L.A. Times' Sam Farmer Weighs In on the NFL Stadium Situation
Some think it’s a great idea while others could do without it. Either way, the plans have been set in motion and within a few years a new team could call L.A. home.
I sat down with Los Angeles Times NFL columnist Sam Farmer to see what he thinks bringing football back to L.A. would mean for fans, the league and the city's economy.
Sara Ramsey: What teams are being considered for relocation?
Sam Farmer: Well, there are seven teams right now that are in bad lease situations or that can move out of their markets. The easiest team to move would be the Chargers and that is interesting too because the Chargers started playing in Los Angeles at the Coliseum as the L.A. Chargers.
The Chargers have an escape clause in their lease that allows them to leave San Diego during a three-month window every year if they pay off the existing bonds on Qualcomm Stadium. So, between Feb. 1 and May 1, they can leave SD without the threat of a lawsuit. That’s the most obvious move and the easiest for the NFL.
Other teams that could potentially move: Oakland and San Francisco could both leave their stadiums. I don’t see San Francisco leaving and I don’t think Oakland will leave with Al Davis. Al Davis might want to come to Los Angeles but the NFL doesn’t want Al Davis in Los Angeles and Los Angeles doesn’t want Al Davis. Then you have to look at the St. Louis Rams, which is a little more difficult leaving St. Louis. Then there is the Minnesota Vikings, the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Those are the teams that are potential relocation candidates and I would still put the Chargers at the top of the list but this is also ever-changing jockeying for position to move to Los Angeles because, let's face it, it’s the nation’s second-largest market, it’s going to, by necessity, have to be one of the highest revenue stadiums in the league.
These teams will have to face the fundamental questions of am I better off staying in my current market and current stadium situation or relocating to Los Angeles, which is not a turnkey market, because two teams have already left, three if you count the Chargers?
Ramsey: How do you think the L.A. fan base will receive a new NFL team?
Farmer: You know, Los Angeles is sort of like the Ellis Island of the NFL in that you have fans from every team represented here. I do believe there is something to the notion that there are so many things to do in Los Angeles and the weather's so good that if your team is losing in November, then you might not want to go to the game. You might want to go to the beach or to the mountains. So, you are automatically competing with that as a sports team owner.
I think, if you look at 'SC football during the Pete Carroll years consistently drawing 90,000 fans to games, there are football fans in Los Angeles and there are sophisticated football fans in Los Angeles who will come to games. The NFL has lost a generation on Los Angeles. How do you become a fan of a team? Well, it’s probably because your mom or dad was a fan of that team and they pass on that fanaticism to you. Those mom and dads out there now who are football fans are not fans of L.A. teams, obviously, and so the NFL has lost something really valuable in not having a team here in the last 15 years.
Ramsey: Will the NFL put something in place to prevent what happened with the Rams and Raiders from happening again?
Farmer: Oh definitely. It would be a long-term lease, long term looking out 25, 30, 40 years to keep a team in place. But the NFL will look at the Los Angeles situation and think, we can’t screw this up again, so we are going to make this so good and do it in the right way, with the right team, the right stadium and right ownership group to make sure that this work. If they screw up L.A. again football may not be back for another 100 years.
Ramsey: What are some of the cons of bringing a team to L.A.?
Farmer: There is a long list of pros and cons to bring a team to L.A. If you look at the two competing sites, downtown and City of Industry, City of Industry can point to downtown's issues of parking, traffic and a public bond having to be issued. City of Industry, in a lot of people’s minds, is in the middle of nowhere and could be very popular amongst people in Orange County and Riverside and San Bernardino counties, but if you’re in the Westside, that is a haul out there. And you will not have all the opportunities that you have in downtown L.A. You wont have the infrastructure around it, the ancillary venues and restaurants around that.
From the NFL’s perspective they look at L.A. Live and they think, this is an ideal spot where you may not be able to tailgate, in terms of dropping your tailgate and having a party out of the back of your car, but you have a lot of open space, restaurants, shops, merchandising opportunities there and plenty of parking if you consider that everyone who works downtown during the week won’t be there on Sundays.
Ramsey: What do you think are the economic impacts of having an NFL stadium and team in Los Angeles?
Farmer: That’s really up for debate. The economic impact of an NFL team in a particular city and particularly the economic impact of a Super Bowl because the estimates range from $100 million to $400 million in revenue generated by a Super Bowl. Specifically about its economic impact to Los Angeles, it would bring in tourism and in terms of this downtown stadium, it would be an event center and football is a part of this. It would only be about 20 percent of what the entire economic impact would be, which would enable Los Angeles to lure major conventions and, if you look at the Farmers Insurance deal with the downtown stadium, AEG has promised 50 events of at least 40,000 people each.
That would have a massive economic impact and would in fact reshape the economic landscape of Los Angeles and redefine L.A. as a major convention city. And so the economic footprint of that would be huge, much larger than that of one NFL team playing 10 games in Los Angeles, with an occasional Super Bowl. That is sort of the vision of Tim Leiweke and what he sees. It’s the difference between having a football stadium and having a retractable roof event center.
Ramsey: What are the economic impacts of building the actual stadium?
Farmer: AEG and Tim Leiweke have promised that there would be no burden on the tax payers and that they would not be tapping into the general fund to build this and there would be no public money and yet they are asking for a $350 million bond to take down the West Hall of the convention center.
They would backstop that bond and make up for any short falls but that is still public money that would be needed to complete this job, so there is definite public investment here, even if the stadium itself is privatized.
Ramsey: Do you think that the city would have trouble bringing in an NFL team if they went ahead and built the stadium?
Farmer: No, in fact they city is not going to build this stadium on [speculation]. AEG is not going to build this stadium on [speculation], they are going to either have a team that has already relocated to Los Angeles, playing in either the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl for two or three seasons or they are going to have a promise from the NFL that a team will be here. They are not going to just roll the dice and build it and hope they come. If they don’t get a team they are not going to build this. One can’t exist without the other.
Ramsey: Is there anything else you want to add?
Farmer: None of this is going to happen till the league sorts out its collective bargaining situation with the players. The league’s labor piece has been a corner stone of the league success since 1987 when there was the last labor stoppage. Say, if the league were to de-unionize and this were to be thrown in the laps of the courts, this could tie up the L.A. situation for another five to 10 years. So even though it seems like there is momentum towards moving a team to Los Angeles, it could come off the rails pretty easily.
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