PHOENIX, Ariz. – The NFL’s Battle for LA is on. Only “battle” might not be the right word for it.
“It’s a war — a major war,” one plugged-in source said.
But you’d never get that impression from the smiling, polite tones of owners and executives on Monday at the Arizona Biltmore resort.
At a late-morning session on Day 1 of the NFL annual meeting, a presentation by NFL executive vice-president Eric Grubman updated owners on where things stand with regard to Los Angeles.
Returning a franchise to LA finally is a front-burner matter. Three clubs have expressed a desire to relocate there, tied to competing stadium plans.
In January, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke partnered with Stockbridge Capital Group. The Los Angeles Times on Sunday reported that Kroenke and Stockbridge have schematic plans for a futuristic, privately financed, 80,000-seat, $1.86-billion stadium in Inglewood.
Kroenke is the NFL’s third richest owner according to Forbes, with a net worth of $6.3 billion.
In an attempt not to be outdone, the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders announced last month they’re in cahoots to relocate to a snazzy new stadium planned for the LA suburb of Carson, with that city’s hearty backing.
Commissioner Roger Goodell last month formed a committee on LA that includes power owners Robert Kraft (Patriots), Bob McNair (Texans) and John Mara (Giants).
The last time LA had an NFL team was 1994, after which the Rams and Raiders relocated to their current homes.
Both the Chargers (owned by Alex Spanos) and Raiders (owned by Mark Davis, son of Al) play in stadiums built in the 1960s, the oldest in the AFC.
Both teams for years had got nowhere trying to convince local authorities to commit significant public-sector funding to either replace or significantly upgrade their outdated stadiums. Ditto with the Rams in St. Louis with their 20-year-old stadium.
But now — tada! — politicians in all three markets are mounting rushed, invigorated efforts to keep their NFL clubs, dangling promises of a shiny new stadium.
No one knows the league’s preference. No club has the right to relocate to without approval of at least 23 other owners.
“I really believe that within the next year we’ll have two teams in this market,” Kraft told a scrum of reporters, re LA. “We have some real good options. Now we’ll see what happens with the end game.”
Kroenke and his dazzling stadium would seem to have a substantial leg up.
“The Rams are flying high right now,” a source in the franchise-relocation business told Sun Media recently, “but I guarantee you the Rams will not fly high all the way through.
“I’ve never seen anything go so far, so smoothly, as Kroenke’s plan with Inglewood. But at some point it’s going to get ugly — guaranteed.”
No decision on LA is expected before the fall.
In an interview with several reporters after Monday’s meetings, Grubman told Sun Media the league has informed politicians in St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego they don’t have until next Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 (the usual window for NFL teams to file relocation intentions).
But giving the locals up to another half-year to mount credible counter-offers could make a messy situation (of one or two franchises relocating) even messier. Grubman said he doesn’t look at it that way.
“I would take that all day long,” Grubman told Sun Media, “because our job is to do everything we can to make a team successful, and give everybody all the tools necessary, to make it successful in its home market.
“Our job is to not rip teams out. It’s to keep them there and make sure they can be successful. It’s also to develop new markets that have substantial potential. So that is a really high-class problem that we’ll figure out how to navigate through.
“It means someone’s not going to get exactly what they want, but it also means there are healthy markets — and that’s the name of the game.”
Kraft said the league is determined not to proceed recklessly.
“I think we have to be very careful and responsible to different markets that step up (with new stadium plans),” he said.
And if one is St. Louis?
“I think we have a responsibility to make sure we have a team in that market,” Kraft said.
“From my point of view, if they come up with a plan that looks pretty good and a strong financial package, I think we the NFL — in my opinion — have to have a team in St. Louis … But they have to be able to support the team.”
Grubman said the league will now investigate over the next 6-8 weeks exactly what the St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland markets plan to offer.
But, as I asked Kraft, what if all three markets step up? Is there any chance no team relocates to LA?
“Somehow, I feel that we’ll have at least one team in LA,” Kraft said.
Perhaps what’s most intriguing about the process behind the scenes is that the owners’ decision might come down to a popularity contest: Kroenke vs. Spanos/Davis. Insiders say the notoriously aloof Kroenke has a helluva lot of work to do in that regard.
However the LA dominos fall, the vacated market(s) won’t acquire a new team via expansion. Grubman said as much, as did Kraft.
“I don’t see expansion being an option,” Kraft said. “So any community that’s privileged to have a team? Love ’em up.”
Davis ‘cautiously optimistic’
Raiders can stay in Oakland
PHOENIX, Ariz. – Owner Mark Davis told Sun Media on Monday he’s “cautiously optimistic” a deal can be struck to keep his Raiders in Oakland, to scotch a relocation to Los Angeles.
I asked Davis if he’s now optimistic a deal can be done with local municipalities to replace five-decade old O.co Coliseum.
“I’m always optimistic — cautiously optimistic, let me put it that way,” he said.
The Raiders are in league with the San Diego Chargers in a plan to jointly relocate to Los Angeles and play at a new stadium in Carson. The St. Louis Rams aim to relocate to Inglewood and play in a planned new stadium there.
