- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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After a press conference to announce the naming rights deal for Farmers Field earlier in the week, it seemed the NFL was ready to officially announce it was coming back to Los Angeles the next day. Well, not quite. Construction on the stadium is still at least a year away, and it could be even longer before an NFL team actually relocates to Los Angeles. So when will Los Angeles finally get the NFL back? Here is the answer (or at least our best guess) to that question and others seen and heard in the past few days:
How significant was the Farmers Insurance naming rights deal in making the downtown stadium a reality?
It was significant from the standpoint that it helps to solve the financing problem, which has been the single biggest problem Los Angeles developers have encountered in getting a football stadium privately financed with no public funding. The most important thing in financing a project as big as this is "contractually obligated income." The first question any bank has for any developer wanting to engage in a $1 billion private investment is how they plan on making that investment pay off. If they can prove that, at the very least, the cost of the stadium will be paid off by a naming rights deal over 30 years before a single event is even held, well, getting that loan becomes easier.
Is it true the naming rights deal will be more if a second NFL team plays in the stadium?
Yes. The current naming rights deal is for $700 million over 30 years with the understanding it will be the home of one NFL team and potentially host an average of three Super Bowls and two Final Fours every 10 years. The deal would increase to $1 billion if the stadium becomes the home of more than one NFL team. Considering AEG is projecting the cost of the stadium to be $1 billion, there is now more of a financial incentive to attract two NFL teams to Los Angeles. Not only would they have the contractually obligated income to completely finance the stadium, but it would also guarantee 10 more NFL games per year, which, again, would help toward that contractually obligated income annually.
Which teams are the likeliest to move to Los Angeles?
The teams that always come up when there's talk of relocation are the San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers. The one that makes the most sense currently is the Chargers, and if there's a second team Los Angeles could very well see the return of the Rams.
Chargers owner Alex Spanos has been trying to sell a stake in his team, and it's looking more and more unlikely that the team will ever get the new stadium it covets. They've been trying for almost a decade and are probably no closer to getting a new home today than they were when they began this process in 2002. The Chargers can announce their intentions to leave San Diego between Feb. 1 and April 30 of each year through 2020 if they pay off the bonds used to expand Qualcomm Stadium in 1997, which currently would be about $26 million. So if it doesn't look like the Chargers will get a new stadium in downtown San Diego (and it doesn't look good at the moment), look for them to announce their intention to move to Los Angeles -- which was their first home when they were founded in 1960 -- sometime after Feb. 1, 2012.
The Rams make the most sense to be the second team to call Farmers Field their home, because the Rams' lease agreement with the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission states that the Edward Jones Dome must rank among the top-eight stadiums in the NFL by 2015. If it doesn't, the Rams have the option of getting out of their lease and leaving St. Louis. Edward Jones Dome will be one of the older stadiums in the league by 2015, and the chances of it getting the necessary improvements to become a top-tier facility are almost as remote as the Chargers getting a new stadium. Considering Farmers Field plans to open its doors in 2015, the timing couldn't be better for the Rams to move back to Los Angeles after a 20-year absence.
Having the Chargers and the Rams relocate to Los Angeles would be the most ideal scenario for the league, which would like to see one AFC West team and one NFC West team move to Los Angeles (preferably with Los Angeles ties) so the geography of the current divisions still work and each of the conference's television broadcasters (currently CBS and FOX) will get a team in the country's second-biggest media market.
What kind of timeline are we looking at here in terms of getting a team and starting construction on the stadium?
Well, if you're looking for a general date for everything to start coming together, look toward April 2012. If AEG picks an architect this month to begin the actual blue prints and floor plans for the stadium, it will take 6-8 months to complete that process. After that AEG will bid the project out, so it will be at least a year before construction can actually begin. During that time, AEG must complete the entitlement process and the environmental impact reports. It must also get the blessing of the city to issue $350 million worth of bonds that they promise to pay off with a stadium-ticket tax and backstop so it will not cost taxpayers anything. This is assuming the league and the players union comes to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement in time to play the 2011 season. If AEG can get all that done and begin construction in early April 2012, the Chargers would likely get out of their lease in San Diego (they have until April 30), announce their intention to move to Los Angeles and play at the Coliseum, their first home in 1960, for a couple years until Farmers Field is built. In late May 2012, the NFL will announce the site of the 50th Super Bowl. AEG has said it wants the game to be held at Farmers Field, but unless construction has begun on the stadium and the venue has a commitment to house an NFL team by the time the announcement is made it's going to be hard for the league to award Farmers Field the game on speculation.
