Goodell won't guarantee NFL L.A. return
Commissioner Roger Goodell still cannot guarantee that the NFL will return to Los Angeles.
At his annual Super Bowl week news conference Friday, Goodell said the league continues to work towards bringing a team back to Los Angeles, which has been without an NFL team since the Rams and Raiders left in 1995, but there are still several hurdles standing in the way.
"I don't think we can guarantee that a team will be there," Goodell said. "We are all working very hard to get a team back in the Los Angeles market because we know there are millions of fans there that would love to see NFL football as part of their community. I think progress is being made. The good news is clearance has been given to build a stadium."
The $800 million, 75,000-seat stadium to be built in the City of Industry, was unanimously approved by the City of Industry Council last year. It will be built and developed by Ed Roski's Majestic Real Estate Co. Roski plans to buy a team or acquire a major share in one before beginning construction and move it to its new home near the 60 and 57 Freeway interchange. Majestic Vice President John Semcken, who is in Miami with Roski, has said that it's only a matter of time before a team moves into the stadium and they've already begun the process of contacting teams. Semcken has stated he has "no doubt" an NFL team would be in Los Angeles by 2012.
Goodell, however, didn't sound as optimistic about the that time frame considering the economic climate and the ongoing labor talks between the league and players' union, which could cause a lockout in 2011 after the current labor pact expires.
"The key issue is the challenges of financing a facility in this environment with the labor agreement that we have," Goodell said. "The cost of building that stadium is almost entirely on the ownership and that is a big burden to pay in this type of environment."
The team that continues to come up in relocation discussions is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had about 25,000 empty seats for most home games this season. It's a number that doesn't look to improve with about 17,000 Jacksonville fans opting not to renew their season tickets. Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver has told Goodell he can't have a franchise in the city if attendance continues drop as it has in recent years.
"We know what's going on in [Jacksonville] and what our fans and partners are facing with the economic challenges," Goodell said. "I've spent an awful lot of time with Wayne about what's happening with Jacksonville and how that's affecting the attendance and I think Wayne said it very well, despite the economy and despite other factors you can't continue to have an NFL franchise with 40,000 people in the stadium. We've got to try to continue to improve that. Wayne has been very aggressive in working with the business community and we will continue to support him in any way."
Another possibility may be the San Diego Chargers, who continue to push for a new home while playing in the antiquated Qualcomm Stadium, which was built in 1967 and is the NFL's fourth-oldest stadium. San Diego, which was once a regular destination for the Super Bowl, hasn't held one in seven years and won't until they get a new stadium. The problem is the city is saddled with $179 million in debt and building a football stadium isn't high on the list of priorities for tax payers.
"I know the Chargers are working very hard to get something done in the San Diego community. They have worked for eight years now to address their stadium issue and baseball has been addressed in the meantime," Goodell said. "That stadium does need to be fixed for the NFL, which means a new stadium. They have done a lot of work over the years and unfortunately it's hasn't produced a solution and that's disappointing everybody. It is a priority for the Chargers and the NFL."
Goodell also addressed the Rams' possible ownership change during his news conference saying the NFL is committed to staying in St. Louis and also said that the Bills, who have been targeted by the Majestic Group, would have to upgrade their stadium as well in the near future.
While he couldn't guarantee the NFL would return to Los Angeles, Goodell said the prospect of investing in a new football stadium in the second biggest market would be one of the aspects he would talk to the player's association about during their discussions as a way to increase revenue for both them and the league.
"Investing in a new stadium in Los Angeles will generate more revenue that the players will share in," Goodell said. "That's the kind of investment if we work together with the players association and the clubs where we can develop a relationship and invest in those kinds of facilities that will generate new revenue and allow the game to grow and allow us to get back and engage millions of fans in Southern California and that will be good for us and that will be good for the players."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.