Los Angeles Doesn't Need An NFL Team
By Mark Yost
“I’ve never been much for news stories that are based almost solely on speculation, but I think the economic evidence is pretty compelling that the Minnesota Vikings will soon be the Los Angeles Vikings.”
I wrote that back in 2007. Since then, the voters of Minnesota – not exactly a level-headed bunch – have proven me wrong. The Vikings are actually going to stay in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and get a brand new stadium, paid for, of course, by the taxpayers. What hasn’t changed is the NFL’s obsession with La-La-Land.
The NFL has been hell-bent on getting a franchise in Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the country, since Al Davis took the Raiders back to Oakland. And it’s the one thing in the NFL business model that makes absolutely no sense. (Yes, I know the Cowboys have given Tony Romo a new $100 million contract. Trust me, this is crazier.) The fact is, no one from Madison Avenue, the television networks or the NFL itself really knows how much a Los Angeles franchise would be worth to the NFL’s bottom line. The smart answer seems to be, “Not much.” Furthermore, many Angelenos actually like not having a local NFL franchise.
“Watching the NFL here is great,” said Mark Savino, a transplanted New Yorker who now lives in Hermosa Beach. “You stay out late on Saturday night, roll over in bed on Sunday morning about 9:30 and flip on the TV and there’s the NFL. And because we don’t have a team, you get six games every week [the four network broadcasts, as well as the Sunday- and Monday-night games]. It’s really the best place to be an NFL fan.”
Before Aug. 29, 2005, the NFL’s plan was to move the Saints to Los Angeles. Before its recent run with Drew Brees, Reggie Bush and Co., the Saints had one of the worst records in NFL history. Founded in 1967, it was 20 years before the Saints had a winning season. Again, before Sean Payton came to town, they were one of six NFL franchises never to have played in a Super Bowl or NFL Championship game. Despite this abysmal record, the team had a core of loyal fans. But the NFL theorized that this loyal fan base would get over the team’s departure as soon as the next Mardi Gras rolled around.
Adding momentum to the move, the team’s lease was set to expire at the decrepit Louisiana Superdome. And it was no secret that team owner Tom Benson wanted to move the team to San Antonio, where he made his fortune selling used cars. He even had support from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who said he’d find money in the state budget to renovate the Alamodome or build a new stadium. While Benson had his heart set on Texas, there was no doubt that then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue could have sweetened the pot enough to get him to move the team to Los Angeles. In a league that generates about $10 billion a year in revenues,all things are possible.
Then Hurricane Katrina made landfall, hitting the NFL almost as hard as it hit the Ninth Ward. Although the storm and its damage to the Superdome seemed like the perfect out for the team, the NFL and the Benson family understood that it would be a public relations nightmare to move the team to L.A. It would look like the Saints were abandoning the city in its darkest hour. So in 2006, fueled by sympathy in the wake of the storm and the acquisition of (eventually disgraced) Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush, the Saints sold out their season tickets for the first time in franchise history. That’s when the NFL erased any thoughts of moving the Saints.
Side story: I went to the Sport Illustrated Global Sports Media Conference in Chicago about a week after Reggie Bush gave back his Heisman. Saints owner Rita Benson LeBlanc gave one of the keynote addresses. After telling the crowd of mostly sports marketing executives how vital the Saints were to the city after Katrina, how much they gave hope to people who had lost everything, what pillars of the community they were, I politely raised my hand, stood up and said, “Mark Yost from The Wall Street Journal. If the Saints are really the role models you claim they are, then why is Reggie Bush still on the payroll?” The boos and hisses stopped about 10 minutes later.
Anyway, Katrina wrecked the NFL’s plan to move the Saints to L.A. Plan B was to move the Vikings. Then the Progressives who are “Proud to Pay for a Better Minnesota” (that was a campaign yard sign in 2004) decided they had a spare $700 million laying around to buy Zygi Wilf, the New Jersey strip mall developer who owns the Vikings, a new stadium. They’re still haggling over whether or not the site will have an Indian casino and use renewable energy to power the parking lot lights.
So the NFL is left with what is apparently an insatiable (and unexplainable) desire for an L.A. franchise, and none of the 32 teams they control wants to move. As a further sign of the NFL’s obsession, there were rumors this spring that they talked to Magic Johnson about buying the Chavez Ravine, even though they don’t have a tenant. So what should the NFL do?
Given the fact that about thousands of people are leaving California each day because of the poor economy, I think the NFL should keep things just the way they are. More over, they should advertise the fact that L.A. is one of the last places on Earth where you can wake up every Sunday and not be tortured by the NFL’s broadcast rights scheme. I might just lure some people back.