A Football Team Belongs at the Coliseum

#14 PRO FOOTBALL

In the pantheon of issues, it hardly ranks with transportation, health care or the environment. Even so, the ongoing struggle to bring back professional football to Los Angeles is more than a footnote in a community so consumed with sports.

Once again, there are signs that the National Football League is getting serious about having a team in the nation's second-largest media market. The plan, say NFL officials, is to decide on a stadium site within a year and have a team in place by 2008. The three finalists are the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum (both of which would undergo massive renovations), as well as a 157-acre site in Carson, currently a toxic landfill.

"Everyone's had a good period of analysis, and now we have to start making some decisions," NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said at a meeting of team owners last month.

More than a decade of analysis, to be precise and along with it, plenty of indecision, squabbling and low-ball bidding. That's what left Los Angeles at the altar when the NFL chose Houston as its new franchise city in 1999. But with the league television contract expiring next year, there is undoubtedly more motivation to cut an L.A. deal both for the networks, which would benefit from the additional viewers in Southern California, and for the league, which is likely to use Los Angeles as leverage in its negotiations.

Certainly, there would be no shortage of team owners from other cities looking to move into this market. The San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts are but two of the possible transplants. What will hold up the process is the stadium. The league has been insistent that its teams play in glitzy, state-of-the-art facilities and that much of the building costs are paid by someone else, namely local taxpayers.

Such a prospect has never been in the cards in Los Angeles, which is a big reason the process has bogged down. Other financing structures are now being considered that are likely to involve the league and lots of private dollars.

An NFL team can bring substantial economic benefits and pave the way for L.A. to host a Super Bowl that generates tens of millions of dollars. Yet the real benefits of having pro football are more intangible.

It's been seen again this year with the Lakers, as fans from vastly different incomes, locations and walks of life gather to cheer on their team one of the few examples of this disparate community ever exhibiting real civic pride. It helps, of course, to have a winning team, but even the Dodgers, who have not won a World Series since 1988, continue to draw well, year in and year out. An L.A. football team is likely to have a few rough seasons early on, but there clearly is a fan base here on which to build a successful franchise.

The key is to close the deal.

Right now, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is the front-runner of the three venues being considered. It already has an environmental impact report on a proposed redesign, one that appears to have the approval of local environmentalists. The league has even given Coliseum officials the equivalent of a "term sheet," which is the framework of a stadium plan.

By contrast, the Rose Bowl has been bogged down in its design plan. The Carson proposal is believed further back in the process.

The Coliseum has always been the most logical place to have an NFL team, and after years of misguided snubbing by league owners (no doubt influenced by the last few years of rowdiness at Raiders games), it's encouraging to see that many minds have been changed. But beyond the league, it will take the stewardship of city, county and state officials to avoid last-minute snags. Any deal will be complicated because the facility falls under different government jurisdictions. So the league and the television networks may want to see pro football in Los Angeles, but that doesn't mean politics won't get in the way.

"It has been a very drawn out process that isn't totally satisfying," said billionaire Eli Broad, who wants to become involved in the Coliseum effort. "The NFL should be here, it would be great for the city. They've been dealing with a lot of parties most of whom don't have the resources to make it happen."


PRO FOOTBALL

Proposal: Bringing an NFL team to Los Angeles



Obstacles: Getting NFL owners on board; creating financing mechanism to make stadium plan pencil out



Cost: $400 million to $500 million



Time Frame: Three to four years

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