Of course, whether or not St. Louis and Missouri approve $500 million or so in subsidies for a new Rams stadium, there’s still the little matter of the NFL approving which team or teams it will allow to move to Los Angeles. And despite rumors that the league was getting close to a decision, Ian Rapoport of the league-owned NFL.com now reports that the L.A. situation is in “gridlock,” and while the “hope” is that a league vote could come by May, it might not take place until 2017.
What’s the holdup? It’s always possible that this is just a matter of the owners’ cabal not being able to decide which of their brethren’s move plans they want to approve, or that they’re waiting to see what city officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland ultimately approve. (Though if so, why leak it to the media when a looming deadline is more likely to create a sense of urgency for those voting on stadium plans?)
So to the existing game of chicken between the owners of Rams, Chargers, and Raiders and the three cities that want to keep them, add in an overlay of an additional game of chicken between the L.A.-seeking owners and the NFL over how much cash they’ll have to cough up to the league to be allowed to move. I can see where this might result in gridlock, yes.
I got busy yesterday preparing for my talk this morning reading from the Coney Island chapter-in-progress of The Brooklyn Wars (if you want to see some highlights, Amy Nicholson of Zipper fame did some livetweeting), which means I didn’t get a chance to recap the flood of news around Wednesday’s presentations to the NFL by cities whose teams are threatening to move to L.A. Not that there was much real news in the sense of anyone coming up with new plans or decisions on how L.A. relocation will decided or discoveries of a money tree for funding the actual stadiums or anything, but, you know what, let’s just get to it, shall we:
San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York came out of the meeting and said, “Let’s look at the markets where teams are already, and if they prove to not be viable, then we will look at the next step, which is relocation,” and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson added that a St. Louis stadium proposal which meets “the protocol for the NFL on relocation” would force the league to keep the Rams there. (Which, given that the NFL gets to write that protocol, doesn’t mean a ton, but it got everyone in St. Louis excited that “If we throw enough money at the Rams, they’ll have to stay, even if we don’t know how much money is enough!”
The Chargers and Raiders then blew up the news cycle entirely by announcing that their new point person for their proposed Carson stadium would be Bob Iger, the freaking CEO of freaking Disney. Which means nothing, really, except that they’re “serious” and all that, since “the chair of Disney is going to run our stadium” sounds better than “we want to build a stadium and we have some drawings and, uh, yeah.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf revealed that she’s considering issuing city lease revenue bonds for a Raiders stadium, for the first time opening the door to the city spending money on actual stadium construction costs. (ABC News calls them “tax-exempt bonds,” but lease revenue bonds for stadiums are required to be taxable, so forget that.) Lease revenue bonds would be repaid by rent payments by the Raiders, so really would just be a way of letting Mark Davis use the city’s low-interest credit card if he agrees to pay it off — though Schaaf also opened up the possibility of using tax increment financing (i.e., kicking back taxes paid by the Raiders and surrounding development), which obviously would be a whole nother kettle of fish.
In short … okay, there is no in short, since this is just a continuation of all the sides in this multidimensional game of chicken angling for an advantage. Will St. Louis convince NFL owner that their $500 million-ish stadium subsidy offer to the Rams is too rich to turn down? Will Schaaf’s offer of cheap money and maybe a smidge of tax kickbacks lure Davis into giving up on wedging his foot into the L.A. door and sticking with Oakland? Does Bob Iger provide Carson with the buzz it’s been missing since it discarded its idea for a giant eternal Al Davis flame? And most important, can anyone really make gobs of money on a move to L.A., or is it some combination of calculated risk and blackmail threat?
Answers to thee questions and more coming soon, I hope. Though I also wouldn’t recommend holding your breath, because the NFL’s deadlines, like its relocation protocols, are decided by the NFL, so if it’s in their interest to wait, they’re damn well gonna wait.
I’ve been threatening for a while to do a deep dive into the numbers behind moving an NFL team to Los Angeles — in short, does market size still not matter much in the NFL because everyone shares the same national TV money, or have the economics changed to where L.A. is now a potential goldmine? Thanks to Vice Sports, I finally had time to do so, and the answer is: a little of both. The short version:
NFL revenues may still be fairly flat across franchises compared to other leagues, but they’re up overall — and even if owning a big-market franchise is only worth 30% more than a small-market one, if the actual value of that 30% has risen, it means building an L.A. stadium is a better investment for owners than it was just five years ago.
Personal seat licenses have potentially changed the game, since now that the 49ers paid for a stadium essentially by crowdfunding, everyone else thinks they can, too, if the market is good enough.
It’s still not enough to explain why St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke would want to spend $1.8 billion on an L.A. stadium. Says Roger Noll, dean of sports economists: “Yes, it’s worth something. It’s not billions of dollars.” But Kroenke may have other reasons for wanting in to L.A. — and even if he doesn’t, the gamesmanship behind the fight to move to L.A. may be making his decision to take on the risk, as well as that of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders owners, unstoppable.
Anyway, go read it for yourself and then we can always debate the numbers in comments below. It’s not quite a definitive answer to whether all the L.A. move talk is serious, a bluff, or somewhere in between, but it’s at least an attempt to establish some basis for discussing it.
Not that either is likely to provide any new news: We already know how those cities’ stadium plans are turning out (if not quite as definitively as the Great War, then close enough), so don’t expect any sudden surprises. And the presentations will take place in a closed NFL meeting room, and the league has said that no owners will be available for interviews afterwards, so there’s not even likely to be any good tea-leaf reading opportunities.