“Well, there are two great sites, there are three teams,” Davis said. “And all three teams are still working in their current markets trying to get something done, and we’ll see what happens.”
NFL rubs out TV blackout rule
PHOENIX, Ariz. – The NFL’s despised TV blackout rule has faded to black.
On Monday the league announced the rule is toast — ostensibly just for 2015, but probably for good.
Since the early 1970s, the league has “blacked out” local telecasts of games within 75 miles of a team, if it does not sell out all non-luxury-box seats 72 hours before kickoff.
Last year no league games were blacked out — a first.
You’d think lower-market teams that struggle to sell out games — such as the Buffalo Bills late each season — would be displeased by the development.
But Bills president Russ Brandon gave no such indication in an interview on Monday.
“We continue to always work within the rules of the league,” he said.
“And it doesn’t change our focus at all — selling out every game.
“It doesn’t alter our business strategy. Our job is to make sure we have a compelling product for people to come watch, and a great experience at the stadium, and that doesn’t change whatsoever.”
Bottom line: Canadians from coast to coast who live within 75 miles of an NFL team don’t have to worry about TV blackouts in 2015.
FIRST NFL WEBCAST:
The league announced that the Bills-Jaguars game played at Wembley Stadium in London, England, on Oct. 25 will be the league’s first to be seen over a “worldwide digital platform.”
That is, over the Internet.
The game will be televised only to the local Jacksonville and Buffalo (and presumably, by usual extension, Central Ontario) markets.
BILLS TICKET SALES UP:
Brandon said Bills’ season-ticket sales are up about 4,000 over last year — from “47 and change” to “now close to 51,000.”
The club record is just over 57,000, Brandon said.
The increase is not attributable to big-name player signings this month, Brandon said.
“We’ve been pacing very well, actually, since the conclusion of last year. Selling ‘seasons’ is a year-round business … and we still have a lot of work yet to do.”
CATCH RULE INDEED REWORDED:
As Sun Media reported Sunday night, the NFL’s competition committee on Monday announced that the controversial “complete the catch to the ground” rule remains in place, but with altered wording.
“In order to complete a catch,” NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino told a news conference, “the receiver has to have control, both feet on the ground and he has to have it after that long enough to clearly establish himself as a runner.”
Dez Bryant did not do as much, Blandino said, on his controversial overturned catch in the Dallas Cowboys’ divisional-playoff loss at Green Bay.
I’ll say it again: the NFL should draft a rule that makes Bryant’s catch a catch — because, for all the world, it was.
The NFL awarded 32 compensatory draft picks to 14 teams Monday night.
Denver, Kansas City and Seattle led the way with four apiece. Baltimore and Houston got three each.
A team that loses more — or better — free agents than it acquires in the previous league year is eligible to receive such compensatory draft picks, by a complicated, undisclosed formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honours.
Again this year, the additional draft picks are positioned between the third and seventh rounds, based on the net value of free agents lost.
This year’s recipients for the April 30 to May 2 draft are (with number of compensatory picks in parentheses):
- Denver, K.C., Seattle (4)
- Baltimore, Houston (3)
- Carolina, Cincinnati, Green Bay, New England, San Francisco (2)
- Arizona, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, St. Louis (1)
KROENKE MUST SELL:
A source told Sun Media that St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has been given a Dec. 15 deadline to sell the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and NBA’s Denver Nuggets. The NFL disallows owners from owning major pro-team franchises except in their NFL team’s market, so these moves have been inevitable. Now there’s a deadline attached. It’s believed he’ll just sell the Avs and Nuggets to his son, Josh Kroenke, despite the enormous tax hits.
A.P. WANTS OUT:
Ben Dogra, agent for RB Adrian Peterson, told USA Today that “we want out of Minnesota.” The Vikings don’t seem to be budging on wanting him back. Yet trade speculation continues to swirl.
NEW DISCIPLINE CZAR:
Commissioner Roger Goodell formally punted responsibility for disciplining players and league employees over incidents of misconduct.
Todd Jones, former director of the U.S.’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is joining the league as a special counsel for conduct, owners were told Monday.
Lisa Friel, the former New York DA’s office prosecutor for sex crimes, will oversee misconduct investigations in the NFL.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams won’t happen this year. The buzz remains, however, that the move is inevitable and will go into effect once owners can agree on what day on wild-card weekend to play the fifth game … The Miami Dolphins extended the contract of head coach Joe Philbin by one year, through 2016 … The league is considering staging a Pro Bowl in Brazil, FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez reported … Saints GM Mickey Loomis told USA Today the club has no intention to trade QB Drew Brees. Similarly, Chargers GM Tom Telesco told ESPN “it’s not even on our radar” to trade their veteran QB, Phil Rivers … The Cardinals signed WR Nathan Slaughter, the first and only player so far scooped up after Sunday’s less-than-impressive combine for unattached former NFLers … The competition committee officially announced it has not endorsed any of the 13 rules proposals to expand the scope of video replay.