See you soon?
Don't hold your breath
I want to believe. I really do. I want to think it's as simple as AEG president Tim Leiweke laid it out to the L.A. City Council on Monday. That the surprise announcement of AEG's sale is actually a good thing and the NFL is on schedule for a potential return to L.A. next season. I want to believe it for all the same reasons people have wanted to believe it since the NFL left L.A. two decades ago: How can the NFL not have a team in the second-largest media market in the country?!?
But one thing we've learned the last few years is that the NFL can do almost everything wrong and it doesn't matter. It is still king. It always gets what it wants. Because it has the leverage to do so.
The NFL owners can insult the integrity of the game by employing replacement referees amid a labor dispute with officials -- a decision that cost one of the league's most important franchises a game Monday night.
The owners can strong-arm the players into a restrictive new labor deal because the appetite for their product is so strong and the tolerance for "millionaire players holding out for a better deal from billionaire owners" in this country is so limited, they will always have leverage over the players' union.
They can do all this because no matter what, fans will watch. We in L.A. have proved so in the two decades the NFL has been gone. We have no team, but we still watch … and buy … and care.
The two competing stadium proposals have issues. Rather, they have issues in the eyes of the handful of teams that might consider moving here. The AEG plan for Farmers Field can't come all the way together until January at the earliest, and last week's news about the company's potential sale landed with a considerable thud. Leiweke tried to soothe some of those fears Monday. And we all want to believe what he says.
But there's a reason the NFL hasn't returned to Los Angeles in the last two decades. The league has gotten along just fine without L.A. It has all the leverage. We're just starting to figure out that this isn't a negotiation.
A light at the end of this tunnel
The smart money on when the NFL is coming back to Los Angeles is never. Think about it -- if you'd taken that stance since the Rams and Raiders bolted in 1995, you would have looked like a genius for the past 17 years, and probably for the next few as well.
But I've talked to enough smart people within the NFL and both stadium proposals in Los Angeles to think that there's finally a visible light at the end of this tunnel. We might not reach it this year or next, but at some point within the next five years, the NFL will be back in Los Angeles.
There have been a variety of reasons that the nation's second-largest media market has been without an NFL team for nearly two decades. First, the reason L.A. lost two teams is the same reason it hasn't been able to get one back. The city hasn't built a new football stadium since 1923, and until it commits to building a new one, no team is moving here.
Second, there's never been a huge outcry from the public or private sector to bring a team back. Whenever there's been talk of building a stadium, many locals actually moan that it would disrupt their Sunday TV viewing with blackouts and force-fed games of a local team that might not be that great.
That's all beginning to change, and by early next year Farmers Field will be in position to push dirt, joining a competing stadium proposal in the City of Industry. If there's one thing we've learned about the NFL in Los Angeles, it's that it loves competition. As long as two sites are vying to be built and at least two teams are vying to move here, well, there's a chance something could happen. The Chargers could pick up and move after the 2012 season, the Raiders could move after the 2013 season and the Rams could move after the 2014 season.
I know 20 years seems like an eternity to some, but after allowing a generation of football fans to grow up in L.A. without an NFL team, I think the city and the league are finally realizing it's time for a change.