We've seen a few pictures of Farmers Field; is that really how it's going to look?
No. The drawings you've seen so far are simply schematics to give you a feel for what the stadium could look like, but AEG hasn't settled on an architect yet. It will select one this month, and all indications are it will choose the Gensler firm, which designed L.A. Live and drew up the current renderings of Farmers Field. The international architecture firm is moving its regional headquarters to downtown Los Angeles, after operating for 20 years in Santa Monica, Calif. The actual stadium could look a lot more like a retractable-roofed version of Allianz Arena in Munch, Germany, which was the FIFA World Cup Stadium in 2006. Tim Leiweke, AEG president and CEO , has mentioned how much he likes the look of the stadium with its changing exterior colors.
Isn't 64,000 seats small for a stadium wanting to host Super Bowls and Final Fours and be in contention to host future World Cups and Olympics?
Not really. Farmers Field would hold about 64,000 for NFL games but would expand to 78,000 for Super Bowls, Final Fours and other big events such as the World Cup and Olympics. While Angelenos are used to large stadiums such as the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl, which can seat close to 100,000 fans, the fact is more than half the stadiums in the NFL seat less than 70,000. Thanks to NFL blackout rules, which state a game must be sold out 72 hours before kickoff to be shown locally, most teams prefer having a smaller total attendance but a higher gross gate through an increased number of luxury suites and club seats.
There is no magic number to the 78,000-seating capacity when attempting to host Super Bowls and Final Fours. In fact, 78,000 would make Farmers Field one of the larger venues to be in the rotation for those big events. All but two Super Bowls since 1987 have had an attendance figure smaller than 76,500, and the largest turnout ever for the Final Four was 72,922 at Detroit's Ford Field in 2009.
We keep hearing how the stadium is going to help the convention and tourism business in Los Angeles; how does a football stadium do that?
Farmers Field will be connected to the Los Angeles Convention Center and serve as an extension to the convention center when it isn't holding an event. This is the reason the football stadium is actually being called an "event center" and why it will have a retractable roof. Mark Liberman, president of convention and visitors bureau L.A. Inc., has said Los Angeles struggles to book large, profitable conventions because it has two separate, disconnected halls. The plan for Farmers Field is to add 90,000 square feet to the already remodeled South Hall, demolish the old disconnected West Hall and build the stadium on that site, which would give the total new event center 1.7 million square feet. The increased continuous flat and unobstructed exhibition space would move Los Angeles from No. 15 in U.S. convention centers to No. 5.
Pouria Abbassi, general manager of the Los Angeles Convention Center, believes the venue is in dire need of upgrades or it is "going to be out of business in the next 10 years." He said 93 percent of competitive venues worldwide have seen major renovations in the past 15 years, and during that time Los Angeles has fallen way behind in the convention business. The consensus is the aging West Hall needs to be replaced one way or another, and since there is no public funding available to do this AEG's privately financed proposal is an attractive offer. This is one the biggest reasons why the plan is being championed by local politicians who might otherwise be skeptical of building a football-only stadium in downtown Los Angeles.
Whatever happened to that NFL stadium proposal in the City of Industry? Isn't Ed Roski trying to build a football stadium in Las Vegas now?
The City of Industry is still very much in the mix. In fact, for all the pomp and pageantry of Tuesday's Farmers Field press conference, Industry is still the only stadium proposal in the area that is "shovel ready" after completing the entitlement process and getting two approved environmental impact reports. The problem is Industry has been ready to start construction on its stadium for three years now and is seemingly no closer to attracting a team today than it was when it first started. While it is true billionaire developer Roski, who has spent $17 million over the past three years on the Industry project, is now attempting to build a football stadium/events center on the campus of UNLV, a Majestic Realty representative said it has no impact on the current plans to build a football stadium in Industry.
Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
4hDoug Clawson, ESPN Stats & Information