BOCA RATON – The National Football League gathered on Monday at the sleek Boca Raton Resort for it’s annual league meetings. And for the first time in more than 20 years, the 32 owners making up the most popular sports league in North America aren’t looking quizzically at each other wondering how in the name of Pete Rozelle and Vince Lombardi and Deacon Jones the second biggest media market in the country is without a team.
At long last, the NFL’s Los Angeles problem has been solved – sort of – with the Rams being approved by fellow owners last January to return home to L.A., where they will spend three nostalgic seasons at the Coliseum before eventually moving into the $2.6 billion palace in Inglewood being built by owner Stan Kroenke.
“And you can certainly sense the excitement growing,” offered New York Giants owner Steve Tisch, a resident of 44 years in Los Angeles and one of the leading proponents to get the NFL back to Tinseltown.
And with that, the league can return to other pressing issues. Like expansion and global growth and player safety and what in the world actually constitutes a legal catch.
Or can they?
“There’s still another domino to fall,” a high-ranking league official said. “Maybe even a couple of them.”
With the Rams officially back in place in Los Angeles – they’ll arrive for good in early April upon closing up shop at their Earth City, Mo. headquarters – it’s easy to forget an entire chapter of the NFL back to Los Angeles saga remains unwritten.
The NFL approved two teams for L.A. relocation on that historic night in Houston two months ago, with the Chargers getting first dibs pending the outcome of their stadium push in San Diego.
The Raiders wait in the wings, their spot in L.A. – or perhaps Las Vegas or San Diego –predicated on the Chargers and San Diego coming together on a downtown stadium plan.
“We’re hopeful,” said Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who is counting on the support of the city and county of San Diego, the downtown hoteliers and labor leaders to create a unified front and the necessary momentum to push the plan over the top in a November vote.
If the vote succeeds, the Chargers stay in San Diego and the second spot in L.A. opens up for the Raiders. If it doesn’t, the Chargers most likely move to L.A.
“It’s ultimately in the hands of the people,” a league official said Monday. “They know what’s at stake. They know the Chargers have a guaranteed spot in Los Angeles, a safe landing place should a vote fail.”
As worst-case scenarios go, it’s really not a bad spot to be if you are the Chargers. Ideally they’d be setting up shop right now in L.A. and eying a 2019 opening of the stadium they hoped to build with the Raiders in Carson. But the NFL spoke loud and clear last January in Houston, and the message was they preferred the Inglewood site.
“It’s so much more than just a stadium,” Tisch said.
The key was protecting the interests of Spanos, which was insured when fellow owners put a Rams/Chargers Inglewood option onto the ballot to oppose the Raiders/Chargers Carson bid.
One way or another, Spanos would have an L.A. option to either seize or use as leverage to prod San Diego into a new stadium.
Or, as one owner said Monday: “(Spanos) got a confirmed seat on the plane. It might be a coach seat, but it’s confirmed.”
Meanwhile, with the Chargers in the batter’s box the Raiders stand in the on-deck circle. Maybe for 10 months. Maybe for two years.
It all depends on what happens in San Diego.
“We’re going to give Dean and the Chargers the space and time they need,” said Raiders owner Mark Davis. “It’s not frustrating, it’s just part of the process.”
Davis said Monday there is nothing new to report in Oakland. He remains open to working with the A’s – the Raiders roommates at the O.Co Coliseum – in which their shared stadium is torn down and replaced by new stadiums for each team.
But the A’s aren’t interested, and with a long-term lease in place with the O.co they hold most of the cards.
“You have to get the A’s the buy in,” Davis said. “And right now, their stance is, do what you guys have to do, we’ll do what we have to do.”
Which is why Davis waits patiently on the Chargers next move, at which point his options will emerge.
And while it seems clear cut the Silver and Black will return to L.A. if the Chargers stay put –barring a viable stadium plan in Oakland, the Raiders spot in Los Angeles is guaranteed – there is growing intrigue within the NFL on the stadium plan Las Vegas is putting together to potentially lure the Raiders.
“It’s a very, very intriguing and exciting plan,” said Davis, who met two months ago with Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who is proposing the $1 billion domed stadium on the UNLV campus.
If Adelson’s plan comes to fruition, it would essentially be a free stadium for the Raiders.
“And it’s hard to ignore $800 million,” a league official said.
Yes, there are concerns with placing a team so close to the temptations of Las Vegas – which Tisch alluded to on Monday – but others in the NFL see things differently.
With the Raiders in Las Vegas, the NFL can use the open spot in Los Angeles – and the Bay Area for that matter – as leverage to help build new stadiums across the league.
And as a league official pointed out on Monday, what’s to say Kroenke doesn’t back Davis on a move to Las Vegas, as it would mean him keeping L.A. all to himself?
“I think it would be a mistake to just write Las Vegas off,” a high-ranking league official said. “It’s all predicated on getting the financing in order, but if they do, considering the Raiders brand and how well it could play in Las Vegas and all the various other dots that can be connected, the Raiders would have a very compelling argument to make.
“By the way,” the league official added. “If you’re Mark Davis, would you rather share Los Angeles or be the master of your own domain in Las Vegas?”
Point being, the final act of the NFL back to L.A. drama isn’t yet written.
And that makes for another fascinating year.