Dodgers' woes could open door for NFL

It's fair to say that the likely demise of Frank McCourt as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers wouldn't just be a boon for fans of the baseball team, but quite possibly for NFL supporters as well.

Out of all the places in L.A. available to build an NFL-quality stadium (the Los Angeles Coliseum site is out of the running with USC in charge of it), the Dodger Stadium site in Chavez Ravine is the one most coveted by the NFL. That's not new information, but the critical obstacle the past eight years has been McCourt, who the NFL has been leery of working with for the financial reasons Major League Baseball is now addressing.

Assuming MLB Commissioner Bud Selig does the dirty work and new ownership results, the possibility of reviving Dodger Stadium as a future home for an NFL team just got brighter. At least some people in L.A. with the power to help the NFL return understand the situation.

There are some who see even bigger ideas with the Dodgers potentially in play. The idea of moving the team from Chavez Ravine to the downtown site where Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke has been proposing a football stadium has been met with some interest among people inside baseball and the L.A. sports scene. While that's a little radical, the possibility of getting rid of McCourt has people talking about more than just what will happen to the Dodgers.

"You must have been listening in on my conversations last week,” said a source involved in the pursuit to bring the NFL back to L.A.

That source wasn't alone.

"Let's just say you're not the only one speculating on it and, no offense, some of the other people speculating actually have the money to get it done,” said a source familiar with the L.A. stadium landscape.

No offense taken.

Chavez Ravine boasts the perfect combination of ideal location and ample space to build a state-of-the-art NFL facility. Currently, the two leading contenders are the downtown site that would be part of the L.A. Convention Center/Staples Center/L.A. Live operation and the City of Industry site which has huge tracts of land to accommodate any plan the NFL could dream up.

Both sites have significant issues. The downtown site is small, limiting the overall stadium size to approximately 64,000 seats and creating concerns about parking, tailgating and traffic. The City of Industry site, which is 22 miles east of downtown L.A., might as well be on another continent to wealthy fans on the west side of the city and in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Malibu. Never mind that there are 600 acres of open land and easy freeway access, Industry might as well be a used Honda convertible to those folks.

All of that brings us back to Chavez Ravine, where Dodger Stadium has hosted baseball and other events since 1962. The 352 acres of land the Dodgers acquired starting in 1958 features ample freeway access, ample parking lots and it's less than four miles from the downtown location where Leiweke and AEG want to put a football stadium.

Note: Before we go too much further, remember the name Anschutz (as in multi-billionaire Phil Anschutz). For those who understand bridge terminology, Anschutz is the ace of spades in all of this.

Frank McCourt
(US Presswire)

Meanwhile, McCourt is looking more and more like the two of clubs, and that's a critical part of this equation. Before buying the Dodgers in 2004 from Rupert Murdoch and Fox, McCourt had tried to purchase the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He lost on the Red Sox and never qualified to bid on the Bucs because the NFL saw his portfolio as problematic.

While McCourt bought the Dodgers for approximately $430 million and has seen the asset grow to an estimated worth of more than $730 million, according to Forbes, there is no getting around that he is in financial distress. That's why Selig stepped in late last month after McCourt had to borrow money from Fox to make payroll.

McCourt's financial issues are no surprise to the NFL. Throw in McCourt's ugly divorce from ex-wife Jamie and he has exceeded the NFL's worst fears. As a result, that puts the Dodgers in play and there are plenty of investors who are interested. Billionaire Ron Burkle, former baseball agent Dennis Gilbert and others have been mentioned as possible buyers.

This is where the NFL situation gets interesting. In 1995, after both the Rams and Raiders exited L.A., former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley was the first to come forward with a viable idea to build a football stadium in Chavez Ravine. O'Malley wanted to build it next to the baseball facility, but then-Mayor Richard Riordan asked O'Malley to back off the plan because the city wanted to focus on bringing a team to the Coliseum.

Riordan's decision was costly on two fronts because the Coliseum idea was too difficult to get off the ground and because O'Malley, whose family had owned the team for 45 years, put the Dodgers up for sale shortly thereafter. That sent one of the most important teams in baseball into a vortex that saw it end up in the McCourt morass.

In the years since, McCourt tried to keep the football stadium idea alive, but the NFL wasn't buying it, particularly when McCourt told the league he wanted to own any team the league moved there.

Now, someone else such as Burkle, Gilbert, Anschutz, Ed Roski or Eli Broad could change not only the future of the Dodgers, but make it possible for the return of the NFL. While the NFL is busy dealing with labor issues, Commissioner Roger Goodell has indicated several times that getting a team back to Los Angeles is on a short list of its priorities.

Furthermore, if Selig wants to drive up the value of the Dodgers as much as possible, helping the NFL would be smart. Generally, the NFL has preferred to deal with one person who can write the check rather than a conglomerate of people with varying interests.

A model of Leiweke's proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles.
(AEG Digital Group/AP Photo)

If someone with extremely deep pockets (such as Anschutz) could buy the Dodgers, build a football stadium next to Dodger Stadium and then buy a football team, the marketing possibilities could be endless. The cross-pollination of nearly 100 events a year could create a deal that would make the 30-year, $700 million deal that AEG recently got from Farmers Insurance for the proposed downtown stadium look like a bargain.

Just as important, the football stadium could have every bell and whistle an NFL team needs, from huge concourses to enough space to stage a Super Bowl. In addition, since the land is privately owned, getting entitlements and other cooperation from the city becomes simpler. Staging construction becomes less time consuming and less expensive than it would be downtown.

Or, there's this idea: Anschutz, who NFL people think just wants another professional team to help build the traffic and convention business downtown, could buy the Dodgers and basically flip the stadiums. He could use the convention center space for a state-of-the-art baseball stadium, tear down Dodger Stadium and build a football paradise in Chavez Ravine. Of course, the cost would be problematic, but the idea for someone like Anschutz isn't farfetched because it would build the value of the downtown area.

Now, before all you Dodger fans start writing me emails calling me a heretic for daring to say the iconic stadium should be torn down, realize that I'm one of you. I grew up watching the dueling Willies (Davis and Crawford). I remember Vin reciting the term "Union Oil auto script” (although I'm still not sure what it was because I wasn't driving yet). I cheered for the Toy Cannon, Garv, The Penguin, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, Reggie Smith(notes), Dusty Baker and Joe Ferguson. I used to imitate Sutton's laborious windup, lived through Fernandomania and remember the bite on Hershiser's curve. I still curse Ozzie Smith, question Tommy about Jack Clark and tingle when I see Kirk Gibson limp around the bases.

But let's face facts: If moving the Dodgers to a new stadium is necessary to complete downtown's revival, don't hesitate. I also remember driving around the neighborhood in the late 1970s where Staples and L.A. Live now sit. Today is a whole lot better. Beyond that, if the move would help create a football stadium that makes the most sense for L.A. and doesn't run the risk of becoming a second coming of the Georgia Dome, that's a good thing.

And don't tell me about all the traffic there would be getting to Dodger games. Like there's not traffic getting to Chavez Ravine now? Like it's really that much further to downtown?

Most important in all of this is to not get sidetracked. The failure of McCourt presents Los Angeles with an opportunity to not just rebuild the Dodgers into something great, it opens the door for the NFL as well.

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