand, the NFL owners' tendency to encourage bidding wars to raise the stakes, and apathy among local sports fans.
The leading proposal for bringing an NFL expansion team to L.A. remains the one being pitched by Edward Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz, co-owners of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and developers of downtown's Staples Center sports arena. The two want to build a new football stadium within the historic walls of the Memorial Coliseum, and to own an expansion team that would play there.
The Coliseum proposal enjoys the support of L.A. City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and other local officials, but has yet to win the overwhelming support of NFL owners. Many of them would like to see a new stadium built, as well as substantial public funding which may be hard to get, given the reluctance of local taxpayers to subsidize professional sports teams or facilities.
Other stadium proposals include sites in Inglewood, Irvine or the South Park area near downtown. But the proposal that has attracted the most attention in recent months, aside from the Coliseum plan, is one being pitched by former Hollywood agent Mike Ovitz. That one calls for a new stadium in Carson.
Making it particularly compelling is that the city of Carson has expressed a willingness to help build a new stadium. That is in contrast to the city of Los Angeles, where Councilman Joel Wachs last year was able to block millions of dollars in funding for the downtown Staples Center.
L.A.'s competing proposals have made the process of bringing an expansion team here slower and more cumbersome than in other football-less cities such as Cleveland, where local business leaders and elected officials have united behind a single proposal. The NFL is contractually obligated to make Cleveland its next NFL expansion city.
L.A. must then compete with Houston and possibly other cities to get the next expansion team. NFL owners, meanwhile, have been somewhat reluctant to expand the league at all, since that means splitting television broadcast revenues among more teams.
For their part, Angelenos have not shown a great amount of interest in bringing back an NFL team. One recent poll showed that nearly 60 percent of Southern Californians don't consider it important to have an NFL team in Los Angeles. Another poll showed that, more than two years after the Raiders and Rams had left, nearly half of Angelenos weren't even aware that L.A. was without a pro football team.
So when will L.A. get another football team and where will it play?
A decision on Cleveland is likely to be made in September or October. After that, the league will turn its attention to the next expansion team. Houston is expected to make a presentation to the league this fall, and the NFL will have to decide whether next to expand there or in L.A.
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