To Live and Die in L.A. Must there be a team in the City of Angels? The question bedevils the NFL

June 01, 2003

Surely the most startling thing about the sports landscape--at
first glance--is that the king of all leagues, the NFL, has no
team in America's second-largest market, Los Angeles. Since
attendance woes made the Raiders and the Rams bolt for Oakland
and St. Louis, respectively, in 1995, L.A. has supported two
hockey teams, two baseball teams and two basketball teams but has
only a great void where there once was pro football. Last week
NFL owners voted to spend $10 million to explore the development
of a 157-acre plot in the south L.A. suburb of Carson for a
football-only stadium. "The league has a passion and a dedication
to make the L.A. market work," said Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, one
of several NFL owners bullish on L.A. "I think we need to be
there."

But why? Three pro teams (Chargers, Raiders, Rams) have failed in
L.A. since 1960. There is also evidence that anything but a
consistent winner in L.A. would hurt the NFL in future
negotiations with Fox and CBS. Currently, with no hometown teams,
L.A. fans get three marquee network games every Sunday. If a team
returns to L.A. and is playing at home, one marquee game will be
replaced by a home game if it is sold out or a blackout if it
isn't. When the L.A. team is on the road, one marquee game would
also be replaced. If the L.A. team is lousy, ratings would
plummet. The net effect would almost certainly be lower Nielsen
ratings. "If the L.A. Armadillos are 2-10 in December and getting
blacked out," says David Hill, chairman and CEO of Fox Sports,
"how does that help our business?"

Hill says he can't explain the league's continuing obsession with
L.A. "As astute a business as the NFL is, I can't figure this one
out," he says. "This whole exercise seems to be hope over
experience. The Rams and the Raiders couldn't make a go of it and
fled by night. What's changed in eight years? I wish the NFL
would understand that if there isn't a franchise in L.A., the sun
won't sink into the ocean." --Peter King

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (TOP) NO SNAP The Rams and Raiders, who shared the L.A. turf in '94,couldn't make ends meet.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)