|Denis Poroy / Associated Press|
|The Chargers' unsettling stadium situation in San Diego could pave the way for the team to leave for L.A.|
It's been 17 years since an NFL team called Los Angeles home. Who is most likely to make a move to L.A.?
Chargers could bolt San DiegoWhen I talk to influential people in L.A., people in the know and league sources about this, they believe the Chargers are the most likely candidate.
The Chargers began in Los Angeles and are by far the closest logistically. The prospects of getting a new stadium in San Diego to replace their outdated facility seem less than bright right now. The price of getting out of their lease decreases greatly, to $26 million, in 2011 and declines more from there into the future (and AEG, the group seeking to build a downtown stadium, is on record as saying that sum would not be a big obstacle). The Chargers play an attractive brand of football with no shortage of offensive stars.
In a "sexy" city like L.A., that would play well. Sources see this ultimately ending up with AEG buying an existing team, the current owners remaining as minority owners and quite possibly remaining on owners committees. Dean Spanos, for instance, in this hypothetical situation, could remain on the powerful labor committee that is working to resolve the labor crisis.
The project in City of Industry (about 20 miles east of L.A.) is still viable as well, but most in league circles I've talked to would much prefer to be in downtown L.A. If you build it, they will come, and within 10 years I could see two teams -- one existing and one expansion -- playing in the "City of Angels" if the facility gets built.
Chargers can stay in SoCalAlthough it's very viable and possible that Minnesota, Buffalo and Oakland could be teams on the move to SoCal, the Chargers would seem like the most probable. The Chargers need a new stadium, and they most likely won't get it in San Diego unless some private funding emerges. The private funding is set to go in Los Angeles. The Bolts also can opt out of their lease with roughly a year's notification. Though L.A. remains a huge Raiders town, it would embrace the Chargers. Timeframe: Three to four years.
Lost time is a factorWe will hear all about Jacksonville, Minnesota and even Buffalo, but I think the team that will wind up in L.A. will be the Chargers. They can't get a stadium deal in San Diego, and there will not have to be any realignment issues.
Another Minnesota team will move to L.A.I can see the Vikings playing in L.A. within about three years. I simply don't have very much faith that Minneapolis is going to ever deliver the stadium that the Vikings want and need to remain competitive there. The effort continues to receive what appears to be strong opposition, and there's no reason to believe that will change any time soon. At some point, team owner Zygi Wilf is going to have something along the lines of a billion-dollar check dangled in front of him, and as much as he doesn't want to move his team, he just might not have any choice.
Raiders back in L.A. makes all kinds of senseThe two teams that make the most sense reside within the state's borders -- the Chargers and Raiders. The question with both is how cooperative California's government will be if the downtown project isn't adding a business to the state, but stealing from Peter to give to Paul. The Vikings have the most pain-free path, with an expiring lease, but the NFL desperately wants to keep them in the Twin Cities, a mid-size market with an outsized number of corporate headquarters and wealth. The league would be less resistant to move the Jaguars, but their lease will be tough to wriggle out from.
And ... well, you get the point. There isn't an easy candidate here, which is why AEG has cast a wide net. It's also why I'll dance around this question, and go with the club that makes the most sense.
That would be the Raiders, landing there in time for the 2014 season. There's a built in fan base in L.A., and the league would actually be helping another team -- the 49ers -- by moving them out of Oakland. Despite the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the last 25 years, the Raiders remain a powerful brand and one reason the NFL has been so hesitant to dive headlong into L.A. is they want to get it right the next time. This time, the Raiders wouldn't be playing in a beat-up stadium on the wrong side of the tracks, and AEG could realize its vision of creating a "Lakers of the NFL" type of atmosphere with a historic franchise arriving.
Issues do remain. There's the above dynamic of simply moving a business, rather than adding one, but the presence of the 49ers in the Bay Area does mitigate that a bit. Then, there's the fact that it's hard to envision Al Davis and the league cooperating to make this happen, and the reality that very few people have any clue what the succession plan for the franchise is, and the desire of AEG to own a large piece of the team, something Davis probably wouldn't sign off on.
Ultimately, though, someone has to go there. If the above stumbling blocks could be overcome, a return to L.A. would make perfect sense for the Raiders and the NFL.
NFL's 'Manifest Destiny' means expansion for L.A.I eventually see an expansion team playing in Los Angeles, and I see it happening in time for the 2020 season. That team will come in line with the first non-United States based NFL team established in London or Toronto. The commissioner's dream, his "Manifest Destiny," becomes a reality before he exits the office.
Move wouldn't be a 'black eye'The Jaguars, unfortunately. It seems like that franchise just can't buy a break lately, except for a rebounded Hail Mary. Fans haven't shown up enough the last couple of years (especially 2009), and the club would surely make tremendous gains financially with a relocation to the nation's second-largest market. Another issue working against Jacksonville is public sentiment. Few people want to see the Vikings or Chargers move. They have much in the way of tradition and strong rivalries, while the Jags do not, at least on a nationally recognizable level. I just don't see a huge outcry from the rest of the NFL cities if they move, meaning it's not a black eye for the league the way the Browns' departure was. That said, I also don't see a club moving to L.A. by 2012. But the Jags could wind up there by 2013 or 2014.