LOS ANGELES -- Now that the NFL has ended its lockout, the focus for most around the country will shift toward the action on the field. That is, unless you live in Los Angeles, where the focus remains on getting the NFL back into the city for the first time in 16 years.
Luckily for those who have been relegated to making the two-hour drive south to San Diego or the six-hour drive north to Oakland or San Francisco to watch NFL games in person, it appears the league could possibly return to Los Angeles as early as next season.
If one of two local groups (Anschutz Entertainment Group and Majestic Realty Company) proposing to privately finance a state-of-the-art football stadium are able to sign an NFL team to a long-term lease after this season, a team could move into either the Coliseum or Rose Bowl for the 2012 season and play there until its new home is built.
Those who have been following this long saga aren't holding their breath, but here's what to keep track of this season as you're watching the NFL being played in other cities.
Keep an eye on
For nearly a decade the Chargers have tried and failed to get a new stadium built in San Diego to replace the 45-year-old Qualcomm Stadium, which is one of the five oldest stadiums in the league. The difficulty for the Chargers is that it's almost impossible to get public funding in the state of California for a stadium. Take a look around the NFL and MLB. Three of the five oldest stadiums in both the NFL and MLB are in California. In the past 20 years, it has gone from commonplace to standard practice for NFL teams to demand that stadiums be built with public funding. Since 1992, 21 of the 22 NFL stadiums built or proposed have included anywhere from 12 percent to 100 percent public funding. On average, 63 percent of the funding used to complete the stadiums came from the public. That kind of public funding simply won't be available to the Chargers.
The Chargers can announce their intentions to leave San Diego between Feb. 1 and May 1 of each year through 2020 if they pay off the bonds, which currently would be about $26 million, used to expand Qualcomm Stadium in 1997.
Not only do the Chargers need a new home that they are unlikely to get in San Diego, but Chargers owner Alex Spanos -- who suffers from dementia and turns 88 in September -- announced last year he is looking to sell a minority stake in the club to help with estate planning. While AEG is open to buying a majority interest in a team, to start construction in L.A. it needs only a minority interest (somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 percent) and a 30-year lease for the team to play in Farmers Field. Spanos and his wife, Faye, own 36 percent of the Chargers, while their four children, including team president, Dean, each own 15 percent. Two minority owners control the other 4 percent. The Spanos family is planning to continue holding a controlling stake.
The prospects of the Rams getting a home they're happy with in St. Louis seem as remote as the Chargers' chances of getting one in San Diego. The Rams, owned by Philip Anschutz's friend and fellow Denver billionaire Stan Kroenke, can get out of their lease agreement with the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission in 2015 if the Edward Jones Dome doesn't rank in the top quarter of stadiums in the NFL. It is currently one of the league's older stadiums, and anything outside of a new stadium would make it impossible for it to rank among the league's top eight facilities. Getting public funding for such an expensive undertaking in St. Louis, which is still paying off the original construction debt of the Dome, would be virtually impossible.
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission has until Feb. 1 to give the Rams a preliminary proposal for how it plans to give the Dome "top-tier" status. The Rams can either agree to the offer a month later or reject it and make a counteroffer by May 1, which is the most likely scenario. The commission can then either agree to the counteroffer by June 1 or reject it and go to arbitration. If such a scenario unfolds, the lease could be voided and the Rams could rent the Dome on a year-to-year basis or choose to move elsewhere. If Farmers Field is in position to break ground on June 1 as projected, Los Angeles could be looking at the return of the Rams.
Get excited about
The Los Angeles City Council is working quickly with AEG to get a deal in place to begin the construction on Farmers Field. After Monday's press conference to announce the "Memorandum of Understanding" -- basically the framework of an agreement between AEG and the city -- many in attendance marveled at how fast the process has moved along. AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke essentially laid out his plan to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles in December, and he may get the support of City Council to do just that before August, which is an unheard of turnaround for a billion-dollar project on city-owned land.
Don't forget about
Billionaire developer Ed Roski has proposed a plan to build a 75,000-seat stadium on a 600-acre site on the northern side of the 57 and 60 freeway interchange in the City of Industry. The project is, in the words of those within the Majestic Realty Company, "shovel-ready," but there hasn't been a shovel on the site in the two years since the green light was given to begin construction. Like AEG, Majestic wants a commitment from an NFL team before breaking ground and wants at least a similar 30 percent stake in a team, but has yet to make any real headway with possible teams.
Since only one stadium will be built, the first group to lure an NFL team to Los Angeles and break ground will win this nearly yearlong war of words between the development groups.
Pay attention to
The timelines being set forth by the city and AEG are key, and so are the timelines of the teams rumored to be coming to Los Angeles. They aren't as exciting as the games on your pocket schedule, but these dates will determine how soon the NFL could be back in L.A.
After a series of hearings this week on the "Memorandum of Understanding" agreed to by the city and AEG, the City Council will vote on the deal before Aug. 20, when it goes on a two-week recess. If the deal passes (only a simple majority is needed), AEG would spend $45 million on design drawings for the new Pico Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center and Farmers Field. Sometime in September, AEG and the city would begin discussions on the definitive agreements.
By the end of May, AEG wants to be done with the environmental impact report, entitlement process and the definitive agreements with the city so construction can begin on the new Pico Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center as well as two new parking structures AEG will construct and operate on city-owned land on Cherry Street and Bond Street before AEG can begin construction of the stadium. However, AEG will need to have a contract in place with an NFL team. That's where the above timelines of the Chargers' and Rams' stadium leases come into play.
If construction of the Convention Center and parking structures begins sometime in June, those buildings are expected to open sometime in the summer or fall of 2013, at which point the West Hall of the Convention Center would be demolished and construction of Farmers Field would begin; September 2016 would be the targeted opening date.
Keep in perspective
Los Angeles hasn't had an NFL team since 1994 and has seen dozens of proposals and plans to bring a team back. Skepticism isn't only understandable, it's more than expected. If this time feels different, however, it's because it is. The NFL will be returning to Los Angeles in the near future. The only questions now appear to be when and with what team or teams.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.