The pending sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers – and, more importantly, the property where Dodger Stadium sits – could have an interesting impact on bringing the NFL back to the City of Angels.
It could make it happen a lot faster.
In the chess match between the NFL and the competing groups trying to bring a team back to Los Angeles – Ed Roski's plan in the City of Industry and the Anschutz Entertainment Group's vision in downtown Los Angeles – the sudden presence on the market of the Dodgers and the 177-acre piece of property in Chavez Ravine is like a game where an opponent exchanges a pawn for a queen.
"That location is potentially a game-changer if something doesn't get done with one of those groups [Roski or AEG] in the next couple of months," an NFL source said Thursday. "If either group gets something done by then, the sale of the Dodgers doesn't mean anything. Either of them can head off that problem quickly.
"If not, all of a sudden it could be part of the process depending on who buys the team."
In the opinion of plenty NFL people, both at the league and individual team levels, Dodger Stadium is the perfect location for an NFL stadium. While there are traffic and neighborhood issues in and outside of the location, they are mild compared to what's going to happen downtown. While the space is not as ample as the 600 acres at the City of Industry, it's more than enough to suit the NFL's purposes. When combined with the closer proximity to downtown L.A. (City of Industry of 20 miles east of downtown), Dodger Stadium is an ideal fit … even if it would take a while for the move to materialize.
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"I think it would take longer to get something done at Dodger Stadium, but the NFL has already proved that it's in no hurry to come back," a Los Angeles-based source with extensive knowledge of the situation said. "If the NFL decides Dodger Stadium is the best place and they can make it work there, they'll tell their team to wait it out."
In fact, Dodger Stadium would have been the answer back in 1996, when then-Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley was ready to put in for the NFL expansion team. That team instead went to Houston after then-L.A. mayor Richard Riordan asked O'Malley to back off and switched the preferred location to the decrepit Los Angeles Coliseum. That move aggravated the NFL to no end.
Current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who has been embroiled in divorce-related problems and now bankruptcy, once tried to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but was rebuffed by the NFL.
Now, a new owner could change the dynamics with the NFL and Dodger Stadium if neither Roski nor AEG, who both declined through representatives to be interviewed for this story, can complete the deal. In addition, the momentum could get stronger if L.A. politicians take a clue from the NFL and drop the downtown idea pronto (something that Forbes magazine advised in no uncertain terms earlier this week).
If the Forbes opinion wasn't enough to hammer the AEG project further into submission, consider that NFL teams continue to be extremely wary of the proposal. While AEG is making all sorts of great promises about a domed stadium on the land where part of the Los Angeles Convention Center sits, NFL people view it with great skepticism.
"I don't have any idea how you would even begin to [draw up contracts] for that site," said an NFL team executive, referring to the downtown site. The problem is that some NFL team is going to have to take a leap of faith with the downtown site, moving to Los Angeles before it's built and then hoping that AEG, which probably won't be able to start building until 2014 at the earliest, will follow through on a project that is expected to be much more expensive than the $1.2 billion it has budgeted for the project.
"Think about the risk of a team leaving its current city, coming to Los Angeles and then getting stuck playing in the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl for years and years, just like what happened to Al Davis and the Raiders. You couldn't even begin to draw up that contract because there's no way for the team to figure out the financial risk and there's no way that AEG would give that kind of guarantee."
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With that bit of information to consider, Dodger Stadium looks more appealing once it's sold. The location isn't quite as grand as the downtown site (which is all of three miles away). But it's still a lot of jobs and it's a lot of construction money flowing through the city.
Better yet, having an association with an NFL team would be a great selling point for the new Dodgers owner. Anyone who buys season tickets to the Dodgers could get priority to buy season tickets when the NFL moves back. That would be a huge shot in the arm for the Dodgers' ticket sales, which have plummeted under the weight of McCourt's problems and the team's disappointing 2011 campaign.
Yet, the idea at this moment is still a distant option.
"From a practical standpoint, I don't think Dodger Stadium is that close to being realistic," the Los Angeles-based source said. "Really, I think that [Major League Baseball Commissioner] Bud Selig is going to want the new owner, whoever it is, to focus the first three to five years on fixing the Dodgers, both the team on the field and making the stadium family-friendly and safe. I don't think it's going to go over from a PR standpoint if a new owner comes in and starts immediately talking about the NFL."
Then again, the added value and the influence of the NFL itself could change the dynamic.
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