Sundays in the fall are sacrosanct in the United States. From 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on, Americans prostrate themselves before the altar of the NFL and gorge themselves on organized violence, deep-fried, heavily salted animal products and crappy beer. Every season, untold millions of dollars are gambled away, billions of dollars in revenue are made, and networks not carrying NFL games show reruns of Leave it to Beaver and Matlock, essentially ceding an entire day of the week to the power of the NFL.
In cities across America, civic leaders and politicians beg the NFL to deem their municipality worthy of an NFL team and show a willingness to sell out their children in an effort to keep a team from moving. Conventional thinking holds that having the presence of professional football gives a city an inflated sense of worth and real financial value for local businesses.
Along with an NFL franchise comes civic respect, recognition of having made the big-time, and officially being a player on the national scene. Local convention centers are booked solid, hotel rooms sell out, and local businesses latch on to the team, pasting ads all over inside of the stadium and its game day programs while the citizens have something to distract them from their shitty, workaday lives. It all seems like a win-win situation until one looks at the real costs associated with luring an NFL team to your town.
Whether it be imposing a new sales tax to pay for construction, depriving public schools of funding, lowering outlays for municipal infrastructure or handing out prime real estate for pennies on the dollar, city halls across America give away team-friendly long-term leases studded with out-clauses, revenue guarantees and cash incentives like old tribal chieftans’ selling their daughters off to the highest bidder.
Cities finance and build stadiums that serve no purpose other than to siphon off local revenue to a group of multibillionaires who run a monopoly. Seduced by the glitter and color of the NFL along with the empty promise of boosted local business, most cities will go to any lengths to lure an NFL franchise inside their borders. It’s the American Dream in action, craven greed and lust for recognition as a big shot, and no city seems immune to its siren call. While people rail against tax increases for public schools or rising health-care costs, billionaires like Jerry Jones, Bill Bidwell, Alex Spanos and Denise DeBartolo York scream to the rafters for justice, pay millions to lobbyists to plead their cases at city hall and demand local tax revenue pay for shiny new stadiums that maybe 1% of a city’s population will ever enjoy in person. Most cities drop to their knees, unbuckle the belt themselves and swallow the owner’s hot, steaming load.
Except for one. One city has resisted the hollow call of the NFL and has consistently told its owners to go fuck themselves with a regularity never before seen in the history of modern sports business. It’s a city best known for housing a bacchanal of people who drive without pants, make their fortunes off the ideas and hopes of others, and know a thing or two about driving a hard bargain. Los Angeles stands alone as the one city in America that has consistently beat the shit out of the NFL at every turn, leaving its owners frustrated, pissed off, perplexed and almost apopleptic with rage as they are left physically shut out from the second-largest media market in the United States.
Having the highest-rated sports programming in the United States can give a league a superiority complex. So will having your own unofficial national holiday, children worshipping your stars, network executives swallowing a pile of shit every few years when it comes time to renegotiate broadcast rights, and cities around the country emptying their coffers for glitzy stadiums loaded with luxury boxes. Yet, over 10 years after the NFL essentially abandoned them, nothing has changed in Los Angeles. There is no public outcry to bring a team to the city. Civic leaders yawn when the commissioner’s office calls, and frankly, no one gives a shit. People are too busy barbecuing carne asada, drinking tequila, huffing paint, shooting smack, going to movies or sleeping in on Sunday to give a shit about the NFL.
There was a time when Los Angeles was considered one of the crown jewels of the NFL. In the early 1950s, the Los Angeles Rams were perhaps the most exciting offensive team in the entire history of the sport. Featuring Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, Tank Younger and Tom Fears, the Rams set 22 NFL offensive records, some that still stand today. They played in two consecutive championship games, winning one in 1951, and changed the game from one based primarily on running to one that featured a dynamic and exciting mix of aerial acrobatics and power running, making them the template for the modern game. The team also produced the game’s greatest commissioner, Pete Rozelle, who acted as the team’s head of public relations.
