The buzz about the NFL returning to Los Angeles after a 17-year absence ratcheted up last week after the disclosure of the five teams that have been contacted about relocating.
Expect the drumbeat only to get louder from here.
Whenever the lockout ends -- be it in July or September or whenever else -- the two groups that have plans to build in the expansive L.A. area will move forward. AEG CEO Tim Leiweke, whose downtown group named names last week, told me earlier this year that it would take the "right CBA" for the L.A. Live project to get really serious, and it looks like eventually that CBA will come.
So is it time to worry in Minnesota, San Diego, Oakland, Jacksonville and St. Louis? Yes and no. There's work to be done in those, the five cities that Leiweke pulled out of his hat. But no one's moving until, at the very earliest, 2012 and the truth, from what I've heard, is that those teams were named because they were the obvious ones. In fact, the pool AEG is looking at is actually deeper than just the five clubs being mentioned.
That is, in large part, because there are no slam-dunk candidates to go to L.A. As such, the five above make sense for some reasons, and don't for others.
Why it makes sense: At one time, the NFL saw Jacksonville as a potential Atlanta -- a sunbelt city with enormous growth potential. That growth never happened, and Jacksonville is now the nation's 49th-ranked television market, trailing such metropolises as Albuquerque, N.M. and Greensboro, N.C. The team now covers up 10,000 seats in its cavernous 76,000-seat stadium, and had seven of its eight games in 2009 blacked out.
Why it doesn't: First and foremost, the lease will be difficult for the Jaguars to wriggle out of. The team renewed a decade ago, extending the deal to 2030 and strengthening the lease's language. Also, a strong effort by management helped fuel a 2010 revival, with each home game classified a sellout (covered seats and some unsold premium seating notwithstanding) and on local TV, though some questions remain as to whether that's sustainable.
Chances: Without the market growing, it's hard to see where the franchise will be in Jacksonville long-term. But the lease will be an issue for anyone looking to pack the team up and move it.
Why it makes sense: The easiest team to move logistically, with a lease expiring after the 2011 season, and the extenuating circumstance of a busted stadium. Additionally, in the last 10 years, the NHL's Wild, the MLB's Twins and the University of Minnesota's football program have gotten new facilities. And the public is reluctant to pitch in on another project. For all those reasons, this situation isn't totally unlike what the Browns -- with the Cavs and Indians in new places and a broke owner -- faced in the mid-1990s.
Why it doesn't: Quite simply, the NFL doesn't want it to happen. Minneapolis has always been a strong market for the league, and it's not a small one, sitting as the nation's 15th-largest, ahead of Miami and Denver. And on top of that, the Twin Cities house an outsized number of corporate headquarters, and have a strong concentration of wealth, factors that aren't small ones when considering a team's business model.
Chances: Minnesotans have to be careful here, or whistling by the graveyard could land them a similar fate to what the people of Cleveland got. But it'd take a lot for the Vikings to flee.
Why it makes sense: First, and most obvious, is the fact that the Raiders spent over a decade in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and have a built-in fan base. Some crazies still make the trip up the coast for games, 16 years after the Raiders left. Also, the Raiders are in a deplorable stadium situation, with the lease expiring following the 2013 season, and rank clearly as the second team in a large, but not overwhelmingly big market (behind the 49ers). Also, seven of the team's eight 2010 home games were blacked out.
Why it doesn't: Al Davis' succession plan has been kept under lock-and-key (Son Mark Davis? CEO Amy Trask?), so that complicates matters, as does the team's previous departure for Los Angeles and subsequent return to Oakland. There are, no doubt, some in the league who don't want the NFL's future in L.A. handed to Davis. And then, there's the fact that having a second Bay Area team as part of the deal could help the 49ers finally get their new stadium built.
Chances: Like many things with the Raiders, this one is foggy. Do they make some sense? Sure. But because of the club's past, this is a sticky one.
St. Louis Rams
Why it makes sense: New owner Stan Kroenke is on the NFL's eight-member Los Angeles Stadium Working Group, which has raised eyebrows in the past, and the city is, of course, where the Rams came from when moving to St. Louis in 1995. The Edward Jones Dome is also in that "middling" area, outdated but perhaps too new to replace. The Rams have an out after the 2014 season if the club isn't playing in a "state-of-the-art" facility (either renovated or new).
Why it doesn't: While St. Louis is one of the few cities the NFL is in that it does not "own" (It's a baseball town), the Rams have gotten plenty of support when they've been good, posting a 95-game sellout streak at one point. And it's the country's 21st-largest television market, so it's big enough to succeed. Attendance did wane in recent lean years, but during last year's Steve Spagnuolo/Sam Bradford renaissance, the Rams managed to avoid having any blackouts.
Chances: On the surface, this appears to be a fallback option for the Los Angeles groups. As in, "If we're still without a team in 2014, maybe we make a run at the Rams."
San Diego Chargers
Why it makes sense: Like the Raiders, there is a built-in fan base to arrive to for this team. The Chargers can buy out of their lease, which runs through 2020, now for $24 million, and that figure drops as time goes on. Even as a consistent contender, San Diego hasn't killed it at the box office, and had three games blacked out last fall. But maybe most important is that the Spanos family has been working for more than a decade to solve the stadium situation, and eventually, they might be forced to look elsewhere.
Why it doesn't: Something both the Raiders and Chargers could face is that, in the end, the California government might be less cooperative with an L.A. stadium if it's a matter of simply moving a business already in the state, rather than adding one. Also, the Spanos family -- which recently took the team off the market -- has spent millions of dollars on the local stadium effort, proving their commitment to the area. So the Chargers might make more sense, eventually, as L.A.'s second team, rather than the first.
Chances: The Chargers have been a threat to move for some time. It seems like the Spanos family genuinely doesn't want to pull the trigger. But eventually, enough becomes enough. This is one worth watching.