The NFL has a mess on its hands.
In less than a month, the league wants to vote on how to solve the Los Angeles riddle, to fill the vacancy that’s existed for 20 years.
The Raiders and San Diego Chargers have teamed on a stadium plan in Carson. The St. Louis Rams are backing a competing proposal in Inglewood.
Although Oakland has done the least to keep the Raiders, that team seems the most torn about leaving its market. The Raiders also have the least financial horsepower of the three, and the least support among NFL ownership to move. Yet with zero movement for years on a new stadium in Oakland, owner Mark Davis has little choice but to explore L.A. if he’s receiving little financial help to stay in the East Bay.
An L.A. solution has never been closer — yet the standoff among the clubs grows more contentious by the day, with other owners lining up and picking sides. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is in the middle, with no simple way to make everyone happy.
A year ago this week, the NFL informed the three teams it was pushing the pause button on L.A. and would spend the next several months zeroing in on a workable site and plan. The Raiders and Rams stayed quiet, while the Chargers announced they would spend the year working on a stadium solution with San Diego.
As it stands, there’s no NFL consensus on a plan, and the Chargers and San Diego are essentially divorced, with the club walking away from the negotiating table in June.
Last week, the Chargers arranged for Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger to talk to reporters in L.A. and nationally, to tout the Carson plan. The idea is for him to oversee the stadium if that’s the proposal the NFL owners choose.
During his interview, Iger disclosed it was Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson who urged him this summer to come aboard to help the Chargers and Raiders. It was an interesting revelation because Richardson is a member of the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities, so he’s especially influential in the process.
While it’s hard not to see that as a conflict of interest, maybe it’s just how the sausage is made in these business deals. Still, for a league whose integrity has taken a beating lately, it casts an unflattering shadow on the process.
This week, amid what appears to be a behind-the-scenes PR campaign to make Carson seem inevitable, Houston Texans owner Bob McNair — an L.A. committee member who was far more measured at league meetings this month — simultaneously slammed the city of San Diego and praised efforts by St. Louis to keep the Rams. He predicted the Raiders and Chargers would move to Carson and that the Rams would stay in St. Louis
Evidently, someone also promised an extra $100 million from the NFL to make a stadium deal work in St. Louis, even though such a decision would require a three-quarters-majority vote of the league’s 32 owners. That money was never approved — and the cities of Oakland and San Diego might be wondering, “Where’s ours?”
Goodell on Thursday sent a warning letter to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and his stadium task force, saying the notion of increasing the league’s contribution from $200 million to $300 million to a St. Louis stadium is “fundamentally inconsistent with the NFL’s program of stadium financing.”
“No proposal has yet been presented to increase the available financing beyond the current $200 million maximum,” Goodell wrote, “and there can be no assurance that such a proposal would achieve the necessary support.”
Each of the three teams faces significant relocation hurdles.
Even though NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman said in a recent radio interview that none of the three home markets has come up with an attractive stadium deal, St. Louis has done the most to keep its team while Oakland has done the least — as in nothing, though some owners did like Mayor Libby Schaaf’s presentation in New York last month. The Rams potentially would be walking away from a significant amount of public money, and the NFL is not in the habit of doing that.
The Rams’ moving to L.A. does not solve the stadium problems the Raiders and Chargers have faced for years. And Rams owner Stan Kroenke is not going to win any popularity contests among owners, many of whom were not happy when he bought the Hollywood Park land in the first place.
But it was Kroenke who got all this activity started in L.A. and the home markets, when he announced his Inglewood plan last January. He was the bold one who took the risk, tipping the first rock that became a landslide. For that reason — and the millions of dollars he’s spent so far — he’s not going to walk away without a fight.
The Chargers are looking to move to a market where they have no discernible fan base. When the franchise moved training camp to Carson in 2003, The Times counted 24 people who showed up to watch the first day of practice. (The crowd was closer to 75 for the afternoon session.) The team wound up returning to San Diego after two summers.
“Are we in L.A.?” joked Drew Brees, then the Chargers’ starting quarterback, after the first workout in Carson. “We’re just kind of right outside L.A. or a little close to Orange County, right?”
Considering the strained-to-the-breaking-point relations between the Chargers and San Diego now, it’s hard to believe the current fans will be making the long slog up the 5/405 to watch games on fall Sundays. Proponents of the Carson stadium point to proximity of Orange County and the sheer number of football fans in the region.
No matter how you slice it — Raiders and Chargers, or Rams and Chargers — the Chargers will always be regarded as the other team in L.A., unless they can build a fan base from scratch the way the Clippers or Arizona Cardinals have, which can take decades. Both the Rams and Raiders have robust followings here.
Despite all the sound and fury surrounding this, neither of the plans has the required 24 votes to pass. If one side had enough votes to get its plan approved, this situation would be salted away by now. The NFL is deeply divided.
This won’t be decided in the media. This will be decided at some point, among the owners and behind closed doors. And when those doors open, the league wants those owners to be smiling.
With the next meeting planned for Jan. 12-13 in Houston, the NFL has less than a month to go. And miles upon miles.