Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Thorny Issue

Another National Football League season has begun without a team in Los Angeles.

And once again, the apathy is overwhelming.

Let's face it. We have two college football teams with bigtime fan bases in town. UCLA drew an average of 76,000 fans to the Rose Bowl last year with a mediocre team. And you couldn't get a ticket to a USC game at the Coliseum if your name was Tommy Trojan.

The NFL, after an absence of 14 years, just doesn't generate much buzz around here anymore.

Unless your name is Ed Roski.

Ed, part owner of the Lakers and Kings and co-owner of Staples Center, has gobs of money and the passion to bring the NFL back to the Los Angeles area.

He's so passionate, in fact, he has unveiled a plan to build a $800 million stadium in the city of Industry. All he needs is a team.

Which is like saying I can fly. All I need is wings.

If fans in Los Angeles are skeptical, they should be. The wreckage of other NFL plans lie strewn about like so much hurricane debris.

But let's engage in the willing suspension of disbelief for a few moments and presume Ed does the deal.

The Chargers or the Raiders or some other team rises to the bait and moves to Los Angeles.

The first thing the team would need is a place to play while their new stadium is being built.

Enter the Rose Bowl.

Eager to generate revenues for much needed improvements to their aging facility, a NFL team, even as a temporary tenant, would appear to be nothing short of Santa Claus to the Rose Bowl folks. They need hundreds of millions of dollars to bring their stadium into the 21st Century.

When they call the Rose Bowl the "Granddaddy of Them All," the emphasis is on "granddaddy." The place is 86 years old. It operates at a loss. It needs new seats, new tunnels, upgraded video and scoreboards, lighting and sound systems. It needs luxury suites to generate revenue.

It needs to be able to compete.

But there is a downside to all of this. Consider:

If Roski builds his stadium, you can be sure he wants to keep it full. Empty stadia cost money. Full ones create income. So it would be no surpise if Ed would enter the bidding to host the BCS college football championship game, a contest that has been held at the Rose Bowl in the past in rotation with other stadia in the country.

What Roski could offer is a state-of-the-art facility with abundent luxury boxes and other amenities the Rose Bowl, in its current state, couldn't hope to match.

The resulting loss of revenue for the Rose Bowl would be a blow not only to its financial future but to its stature as well, something the city of Pasadena could ill afford.

It is probably far-fetched to think that Roski's new stadium would pick off UCLA or the Tournament of Roses games as tenants. Far fetched but not impossible. With the exception of the Rose, all of the original stadia that hosted New Year's games - the Cotton, Sugar and Orange- have been or are being demolished, the games being played in new facilities miles from the originals.

We may be getting ahead of ourselves here. Roski doesn't have a team, the NFL still appears to view Los Angeles with disdain, the Rose Bowl is still packing them in.

But Los Angeles hasn't had a new stadium since the Coliseum was opened for business in 1923. The odds favor a new one sooner rather than later. And if Roski makes his plan work, the ramifications both pro and con could reach right into Pasadena.

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