Column: Which NFL team going to LA? The envelope, please …

AP National Writer

Forget the Oscars.

These days, Hollywood’s most riveting drama is still in development, playing out among three NFL teams.

At some point in the not-so-distant future, Commissioner Roger Goodell will have to decide which of these projects gets the green light.

Rams? Raiders? Chargers?

But first, the commish will have to navigate some tense, back-room negotiations involving hundreds of millions of dollars and the future of the nation’s second-largest television market, which has somehow gone without a pro football team for the past two decades.

How Goodell handles this plot twist will go a long way toward determining whether he’s worth that $44 million annual salary to the people who pay it — his bosses, the 32 NFL owners.

“The primary thing that a commissioner is charged with doing is asset appreciation,” said Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University and former commissioner of the Australian National Basketball League. “An owner wants to be able to say, ‘If I buy my team for $500 million and hold on to it, I will double, triple or even quadruple my investment.

“That’s your job, Roger. Grow my asset.'”

Maybe this will actually be a welcome respite for Goodell, who hasn’t exactly shown a deft touch with horrific problems such as concussions and domestic violence (or even the still up-in-the-air DeflateGate).

Los Angeles seems to be a can’t-miss blockbuster in waiting.

But Goodell could still get it wrong.

The envelope, please …

“The bottom line is: the NFL wants a team in LA,” Burton said, “for the ratings and for what it means to the broadcast contracts and packages. But picking the right team to go to LA is about a lot of potential lawsuits.”

For those who are unfamiliar with the script so far, here’s a recap:

— The Rams and the Raiders both flee Los Angeles after the 1994 season, dashing off to St. Louis and Oakland when those cities flash wads of cash.

— While La La Land seems to get along just fine without an NFL team, apparently distracted by the beaches and paparazzi, the NFL works incessantly behind the scenes to get another franchise into the City of Angels. Unfortunately for the league, this is the one municipality that seems to have no interest in using the public’s money to fund a stadium for billionaires.

— Then, the NFL realizes it has quite the bargaining chip out on the West Coast. By simply invoking the threat of moving a team to Los Angeles, one team after another gets a new stadium, a long-running scam would’ve made a good sequel to “The Sting.”

“It always seemed to me the league was better off not having a team in LA than having a team,” said Andrew Brandt, executive director of Villanova’s Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for Sports Law.

In the meantime, Los Angeles created a whole new industry built around elaborate stadiums renderings. A proposed downtown stadium seemed the most likely destination for a new team, even giving itself a name (Farmers Field) before one shovel of dirt was turned.

But along comes St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, stealing the lead by announcing plans to build a new stadium on the site of the old Hollywood Park race track in suburban Inglewood, presumably to serve as the new home for his team, which hasn’t been able to persuade the good folks in Missouri to provide a new stadium.

Not so fast, Stan.

On Friday, city leaders in suburban Carson began the push for a new stadium to serve as home for both the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, assuming those AFC West rivals can’t work out new stadium deals in their current cities sometime this year.

Now, what’s Goodell to do?

While the two-team option would seem the most prudent from a financial standpoint — after all, they could share the building costs and the stadium would get twice as much use — Burton said those sort of arrangements normally get messy.

“One team is going to believe they’re a second-class citizen,” he said. “You’re never going to have both teams treated identically.”

Since the Raiders don’t have the money to build a stadium on their own, and it’s not known if the Chargers would be willing to go that route, the Carson proposal looks like two teams or bust. Burton, therefore, thinks Kroenke’s plan is the most likely to win the league’s approval, though it could get messy trying to pacify the other two teams (especially the Raiders, who were moved twice by the late Al Davis without league approval and are now owned by his son, Mark).

In the end, the NFL will probably use the hefty relocation fee it charges the team that moves to settle with the teams that are forced to stay put. If the NFL plays its cards right — and it usually does in matters of the wallet — everyone gets richer.

The team that moves, because its value increase two- or three-fold. The teams that remain where they are, because of their hush money. The other 29 teams, because the TV deals are likely to grow even bigger with LA in the fold.

“At the end of the day,” Burton said, “money is going to solve this problem.”

And the winner is … the NFL.


Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at or

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