The Rams played in one of the most historic stadiums on the planet — the Los Angeles Memorial Colisuem. Home to the 1932 Olympics, the neoclassic shell was the model for modern stadiums across the United States, including virtually every football stadium in the Midwest and Southeast. Able to hold as many as 110,000 fans, it hosted the Rams, USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins for the better part of the 20th century. Located not 10 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, across the street from the Natural History Museum and the campus of USC, the Coliseum was surrounded by a middle-class neighborhood housing a fanbase that walked to the stadium to see games. During the ’50s, the Rams averaged 83,000 fans per game.
After a lull in popularity and quality play in the early ’60s, the Rams re-emerged later in the decade as an NFL powerhouse. By the mid-’70s, the Rams were consistent winners stocked with Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Despite consistently choking in championship games, they rebuilt their fan base and dominated their division for an entire decade.
However, the neighborhood surrounding the Coliseum had deteriorated significantly. White flight in the ’60s moved the tax base to Orange County, and in its place came a predominently black neighborhood that was rife with unemployment, crime, gang activity and street violence.
In early 1979, owner Carrol Rosenbloom decided to follow the money and move the Rams to Anaheim. At the time, Orange County was booming and experiencing enormous growth in both population and local business. Boosted by the team’s only Super Bowl appearance in Los Angeles following the ’79 season, the Rams sold out their last five games at the much smaller Anaheim Stadium in 1980.
But with the mysterious drowning of Rosenbloom in April 1979, the Rams were taken over by his widow — former Miami showgirl, alleged Joseph Kennedy fuck buddy and St. Louis native Georgia Rosenbloom (later Frontiere, after she married a seventh time). She immediately fired Carroll’s handpicked successor and son, Steve Rosenbloom, then followed through on the move to Anaheim and installed a bottom-line hatchet man named John Shaw as team president who began cutting costs and driving away top-tier talent.
First it was Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who went to play in the CFL after an acrimonious contract dispute. He returned to Los Angeles two years later but was never the same player. Pro Bowl linebackers Bob Brudzinski and Jack Reynolds left for Miami and San Francisco, respectively, when Frontiere refused to give them market-level contracts. Brudzinski played in a Super Bowl with the Dolphins, and Reynolds won two with the 49ers.
In 1987 Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson was traded to the Colts for a total of three first-round draft picks. After he was refused a raise after setting the single-season rushing record in 1984, Dickerson held out for a new contract in 1985. Even though he carried the Rams offense for the better part of four seasons, he was vilified in the press as a greedy bastard and was sent packing. Almost all of the picks the Rams got in the trade turned out to be busts.
Subsequently, after a brief flirtation with winning in 1989 and Jim Everett’s decicion to begin estrogen therapy, the team wallowed in mediocrity. Sellouts became few and far between as Frontiere eschewed advertising and promotions, much less fielding a winning team, and instead relied on the NFL’s generous television revenue-sharing agreement to generate profits while concurrently complaining that she was operating in the red.
Local newspaper columnists would consistently criticize the team’s personnel moves, while the 49ers would pick up key free agents and keep winning Super Bowls. Meanwhile, the Rams, armed with a larger population and revenue base, would consistently underspend, underperform and lose to the Niners. Frontiere would generally counter that she could not afford to bring in big contracts, because fans would not show up to support the team. In her bass-ackwards mind, she expected fans to show up and support a shitty team before she would reward them with a consistent winner. Instead, the greater Los Angeles area got to watch them lose to the Saints and start retreads like Bert Jones, never-would-bes like Jeff Kemp, brain-damaged lug nuts like Chris Miller or who-the-fuck-is-he guys like Dieter Brock at quarterback.
By the early ’90s, with Anaheim Stadium almost empty, Frontiere demanded a lucrative stadium deal with the city of Anaheim and threatened to leave Southern California. When folks in Orange County balked and withdrew an offer to develop land next to Anaheim Stadium, and the Los Angeles City Council also told her to get fucked, Frontiere stripped the team of talent, hired an old, outdated coach in Chuck Knox and blatantly turned the Rams into a horrendous loser so she could easily move the team without fear of public outrage or lawsuits.
In 1994, she got her wish when the city of St. Louis, which had been spurned by the NFL only a couple years earlier when they lost an expansion franchise to Jacksonville, offered the use of a publicly financed $260 million stadium and an annual cash payout of $22 million to move the Rams to her hometown in 1995. At first, the NFL was opposed to the deal and would not allow her to move the team. That is until someone proposed she share some of that $22 million per year with the other owners.
