Let’s Agree to Agree

Do all cities run this way? 

Eleven years ago, both of Los Angeles’ NFL teams moved away.  The Raiders abandoned the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, while the Rams, having ditched the Coliseum some 20 years prior, abandoned their Anaheim home.  Both teams went to places that, on the face of it, shouldn’t be stealing teams from such a big market. St. Louis? A city of little distinction, size or importance.  Oakland?  Interesting city, totally in the shadow of its glamorous neighbor across the Bay. 

Since these historic defections, what’s happened?  LA’s political community has all agreed: The NFL will come back.  It has to.  Without the Los Angeles market, the National Football League is not truly “national.”  A generation of sports fans in this gigantic market will grow up without an interest in pro football. The league will be hurt! And once the pain becomes intolerable, just watch, they’ll come crawling back, on our terms.

And what are our terms?  That the next Los Angeles NFL franchise will play in the Coliseum.

It’s an Orwellian thoughtcrime to think any other site even deserves consideration.  If you don’t think so, ask Michael Ovitz.  Or Peter O’Malley.  Or Tim Leiweke, Philip Anschutz and Casey Wasserman. Or, today, Dodger owner Frank McCourt:

The City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger all have publicly endorsed the Coliseum.

“I’ve got to believe he [McCourt] didn’t understand the depth and the extent of the community consensus behind the Coliseum as the site for an NFL team in Los Angeles,” Villaraigosa said.

(Supervisor Zev) Yaroslavsky said the Dodgers had “broken ranks with what has been a united community — the business, sports, political and environmental communities, all of them behind the Coliseum project.”

Councilman Ed Reyes, whose district includes Dodger Stadium, said he would not support a football stadium there and noted that McCourt had promised to keep elected officials and community leaders informed of any potential development on the site. Reyes said McCourt had not spoken with him about an NFL stadium.

“If he’s making these overtures, it’s a big blow to the folks who are building a level of trust with him,” Reyes said. “That’s important when you’re dealing with issues of that scale.”

This “community consensus” is more accurately described as “the party line.” Deviance from it is not tolerated–despite the fact that the NFL’s made it clear in ways both direct and subtle that it doesn’t want to bring another team to this stadium.

Yes, I’m aware that just last month, local news outlets were able to shout in headlines that the NFL had reached a “preliminary agreement” to install a team in the Coliseum.  These headlines followed a meeting between NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Mayor Villaraigosa. But what did they really agree on?  According to the AP story:

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue emerged from a closed-door meeting with the mayor, stood on the steps of City Hall and announced that a preliminary agreement had been reached to finally return a team to Los Angeles.

After answering reporters’ questions for 15 minutes, even he couldn’t gauge the significance of his announcement Thursday.

“I’d rather not try,” Tagliabue said as he was guided into the back seat of a limousine and whisked away.

Even Mayor Villaraigosa’s own press release is a sticky mess of rhetoric that leads in no particular direction:

“Mr. Tagliabue and I had a very productive meeting and great exchange. There is both tremendous enthusiasm and spirited consensus in our community about the Coliseum as the preeminent venue for professional football. Leaders from the city, county and state have all come together to prepare the groundwork here. It’s time for professional football to come home to the Coliseum after 13 years — to become part of our community, to generate jobs and economic vitality, and to create new moments of football history.”

I think the agreement between the NFL and the city/county/state comes down to this.  From the NFL:  We’ll tell our owners to stop saying that renovating the Coliseum is like “trying to put a new dress on an old hooker.”  From LA: We’ll continue to pretend it matters if the NFL ever comes back.

Meanwhile, McCourt is in the doghouse for pursuing one of the various alternatives that actually makes sense–putting an NFL stadium on the Dodgers’ land.  Because McCourt is widely disliked, his political and PR gaffe is generating much schadenfreude.  (The PR people around McCourt knew full well the impact this would have; it’s surprising they let this happen.) But it reminds me of the sad hash former Mayor Riordan made when he first asked Peter O’Malley to look into the same idea and then–after O’Malley burned through about a million dollars and a year and a half of his life on preliminary studies–Riordan withdrew his support, and demanded O’Malley withdraw.

It’s been reported in many places that this embarassing chain-jerking was the final straw for O’Malley. He would have continued as owner of the Dodgers if he’d had the chance to also own an NFL franchise. The two together would have made a profit for him. But when Riordan pulled the rug out from under him, O’Malley was forced to realize he couldn’t afford to keep the Dodgers.  And so they were sold to Fox, and then by Fox to McCourt. Understandably, Dodger fans continue to wish there was such a thing as time travel so all that could have been averted.

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