Staff Reporter

How about the Los Angeles Bills? Or Cardinals? Or even yes, once again the Los Angeles Raiders?

With the deal to bring a National Football League expansion team to L.A. close to falling apart late last week, there's a growing possibility that Los Angeles will instead become a relocation site for an existing NFL team, according to numerous sources.

Houston, meanwhile, could likely be awarded the NFL's new expansion team.

"That's the scenario, I think," said one source close to the negotiations, who believes the league is stringing L.A. along until the Sept. 15 deadline, only to then switch its attention to Houston.

And yet potential revenues to be generated in L.A., the nation's second-largest city and media market from tickets, sponsorships and, in particular, television revenues are too high for the region to remain without a football team much longer, many observers say.

Edward Roski Jr., a principal in the group negotiating to bring the NFL's expansion team here, said last week that he would consider switching gears to pursue a relocation team instead.

"If it does mean that (the expansion team) goes to Houston, we have to continue working with the NFL, either to bring a relocated team here or another expansion team here," Roski said. "Eventually they will have a team in Los Angeles, I'm sure."

Since NFL officials have repeatedly stated that the 32nd team will be the last expansion of the league for years, that would leave L.A. as a prime relocation site for an existing franchise.

David M. Carter, principal of Sports Business Group, a Los Angeles sports marketing consulting firm, said a number of NFL team owners are likely to "jockey for position to move a team to L.A." if Houston is awarded the expansion team.

"I have to believe that any disaffected team in its existing city would have to look at Los Angeles," added Zev Yaroslavsky, an L.A. County supervisor and member of the Coliseum Commission. "It is the second-biggest media market. It is the entertainment capital of the world."

It would take a three-fourths majority vote of NFL owners 24 votes to allow an existing team to move here, said league spokesman Greg Aiello.

But given that the league is still actively seeking (at least until Sept. 15) to award its expansion team to Los Angeles, it's unlikely any owner would attempt to make such a move now.

Considering the pattern of pro sports teams becoming displeased with their aging sports facilities, and then threatening to leave town if a new stadium is not built with public funds, any one of several franchises could end up moving here.

Among teams having problems in their own cities are the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals, according to Mark S. Rosentraub, associate dean at the school of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University, who has studied sports teams' quest for public money.

Al Davis, owner of the Raiders, which has had problems with poor attendance in Oakland, has said that he would consider moving his team back to Los Angeles. Davis moved his team back to the Bay Area in 1995, after 14 years at the L.A. Coliseum.

Getting a transplanted sports franchise would be nothing new for Los Angeles. The Lakers moved from Minneapolis, the Clippers moved from Buffalo to San Diego and then to L.A., and the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn. Only the Kings hockey team was born in Los Angeles.

L.A.'s last two football teams, the Raiders and Rams, were both transplants (Oakland and Cleveland, respectively) before they both moved on to other cities.

Four years ago, then-owner of the Seattle Seahawks Ken Behring planned to move his team to Los Angeles. But NFL owners would not approve the move, so the team stayed in Seattle and eventually was sold to Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen.

Just five months ago, Houston billionaire Bob McNair identified nine NFL teams with stadium problems, and sent them letters offering to buy their teams and move them to his city. Some of those franchises including the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers have since resolved their problems.

Other teams with stadium problems, however, could emerge over the next several years. And if L.A. is still without a pro football team, it is likely to remain an attractive target.

The question, however, still remains: Where would the team play? Under NFL rules, league owners would have the authority to approve any proposed stadium site, along with a team's move. If the relocating team were to seek public funds, as it most certainly would, the Coliseum or any other site within the city of L.A. would remain problematic, given the reluctance among local officials to offer up public funds.

Not helping matters was the NFL's decision late last week to consider other L.A.-area sites besides the Coliseum for the new franchise a move that has only further angered local and state officials.

Smaller cities such as Anaheim, Inglewood or Carson are more likely than L.A. to use money from their general funds to help build a stadium given the revenues and image enhancement a team would bring to a smaller city. Inglewood is the home of Hollywood Park a long-rumored potential site and Carson is where entertainment manager Michael Ovitz, leading one of the two investment teams bidding for the new franchise, proposed to build a stadium-mall complex. The city already has offered $180 million in public money to build that project.

But the NFL may find those cities less receptive this time around. Already spurned by the league, they've seen the frustrations L.A. and California officials have publicly endured.

"It all boils down to, what's the deal? We are not going to be ripped off," said Jerry Groomes, Carson city manager. "Carson is not looking for a life raft here. Relatively speaking, we're doing OK as a city. We don't want to make a bad move that's going to create a bad situation for us."

Carter said the NFL's problems in negotiating with L.A. are likely to have an impact on what smaller cities would likely offer.

"They may say, 'Wait a minute, the guys in L.A. squawked at this, and said it doesn't make sense,'" Carter said. "If this deal (with the city of L.A.) falls out of bed, it's going to make it tougher for an ownership group to convince a local municipality (elsewhere in the L.A. area) to offer up cash. They're going to have to really reinforce that it is of greater economic importance to a smaller or emerging city than it is to Los Angeles."

Even if a team found someplace to build a stadium, other challenges remain. Just as certain transplanted teams (Raiders, Clippers) were never truly embraced by Los Angeles, another relocated team might have a tough time building a fan base here, especially if it suffered a losing season or two.

"We've had our fill of teams that have come from one city and moved here," Yaroslavsky said. "With the Raiders, emotionally they never really left Oakland. If it were my choice, I'd rather have a team where the majority of the ownership is L.A.-based that has roots in this community."

Of course, there is one other option: the NFL expanding to L.A. Despite talk that the deal was close to being dead last week, some remained optimistic that the NFL wants a new team in L.A. badly enough that it would hash out a deal with local government officials and the team's potential owners.

Talk of the deal falling apart is "all speculation until you hear something from the NFL," said Mark Fabiani, an adviser to Ovitz. "This has been an up-and-down process all along. You really have to see, now that people are getting to the final bargaining position, what the league's intentions are."

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