Frontiere jumped at the deal, while people in Los Angeles and behind the Orange Curtain practically danced in the streets as the foul odor of her rotten vagina wafted away to the Midwest.
Meanwhile, across town, a pimp with greasy hair dressed in black polyester and aviator sunglasses shuffled around the LA basin in his white leather dress shoes trying to swindle everyone who came across his path.
When the Rams announced in 1979 that they would be vacating the Los Angeles Coliseum, Al Davis turned his lustful gaze for untold riches south and began to set in motion plans to move the Raiders to Los Angeles. In 1980, the city of Oakland fought to keep the team but in the end settled a lawsuit with Davis and had to pay the slimey bastard $4 million to make him shut up.
Once he arrived in Los Angeles for the 1982 season, Davis began his pillage of the public coffers.
First he secured a $10 million loan from the Coliseum Commission to build luxury suites along the rim of the stadium. When the 1984 Olympics prevented their being built right away, Davis pocketed the money and never built the boxes, claiming that the Coliseum Commission lied to him about alleged promises to lower the stadium’s seating capacity. He also demanded that the city completely refurbish the stadium — with public money — so he could sell the place out and lift television blackouts in Los Angeles. He wanted to keep concessions money, parking revenue and cash from the luxury suites; a real sweetheart deal that was friendly to no one but him.
In 1987, Davis tried to move the Raiders to the town of Irwindale and secured a non-refundable $10 million deposit from the city. Unfortunately, Davis and the town selected a piece of land that was home to a number of protected species and was on the federal government’s list of proposed sites for preservation. Instead of looking for another site in the city, Davis pulled out of the deal and pocketed the cash.
Davis then looked to Inglewood and a piece of land near the Forum and Hollywood Park racetrack. The whole time, he kept claiming he was too poor to chip in the cash for a stadium and demanded that the city, the state and the fans foot the bill for a shiny new palace to play in, with all profits going to him, of course.
Inglewood told him to suck a horse cock, and cut off negotiations.
After he went back to the Coliseum Commission for another go around, Davis was told to piss up a rope if he thought he was going to get $200 million in free money to keep playing football in Los Angeles.
Then, in 1994, Oakland stepped up to the plate. With Sacramento offering a king’s ransom for the Raiders to move there, then-mayor Lionel Wilson gave Al a $428 million deal to move back to Oakland which included full public financing to “refurbish” the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, $54.9 million in cash for Davis and $2 million a year for the life of the deal from concessions and parking.
Al signed the contract, and Los Angeles helped the little pimp back his bags, load the trunk of his Cadillac Eldorado and gave him a police escort to the city limits.
It’s not unusual for owners to make these demands of municipalities. In almost every case, owners go to the local governments and try to leverage them into giving them what they want, and generally use the empty threat of moving to Los Angeles as their trump card.
In Arizona, the Bidwell family, long known as one of the worst ownership groups in the history of sports (one championship in 1947, three moves and no more than three consecutive winning seasons in over 75 years of ownership) convinced voters in Mesa, Ariz., to back a referendum to finance the retractable-roof stadium the Cardinals now play in.
In 1999, a referendum was voted down by a 60-40 vote. In 2000, the same exact referendum narrowly passed after the stadium deal backers spent $1.7 million on a televised ad campaign. The county was then on the hook for $252 million, or 71% of the costs for the stadium. In the run-up to the election rumors were floated that the Cardinals would relocate to Los Angeles if they did not get the new stadium deal.
In Cincinnati, the Brown family, known as one of the cheapest in the NFL, won a referendum for a sales tax that fully subsidized Paul Brown Stadium to the tune of $452 million in public money. In Cleveland, the Browns’ new stadium is supported by a sin tax on cigarettes and alcohol that pays for 70% of the stadium’s costs. In Seattle, where the Seahawks are owned by software titan Paul Allen, the city foots 75% of the stadium’s costs to the tune of $323 million, and of course, Allen had threatened to move the team to Los Angeles right until the vote went down.
Just to get a seat at the table with the NFL means that cities have to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in franchise fees and stadium construction. In Los Angeles’ case, where the players involved have repeatedly refused the NFL’s demands, the league keeps coming back with the same old deal as before, with virtually no changes except an increasing fee.
