Michael Hiltzik: The NFL at first-and-ten
The ancient debate over whether the National Football League needs Los Angeles more than Los Angeles needs the National Football League just got jump-started again.
Talk has already started from the promoters of one of the two potential NFL stadium projects to the effect that it's L.A.'s fault that we don't have a pro team. You know, a pro team to replace the two that unceremoniously decamped from town a decade and a half ago.
It's our fault? Really? As my Sunday column reports, it's hard to imagine what more the community could have done to meet the league's terms. Local millionaires and billionaires were lined up two by two to pay the steep entry fee for a franchise. The Coliseum Commission was prepared to throw USC, its only loyal tenant, to the wolves and turn the facility over to the NFL on its own terms. Communities from Anaheim to Irwindale prostrated themselves to make room for a team.
And yet, no team.
The truth is that the benefits to Southern California of having an NFL team are conjectural, and probably nonexistent. L.A. is filled to the brim with entertainment and sports options, and a pro football team would probably cannibalize existing entities rather than expand the market. In other words, if the NFL wishes to put a team in this market, it should make a case as to why we should care. So far, it hasn't.
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As talk heats up again (again?) about bringing a National Football League team back to Southern California after a 15-year halftime break, I propose that the following slogan be tattooed on the forehead of any civic booster associated with such a proposal:
Irwindale, for those of you who don't remember, is the San Gabriel Valley community that got scammed into giving Raiders owner Al Davis a $10-million, nonrefundable down payment to bring his team over from the L.A. Coliseum. That was in 1987. Davis did move out of the Coliseum, but he didn't stop moving until he reached Oakland. He kept the money anyway.
Perhaps I'm being unfair to the NFL, which doesn't like to think of Davis as its ethical trend-setter.