Behind closed doors, at least, the presentations are likely to give owners something to chew on, so maybe later in November we’ll be treated to some insider gossip about who’s siding with or against whom, which is always fun. As always, I’d prefer some coverage of whether any of these stadium plans — in the three current NFL cities or in L.A. — make any damn sense, but I guess if I want that job done, I’m just going to have to do it myself.
Marine Layer of Newballpark.org watched NFL VP Eric Grubman’s three-hour “town hall” with Oakland Raiders fans so you didn’t have to, and his recap is well worth reading. If you just want it in bullet points, though, here you go:
This was a sad spectacle, not that anyone should have expected anything different: “As each story about generational bonding or heartbreak was heard, the more it sounded like groveling. That’s what the owners and the NFL have reduced fans to doing: begging to keep the team in town. … Some guy within NFL Films will be tasked with editing the combined nine hours of testimony down to probably 30 minutes that will be consumed by the collective 32 NFL owners at a future league meeting. I don’t envy that person one bit.”
Grubman is the NFL’s answer to George Clooney’s smarmy hatchet man in Up in the Air: “Grubman’s ability to empathize with every fan and speaker was amazing to watch. Veterans and government employees received laudatory Thank you for your service salutations. Several times he prefaced a remark with, I know what it’s like to be a fan. It was as breathtaking and sickening a performance as I’ve ever seen – including Clooney’s, which netted him an Oscar nomination.”
Nobody has a magic wand: “No one wants to be left with the check at the end of the night, whether it’s Davis and his ownership partners, the City of Oakland and Alameda County, or stadium financiers. This is not a trivial amount of money – $400 million – that we’re talking about. Fans need to stop treating this issue like it is.”
That’s about the size of it. Not like any of this public charade is likely to matter much in the end — that’s going to come down to 32 guys in a room and someone with a list of subsidy promises and an adding machine — but it’s important to remember that even corporate sports behemoths feel the need to worry a smidge about public perceptions.
“I think Mark Fabiani has been poisonous to a solution for the Chargers remaining in San Diego,” [Jason Cabel] Roe said. “From the very beginning of this process he has done nothing but mislead the mayor’s office, the fans and civic leaders on what the team’s intentions are.”
This does not at first seem to be the best way to get talks going with an unwilling partner, calling their lead negotiator “poisonous.” But then, you have to consider which audience Faulconer’s office is actually playing to. As it becomes clearer that 1) none of the cities facing team threats to move to L.A. (San Diego, St. Louis, Oakland) have the kind of slam-dunk overwhelmingly lucrative subsidy offers that will instantly win over team owners, and 2) the other NFL owners are going to have to pick which one or two teams get to move to L.A. and which have to stay home, mayors are starting to think about how to lobby the league directly to say “Look, we tried, the people on the other side of the table won’t listen, please don’t take our team!”
It probably won’t work — NFL owners may not all like each other, but they still like each other more than they like city mayors — but it’s worth a shot. Besides, when Mark Fabiani is just coming off an appearance at one of those bizarro NFL listening tour events where he was almost booed off the stage, it’s easy to score points by attacking him in public. And when you’re playing a game where the winners and losers are going to be determined by 32 rich guys in a room somewhere, scoring political points may be the only sure move you have.
“If everything is moving ahead, obviously we’re not going to be standing on the sidelines and watching everything go by,” Fabiani told Dan Sileo on the Mighty 1090 AM. “We’ve got to stay in the game to protect the franchise.”
I mean, of course they are: Filing relocation papers doesn’t commit anybody to actually moving to L.A., it just keeps your options open, or at least as open as the other NFL owners decide to allow them to be. Everything that’s been reported in every city in recent weeks about the L.A. relocation dance has been just a matter of creating leverage, and we can expect to see it continue as the next window for an NFL decision (roughly January-February) grows ever nearer, though the league still has the option to punt everything to 2017. I’d still put my money on that, frankly — there’s still a lot of shaking down of St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland yet to be done — but I don’t expect anything to get much clearer before the last minute. Until then, we have announcements like this to fill column inches.
Yeah, I know. The difference between the new tax, which Briggs actually first proposed back in August with no mention of the Chargers, and the old one is apparently that the old one goes to a fund controlled by hotel owners, while the new one could be used by the city for anything. Like, say, a new convention center and football stadium. Or “basic city services such as infrastructure backlog, street, sidewalk, and pothole repairs, public safety, and beaches and lifeguards, parks, and libraries,” but Briggs didn’t get much press traction when he said that, so might as well try it this way now.
Briggs’s plan would require a vote of San Diego residents, if he can even get it on the ballot, which is an open question. It’s something else to throw into the NFL-to-L.A. move threat hopper, anyway, that’s at least no more ridiculous than the other rumors out there.
“That’s what we have to see is the term sheet — you know, what’s the firm commitment,” McNair told the Post-Dispatch during a break between sessions of the owners’ October meeting here. “If they’re going to do something, they need to act.
McNair said he did not know what was holding up the process.
McNair — “a respected NFL owner” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s report — also brandished the bossy stick at officials in San Diego and Oakland who haven’t snapped to it to meet their teams’ stadium demands:
McNair said the committee hasn’t “seen much in Oakland,” and worried that San Diego is moving too slowly on a public vote regarding stadium financing.
“They’re talking about an election in June. And I think that would be too late,” he said of San Diego. “They could have had one in January, but they’re not ready for that.”
“We hope in the next few weeks,” McNair said, “we’ll have firm commitments from these cities as to what they’ll do and what they won’t do.”
All part of the stadium playbook (see “Two-Minute Warning”), in other words. It’s kind of a new twist having another owner deliver the message instead of the commissioner or one of his henchmen, but maybe Eric Grubman was otherwise occupied.