The commisioner calls up the mayor and asks for a meeting. The commissioner blows a lot of smoke about wanting to return to LA. The mayor asks what needs to be done. The commissioner says that Los Angeles has to come up with a small amount of money, say $660 million to $800 million in unmarked bills for the franchise fee, stadium refurbishment and construction, along with no property taxes for the franchise’s eventual owner’s office space and a 30-year lease valued at pennies on the dollar for the stadium property’s worth. The mayor and/or the city council dutifully tell the commissioner to get fucked.
Every so often, the commissioner goes out to Pasadena and floats some idea to that city’s leaders about refurbishing the Rose Bowl for a little less cash than he demanded from Los Angeles. You know, maybe $480 million. That is until the people who live in the Arroyo Seco call up and remind the city leaders who votes for them and that they have no intention of welcoming some shitbag NFL franchise into their neighborhood to leave beer bottles strewn through the streets. They get enough of that on Saturdays from UCLA football fans.
The commissioner then whines to sympathetic NFL reporters about how that mean mayor and the evil Democratic city council in Los Angeles are depriving the good citizens of Los Angeles of the greatest game on earth. In chorus, all the writers lament the stubborn morons in LA who won’t give the NFL what it wants, which is really just a little money, nothing more, honest. Even more of these fools talk about how folks in Los Angeles aren’t real sports fans. Some say that a new stadium would magically rehabilitate South Central Los Angeles, with cushy, eight-day-a-year jobs vending peanuts. Others say that people in Los Angeles are not very bright. And on and on it goes, with no one paying attention to what really counts: Los Angeles could not fucking care less what the NFL wants.
The irony in all of this is that every Saturday afternoon in the fall, Los Angeles tells the NFL to go fuck itself. Whether it’s the Bruins up in Pasadena or the Trojans at the Coliseum, somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 people show up for games at each stadium, making for far better attendance levels than either the Rams or Raiders commanded in their heyday, and better numbers than any NFL team in business today.
On Saturday morning, USC fans get up and head down to South Central LA near the Coliseum and grab coffee from the Starbucks at the high-end shopping mall Magic Johnson built around the corner. The tailgaters have been going all night in their RVs out in the west parking lot getting sloshed and barbecuing carne asada. Some folks may even take a gander at some of the condos being built across the street from the peristyles or even go looking at a fixer-upper or two a few blocks away. Property values are going up, you know, and people who are sick of living in Hemet and Ontario are starting to talk about the area as an up-and-comer.
The parking near the stadium sucks, but folks in the ‘hood charge 20 bucks to park on their lawns, and people stopped stealing your car in broad daylight down there years ago. Inside, the place is a madhouse. Everyone is dressed in scarlet and gold, and no one minds the seats. Celebrities roam the sidelines, the quarterback dates whichever movie star is hot that week, and Pete Carrol is treated like a golden god.
Up the 110 Freeway, Bruin fans make the long trek to tailgate on the golf course adjacent to the Rose Bowl. Laid out on the fairways are gorgeous women in bikinis sipping Coronas while guys play catch and show off. Doobies are passed back and forth, Frisbees fly, and the weather is gorgeous. Inside, beach balls get tossed back and forth, people go apeshit, and they stagger home with a clean buzz.
After the orgy of hometown football on Saturdays, Los Angelenos wake up the next morning and watch double-header NFL games they could never get before because of local blackouts. Back in the day, Weird Al was too busy fucking his team up by benching Marcus Allen, while Georgia Frontiere was too cheap to build a competent defense for there to be a consistent contender in the city. People still call their bookies, play football cards and follow the league. Television ratings in the area are actually up, so the NFL is making money either way. However, if it turns out that the games on the tube suck, people shut them off, head to the beach or grab some tacos and drink a beer. But no one has to fight the traffic to go to the Coliseum two days in a row.
And while there may not be an NFL team to call their own, voters seem to sleep well at night knowing that while the public school system may suck, UCLA Medical Center could use a facelift, and the 405 will never be devoid of traffic, they know it’s because of gridlock at city hall and in the state Legislature, not because they decided to give some shitbag greedy NFL owner and his buddies over $600 million to lose 13 games a year.