Football fans in Los Angeles were greeted with hopeful news last Friday when the Los Angeles Times revealed a memo from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spelling out the league's policy for returning to Southland. The memo made it perfectly clear that the NFL, and not individual teams, will be the final arbiter of any L.A. relocation.
Debate over a hidden meaning in Goodell's memo has reignited the discussion of football's return to L.A., after almost 20 years without it. There are a handful of teams nearing a decision point with their current stadium lease, giving the memo a simple intent of timing.
Related: Roger Goodell's Memo To NFL Teams
Goodell's memo emphasized that teams must exhaust the possibilities for finding a stadium solution in their current market before pulling up roots for Los Angeles, something that should reassure local fans.
Albert Breer of the NFL Network said on Monday, via Twitter, that the NFL was in "no rush" to return to L.A. The league has a powerful degree of economic certainty at the moment with a collective bargaining agreement and television deals. The possibility of an expansion team, or teams, has also been mentioned in the past but mostly in passing. The NFL hasn't given any indication they're looking at expansion.
Nevertheless, with two potential, and viable, stadium projects in the area and a handful of teams with lease and stadium issues, last Friday's memo made fans of a few teams at least a little edgy.
So which teams are on L.A. watch and what are the chances of a move? The first team to keep an eye on is already in California.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are in a year-to-year lease on Qualcomm Stadium through 2020. They announced their intention to play there for the 2012 season in January, a move that was widely expected. The arrangement makes them the only team that could technically bolt for L.A. in 2013. Owner Alex Spanos and the city keep looking for a path toward a new stadium that would be financed largely through public dollars.
The team wants a new multipurpose facility in downtown San Diego that includes a convention center expansion. Using public money for a new stadium is not a popular idea; both mayoral candidates oppose using public funds for a stadium project. Convention center officials are also said to be reticent about partnering with the Chargers, since a football stadium could severely limit convention usage during the season. The Chargers downplayed the league's memo on Monday but what else are they supposed to say.
The Chargers can make the case that they made their best effort to reach a solution in San Diego, as required by the NFL. Whether or not the NFL would buy that at this point is questionable. Still, San Diego remains the most viable option under the current landscape.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams and the city's Convention and Visitors Commission, the owners of the Edward Jones Dome, entered arbitration last month in the hopes of finding a compromise solution on a renovation plan for the Dome. The city pitched a $124 million proposal, with slightly more than half the cost to be paid by the team, that did some fixing up around the edges.
The Rams presented a plan estimated to cost around $700 million. Finding a middle ground will not be easy.
What the Rams and the CVC are trying to do is come up with a plan to make the Dome a "first tier" facility, as stipulated by the lease. If the Dome does not meet those vague requirements, the Rams can break their lease in the spring of 2014. If the CVC agrees to the plan presented through arbitration, it locks the Rams into their lease. However, that plan would likely be costly and require some public dollars, which the city has said they will not use without public approval.
The Raiders want a new stadium, and their current lease runs out after the 2013 season. Mark Davis, who inherited the team from his father, has resisted the urging of others to play in a shared Santa Clara facility with the 49ers. Davis stated a preference to stay in Oakland, but he acknowledged the desire to get more revenue out of the Raiders' future home. Public cash for a new facility seems highly unlikely in the faltering California economy.
Ownership of the Raiders is another issue to keep an eye on going forward. Control of the team went to Davis' mother upon Al Davis' death last year. That allowed them to avoid the hefty estate tax bill, for now. The younger Davis will have to pay the estate tax on their majority share of the team upon Carol Davis' passing. While NFL teams are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, it is not the most liquid of assets. Estate tax bills have forced the sale of teams in the past, most recently the Rams when Georgia Frontiere died in 2008. The NFL may actually prefer Mark Davis sells the team, if the Raiders are indeed an option in LA.
The Bills are currently in negotiations over how to pay for renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium priced in the neighborhood of $200 million as well as new lease to replace the current one, which ends on July 31, 2013. The league's G-4 loan program and contributions from the team could soften the blow of a hefty public price tag.
Details of the negotiations over a new lease and renovations are few and far between, but an Erie County, N.Y., official spoke positively about the pace of talks in a recent report in the Buffalo News. The two sides would like to have the terms of the lease hammered out when training camp starts.
There is an additional urgency to get a new lease in place as owner Ralph Wilson approaches his 94th birthday in October of this year. Succession plans for the team are unknown, and reports of potential buyers have already surfaced.
The Jaguars are constantly and unfairly lumped into the Los Angeles discussion. Hidden behind the tarps at the EverBank field is a pretty ironclad lease that locks the team in through 2029, a fact often missed by pundits.
To break their lease, the Jaguars would have to show three consecutive years of operating at a loss, something that is extremely difficult in the increasingly profitable NFL, especially with new, richer television deals in place for 2014. A team opening its books might also cause heart attacks at 345 Park Ave. If the Jaguars did make it that far, they would be on the hook for the balance of the remaining rent, $750,000 a year in ticket surcharge fees and $200,000 per year in parking fees, both running through 2029. Relocation fees would add to that cost.