Play by play, the game un­folds

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Sam Farmer

Al­most six months ago, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke an­nounced plans to build an NFL sta­dium in In­gle­wood on the site of the old Hol­ly­wood Park race­track.

The San Diego Charg­ers and Oak­land Raiders re­sponded with a com­pet­ing plan of their own, a pro­posal for a shared sta­dium in Car­son.

Both sta­dium vi­sions cleared all the nec­es­sary en­ti­tle­ment hur­dles with blis­ter­ing speed.

Sud­denly, the Los An­ge­les mar­ket, the NFL’s most glar­ing va­cancy for the last 20 years, was f lush with op­tions.

Now the hard part: whit­tling down those op­tions to f ind an ac­tual so­lu­tion. In the com­ing months, the league will nav­i­gate a minef ield — own­ers pit­ted against own­ers — in an ef­fort to solve one of the big­gest rid­dles in sports.

Here are some ques­tions and an­swers about the process and what we can ex­pect:

Ques­tion: What’s hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes now?

An­swer: Some if not all of the own­ers back­ing one pro­posal or the other are lob­by­ing fel­low own­ers by shar­ing the de­tails of their plans. The gen­eral own­er­ship will hear the In­gle­wood and Car­son pre­sen­ta­tions Aug. 11 in a spe­cial meet­ing in Chicago.

Q: Should we ex­pect big news com­ing out of that meet­ing?

A: Not in terms of site se­lec­tion, but the league is likely to an­nounce a re­vised sched­ule for ac­cept­ing re­lo­ca­tion ap­pli­ca­tions and mak­ing an ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion on a site and team or teams. The L. A. is­sue is big enough to war­rant its own meet­ing, and this is a rare one-per-club meet­ing, mean­ing only prin­ci­pal own­ers ( plus a fam­ily mem­ber) or one team rep­re­sen­ta­tive is in­vited to at­tend. In gen­eral, own­ers are more com­fort­able hashing out tough is­sues when there are fewer peo­ple in the room.

Q: When it comes to ap­ply­ing for re­lo­ca­tion, what’s

the process? A: The cur­rent win­dow for re­lo­ca­tion ap­pli­ca­tions is mid- Jan­uary through Fe­bru­ary. The NFL wants to give more time to teams con­sid­er­ing a move, and there’s a rea­son­able chance it could be­gin ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions as soon as Oc­to­ber. The league will work on those ap­pli­ca­tions with teams be­fore sub­mis­sion, so the NFL will have a good idea of what’s con­tained in them. Then comes an ac­cel­er­ated re­view process. The Com­mit­tee on Los An­ge­les Op­por­tu­ni­ties will be f irst to re­view the ap­pli­ca­tions, then pass them on to the sta­dium, f inance and la­bor com­mit­tees, fol­lowed by a vote of the own­ers.

Q: Which own­ers are on the L. A. com­mit­tee?

A: It is chaired by Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney II, and in­cludes New Eng­land’s Robert Kraft, Hous­ton’s Bob McNair, Carolina’s Jerry Richard­son, Kansas City’s Clark Hunt, and the New York Giants’ John Mara. Q: How soon could a fi­nal vote of all own­ers hap­pen?

A: Opin­ions are all over the map on this. Some in the league be­lieve L. A. could know it’s get­ting a team by late De­cem­ber, be­fore the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Oth­ers say there should be a vote ei­ther dur­ing the play­offs or Su­per Bowl week, although the NFL is mind­ful of not steal­ing the spotlight from those events. Still oth­ers be­lieve a vote would hap­pen in late March at the an­nual own­ers meet­ings, even though that would cut into the sea­sonticket selling sea­son for fall 2016, so that could be a lit­tle late. Q: What’s a night­mare sce­nario for the NFL?

A: It would be a ma­jor headache if all three teams ap­ply for re­lo­ca­tion, even though we ap­pear to be headed in that di­rec­tion now. There aren’t go­ing to be three teams mov­ing to L. A., so if three teams were to ap­ply, at least one of them would be sent back to a mar­ket it tried to leave. That’s not good. It would be much bet­ter for the NFL to have a pre­de­ter­mined out­come, as op­posed to a wide- open horse race. The com­ing months will be about orches­trat­ing the out­come so each of the three teams comes away with some­thing pos­i­tive — a tricky propo­si­tion.

Q: What are the selling points of the com­pet­ing projects?

A: Kroenke con­trols nearly 300 acres in a lo­ca­tion L. A. sports fans know well. His Rams have a long and nos­tal­gic re­la­tion­ship with the mar­ket, and he has the deep­est pock­ets by far of the three re­lo­ca­tion- minded own­ers. He would not have a prob­lem f inanc­ing his fu­tur­is­tic, $ 2- bil­lion sta­dium, which fea­tures a roof but is open on the sides. There’s an ar­gu­ment that he should stay in St. Louis if the deal there is com­pelling enough, but he can counter that he didn’t ask that city to come up with a new sta­dium plan and that he al­ready sat­is­fied his re­quire­ments to leave.

The Charg­ers and Raiders have a plan for a football- only, open- air fa­cil­ity, one with ex­cel­lent free­way ac­cess and prox­im­ity to Or­ange County. The Raiders have a ro­bust fan base in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and are f inan­cially hurt­ing in their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. The Charg­ers and Raiders play in two of the league’s worst sta- di­ums, and a new shared home could be a sil­ver- bullet so­lu­tion for a pair of clubs that for years have failed to get trac­tion on new homes in their cur­rent mar­kets.

