By Damon Amendolara
Something just doesn’t sit right with the NFL’s latest land rush to Los Angeles. We went from twenty years without football in L.A., to three franchises in six weeks making a break for it? Sure, there’s always been SoCal flirting from teams looking to build better stadiums in their own city (i.e. Vikings, Jaguars, Bills). I can’t help but feel queasy about the latest timeline, though.
In late-July one of the league’s most influential owners waved his scepter and proclaimed Los Angeles as an inevitability. The Patriots’ Robert Kraft told ESPN getting NFL back to L.A. “within the next two-to-three years… would be in everybody’s best interest.” Everybody, huh? Well, everybody except Chargers, Rams and Raiders fans.
So why is it guns up time for the league? The NFL sees the clock ticking on a generation of lost revenue (in a league so transparently driven by gluttonous profit margins). Kraft told SportsBuisness Daily “We’ve gone a generation – almost 20 years – without a team in L.A. We have a generation of young people growing up not really branded and tied to a team. I think that kind of passion only comes when you have a team you can root for, and I think it’s very important.”
Kraft wasn’t done on his L.A. Book Tour. He said during a panel discussion we shouldn’t stop at just one. “I know that Roger (Goodell) and I and a number of the owners who care about the long-term health of the NFL feel it’s very important for our future to have at least one – if not two teams – in downtown L.A.” Interesting that the league’s ascent into the most influential space in American sports happened in the exact time frame without a team in Los Angeles. But, long-term health you know…
So just to summarize, in the same week, on three separate occasions, Kraft gave us all the clearest look yet at what drives the Los Angeles land grab. Football in L.A. means more cash for the owners, so they’ll make sure it happens. It’s a subtle switcheroo, but one that should give everyone significant pause.
The way the league has operated until now has been for teams to find a local solution to stadium issues first. After that, Los Angeles theoretically could be a fix. L.A. has been used as the ultimate leverage play, perfect to scare local politicians and taxpayers into being a better husband so that she doesn’t run back to her ex. But ultimately, no matter how much wrangling, or how desperate the situation, no NFL franchise has relocated in two decades. L.A. was always there, but everyone has stayed put.
This is no longer the modus operandi. Now the billionaires are working backward from the original premise. The question is not “Could Los Angeles work?” It’s now, “How do we make Los Angeles work?” It is the solution. It is the end game. So the league is boldly declaring to more than one fan base: we’re coming for you. They are no longer interested in exhausting all options in San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis. The company line is clear: We’re getting a team into L.A., the only questions are which one, and how many?
Which is extraordinarily heartless. Undoubtedly, the Chargers and Raiders play in stadiums that need drastic upgrades. St. Louis has always had an awkward relationship with football as a passionate baseball town. But the league is now working without any regard to those fan bases. Remember: “It would be in everybody’s best interest.” Wow.
It wouldn’t be in the best interest of the third-generation Raiders die-hard, working weekends to pay for him and his kids to go see his beloved silver-and-black. It’s not in the best interest of the overnight security guard in El Cajon, who has bought a new Chargers jersey every year since Dan Fouts was slinging the rock for them. It’s not in the best interest of the grocery store owner in Jefferson City, who once had the Cardinals fly to Phoenix and now has learned to love the Rams. But why would those people matter more than a group of apathetic Millennials in Los Angeles who need a team to follow? And oh by the way, there’s a new L.A. stadium with millions of corporate dollars flooding in, among the glitterati for the Super Bowl to be held in.
Because the NFL isn’t doing expansion again. They’re in this for the cash, and they sure aren’t gonna divide their monster revenues with another pair of snot-nosed Johnny-come-lately owners. That $9 billion annual revenue? Each owner wants 1/32nd of that. Not a penny less. Not if they can simply swap Los Angeles’ dollars for Oakland or St. Louis’.
We all understand none of our sports leagues are being run for charity. But the NFL’s chase to Los Angeles is seedy even for them. The league has announced it’s stealing franchises. Not if, but when. Because it’s in everybody’s best interests. Remember?
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.