NEW ORLEANS – The NFL has decided to play regular-season games outside the United States on a regular basis starting next season.
But playing in Los Angeles anytime soon is another matter. In fact, a bigger issue for the NFL may be getting a new stadium in any California city, even one that already has a team. In short, the NFL isn't just facing a problem in Los Angeles, but the Golden State as a whole.
The owners' approval regarding the games on foreign land was the optimistic news for a league that prides itself on opening new markets for fans.
The gloomy news was the cost estimate of building a new stadium in Los Angeles in time for a team to begin playing there in 2010. The owners were told that the cost of a new facility in either Anaheim or on the Los Angeles Coliseum site could be between $850 million and $1 billion.
Coupled with the lack of public support in California generally, there are a growing number of owners who are losing enthusiasm for a return to Los Angeles. At least two owners said privately that they didn't see a need to return to Los Angeles if there wasn't public support. Two other owners said the issue appears to have waned in terms of importance.
"It's on the radar, but I wouldn't say it's a priority," said Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who is on a league committee to study a return to Los Angeles.
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson said the idea of playing in Los Angeles is "on the backburner."
Despite that sentiment, new commissioner Roger Goodell called the process a "challenge."
"That may not be unique to the Los Angeles market," Goodell said when asked about the cost estimates. "These projects have become costly for a lot of reasons. The cost of steel, the cost of concrete are among them. They are becoming more and more challenging financially everywhere, not only in Los Angeles.
"I think that's our challenge. To get them done in an economic way that is beneficial to the NFL and to the community and we will take that challenge on very aggressively. We're not giving up."
Perhaps, but some owners are starting to wonder about the existing teams in California. The San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders play in stadiums that are among the longest to have gone without some significant upgrade.
One owner called Oakland's stadium a "pit" and another said that San Francisco is worse. As for San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, a league source said it is in serious disrepair, including crumbling concrete and substandard drainage which could make it unsafe very soon.
That said, San Diego may be the first to solve its situation. The Chargers have an out in their lease with the city, allowing them to look for a new place to play in January. The team is hoping to get a new stadium in either National City or Chula Vista, smaller cities just south of San Diego.
The Chargers had hoped to convince the San Diego city government to give them the plot of land surrounding Qualcomm. The Chargers planned to then build the stadium themselves. However, the city is currently in financial chaos because of a $2.4 billion debt that may force it to declare bankruptcy.
The Chargers could also end up in Anaheim, which is offering the NFL an open site to build whatever it wants and extra property for development of other business to help offset the costs. That would fill the need for a team in Los Angeles.
As for San Francisco, the 49ers have commissioned an architecture firm to draw up plans for a new stadium on Candlestick Point. The project is currently estimated at $800 million, but one person scoffed at that figure.
"That's what they're telling [the 49ers] because that's what the team wants to hear," the source said. "But it's going to be one of those deals where they get it done and then all of a sudden it's, 'Oh, there were these things that we didn't anticipate.'"
As for Oakland, the most pressing issue facing the Raiders from an NFL perspective is the health and future of owner Al Davis. Davis, 77, is currently moving on a walker and has done limited travel over the past year.
Overall, the situation in California is "brutal," as one NFL executive put it.
"There's not public support there and we're all very concerned about that," said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who is currently planning to build a new stadium in the Arlington area. "For me, I know we couldn't get our stadium down without public support."
The ripple effect for California is that the league will not play the Super Bowl there.
"Not until they have a new stadium," Bowlen said.
According to league estimates, the Super Bowl currently generates approximately $300 million for the economy of the host city.
As for the resolution to play outside the United States, the league unanimously approved the idea of playing one game in either Mexico, Canada, England or Germany in 2007 and then up to two per season starting in 2008.
Cities in those countries will bid to host the game, much like cities currently bid to host Super Bowls. The league said it hopes to announce a decision on where a foreign game will be played by the Super Bowl.
- Los Angeles