Sunday, May 02, 2010

Foot ball Games

If there's anything more loopy than the history of professional football in Los Angeles, I don't know what it would be. Maybe a Marx Brothers movie.

First, the Rams win the hearts and minds of fans during their 34-year run at the Coliseum, where they are almost always a winner. Then the team is inherited by a brassy ex-showgirl who dumps her fans for the garden of delights that is Anaheim. Unfortunately, Knott's Berry Farm draws better crowds. And L.A. is left with a bad case of the St. Louis blues.

But wait. Here come the Raiders, who leave their ancestral home in Oakland and end up in the Coliseum much to the delight of gang-bangers, devil worshipers and drunks who make up most of their fan base. Al Davis can't get a new stadium deal done so he moves back to Oakland, leaving behind more lawsuits than victories.

Years pass. The Coliseum tries to lure back the NFL which, after the Ram and Raider debacles, would sooner award a franchise to North Korea.

A stadium is proposed on a toxic landfill in Carson. It fails the smell test. The Rose Bowl becomes a candidate. But someone forgot to ask its owners, the people of Pasadena, if they thought it was a good idea. They didn't.

Out of the gloom emerges local billionaire Ed Roski, who has a plan. He's got the land, he's got the connections, he's got the permits. He's going to build a 75,000-seat stadium in Industry. It's shovel ready, all he needs is a team and the support of the NFL.


He doesn't have either. Yet.

Suddenly, another proposal. Businessman Casey Wasserman along with Tim Leiweke, who built the sports and entertainment complex which includes Staples Center, L.A. Live and a 1,000-room hotel, are mulling a $1 billion domed stadium which would provide the exclamation mark for their sprawling downtown development.

Why a domed stadium in the land of endless summer? Because it would have a multitude of uses. Supporters, letting their imaginations run wild, are already envisioning it hosting the Super Bowl, the World Cup, the Final Four, the Olympics, even two, that's right two, NFL teams.

"This is the final piece to the downtown puzzle," Wasserman told the press. "It's the only chance for the city to benefit from the economic power of a stadium of this caliber."

Wasserman apparently doesn't like to sugarcoat things. Either the city gets on board or they commit economic suicide.

So L.A., which has no team and only lip service from the NFL, has instead The Battle of the Billionaires, Roski versus Leiweke/Wasserman, no holds barred. The winner gets to tango with a bunch of skeptical NFL owners, a group of gentlemen who make Goldman Sachs look like Habitat for Humanity.

This contest isn't even started yet but this we know:

Never bet against Ed Roski. His tenacity in trying to lure the NFL to Los Angeles has been remarkable. He's spent millions trying to make his dream come true.

But Industry might as well be just north of Moose Jaw, Saskatchawan, as far as the NFL is concerned. Roski's people like to say it's just a few miles from downtown L.A. but it's light years from the glitz and glitter of Hollywood. Believe it: star power makes a difference.

Industry is also a million miles from the center of power and influence in Southern California. Downtown is where the big boys in business and politics play. These people are salivating at the chance to have a big-time stadium and the money it generates in their neighborhood. Leiweke/Wasserman will have them eating out of their hands.

Downtown has history on its side. It is where most of our teams - Lakers, Kings, Dodgers, USC - have played. It's where we hold parades to salute our heroes and funerals to remember them.

Industry has freeway access. Downtown has access by light rail and subway.Downtown has high-end hotels and restaurants. Know a good place to eat in Industry?

Most important, Leiweke/Wasserman say they plan to privately finance their stadium. As for Roski, his plan is for a team and the NFL to privately finance his stadium; Roski would likely hand over the land and entitlements and keep an equity stake in the team.

This newspaper reported recently that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has concerns. "While the stadium in the City of Industry has gotten many construction approvals, it still needs to be determined how to pay for it," he said, in a classic of understatement.

Advantage, Leiweke/Wasserman.

Whatever happens, it won't happen soon. The NFL faces a contentious union contract negotiations that could cancel the 2011 season. Until that is resolved, L.A. will continue to watch pro football on television.

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