Q: A team needs a three­quar­ters ma­jor­ity of the 32 own­ers for per­mis­sion to move. Does this boil down to the Rams look­ing for 24 votes, and the Charg­ers and Raiders lob­by­ing for nine votes to block them?

A: The league is look­ing to avoid that type of vote. Own­ers will get the chance to hear the spe­cific de­tails of each plan and make a de­ci­sion about which one is bet­ter for the NFL as a whole. The chal­lenge for Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell, and for Eric Grub­man, the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent over­see­ing this process, is un­tan­gling this knot in a way that al­lows each of the three own­ers to walk away at least some­what sat­is­fied. Q: What would speed up or sim­plify this process?

A: If one of the three teams were to agree to stay in its home mar­ket, an L. A. deal could come to­gether quickly. Nei­ther the Charg­ers nor the Raiders are op­ti­mistic about what they’ve seen in their home mar­kets so far, and — although St. Louis is off to the most promis­ing start on a new sta­dium — the Rams have given no in­di­ca­tion they want to stay there.

Q: Is it likely this de­ci­sion will be de­layed a year, so that a team doesn’t come to L. A. un­til 2017?

A: There are two ways of look­ing at this. First, the me­an­der­ing re­turn to the L. A. mar­ket has been de­fined by 20 years of false starts and dashed dreams. Noth­ing is a sure thing un­til it ac­tu­ally hap­pens. In that sense, yes, this could get pushed back a year or more.

But this is a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion than we’ve seen be­fore. There are two vi­able pro­pos­als with all the nec­es­sary en­ti­tle­ments and f inanc­ing plans to be­gin con­struc­tion — and, most im­por­tant, they are sites backed by ex­ist­ing team own­ers, as op­posed to lo­cal de­vel­op­ers and busi­ness lead­ers push­ing their own sta­dium dreams. The stars are in align­ment for the NFL to re­turn, and the league knows that de­lays, post­pone­ments and loss of mo­men­tum are the death knell of these types of projects. So there would be strong re­sis­tance by own­ers and NFL ex­ec­u­tives to push­ing the pause but­ton here.

That said, if one or more of the home mar­kets were close to propos­ing a deal, or tak­ing a public vote, and the sit­u­a­tion looked es­pe­cially promis­ing from the NFL’s per­spec- tive, the league might be swayed to pump the brakes. Af­ter all, it’s more im­por­tant to do L. A. the right way than it is to do it right now.

Q: Will those home mar­kets get a chance to make their case be­fore all the own­ers?

A: Yes. Any of the three cities who are mak­ing what the league con­sid­ers a se­ri­ous pro­posal will be in­vited to present it at the an­nual Oc­to­ber meet­ings in New York. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from St. Louis and San Diego al­most cer­tainly will be there. The way the league sees it, Oak­land has yet to put forth a se­ri­ous pro­posal, so at this point that mar­ket prob­a­bly has yet to make the list.

Q: The NFL reached out to po­ten­tial tem­po­rary venues this week, ask­ing them to sub­mit their pro­pos­als to host a re­lo­cated team or teams for at least two sea­sons, start­ing in 2016. Why is the league tak­ing over those du­ties?

A: There are a few rea­sons why the NFL is han­dling ne­go­ti­a­tions with po­ten­tial tem­po­rary homes. First, it’s against league rules for any team to sign a lease out­side of its home mar­ket. ( Those can be ne­go­ti­ated, but not signed.) Next, it’s best for tem­po­rary sta­di­ums to have as much lead time as pos­si­ble to work through any sched­ul­ing con­straints, and those are con­sid­er­able in the case of the Coli­seum and Rose Bowl. Imag­ine how it would blow up po­ten­tial ne­go­ti­a­tions with a home mar­ket if word got out that Team X had se­cured a deal to play the 2016 and ’ 17 sea­sons at the Coli­seum. But if the NFL strikes such a deal, with­out iden­ti­fy­ing a team, that news is not as dis­rup­tive. And f i- nally, there are per­sis­tent ru­mors that some sta­di­ums have black­balled the Raiders. If so, the league can bet­ter deal with that is­sue if it is han­dling ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Q: Is it pos­si­ble that one tem­po­rary sta­dium could host two teams? And is the 27,000- seat Stub­Hub Cen­ter in the mix?

A: Hav­ing one sta­dium host two NFL teams is the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble but highly un­likely. In the case of the Coli­seum or Rose Bowl, home to USC and UCLA, re­spec­tively, sched­ul­ing would be next to im­pos­si­ble and the nat­u­ral­grass fields would look like the day af­ter Wood­stock.

As for us­ing Stub­Hub Cen­ter, the league has en­ter­tained the idea of cre­at­ing an in­ti­mate, high- end game ex­pe­ri­ence, so it hasn’t ruled out that venue. Still, given there are more tra­di­tional op­tions, the NFL isn’t likely to stack experiment upon experiment in re­turn­ing to a mar­ket that al­ready has lost three teams.

Q: What’s most likely to hap­pen when the dust set­tles on this en­tire process?

A: Don’t be sur­prised if there’s some type of grand bar­gain, one that none of these three own­ers would be will­ing to ac­cept now. That could be the Rams and Charg­ers shar­ing a sta­dium at Hol­ly­wood Park; or the league telling the Rams the deal in St. Louis is too en­tic­ing to leave on the ta­ble, thereby paving the way for the Charg­ers and Raiders in Car­son; or a host of other sce­nar­ios.

Even the league doesn’t know how this is go­ing to end. For now, it’s less football and more crys­tal ball.

Rocky Wid­ner Getty I mages

STAN KROENKE owns the Rams, who have a long re­la­tion­ship with the South­land mar­ket.

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