Los Angeles is not an aging rust belt city in search of an identity. We don’t need professional football in order to stoke our collective ego. We surely don’t need the NFL to provide us a sense of self worth.
LA already has a sense of self importance. If nothing else, we have the undying envy of easterners, who write endlessly about why they miss New York City. It ought to make us feel proud. The idea that we need to solve some kind of group identity crisis by bringing in another professional sports team seems kind of odd when you think about it.
We do, however, have a serious traffic problem, particularly where the Santa Monica Freeway intersects the Harbor Freeway. It’s peculiar that the Los Angeles City Council is doing its best to make these two jammed freeways into a perpetual gridlock.
But take a look at the latest articles in CityWatch or the Times, and you will find that the city government is raring to bring NFL football to Los Angeles. The problem is that the preferred location is right smack dab at the intersection of the 10 and the 110, and coincidentally is also in an area of downtown that doesn’t have an extra twenty or thirty thousand parking spaces handy.
But there is money involved — big money — and the L.A. City Council members don’t seem to have what it takes to stand up for the public good when it comes to AEG.
In addition, we have the City Council’s own class clown, Tom LaBonge, who — Al Bundy like — seems to base his own identity on the fact that he played high school football.
Since nobody else seems to have done the calculus on who would benefit from bringing in an NFL team as opposed to who would suffer, let’s consider.
Back in the days before the construction of the Louisiana Superdome, professional sports floated the argument that bringing in a pro team would be a financial benefit to the lucky city that provided a new stadium. Professor Roger Noll, then at Cal Tech and later at Stanford, debunked that notion effectively starting in the mid-1970s. Over the years, additional studies as well as books written for the lay audience have made the point resoundingly. One recent example by James T. Bennett is They play, you pay: Why taxpayers build ballparks, stadiums, and arenas for billionaire owners and millionaire players.
The shorter version of all these studies is that the NFL, having the monopoly on who can be a team (and where it can play) have extracted money from cities and states for the construction of stadiums, and that money has run into the billions. As a recent CNN story shows, the teams then take a huge bite out of the fans by charging, on the average, something over $200 per game for the price of a couple of tickets, a couple of beers, and parking.
But even that doesn’t get you into the stadium. The more recent gimmick is to charge you a license fee just to be allowed to buy a season ticket, and for a new stadium like the one being built for the Minnesota Vikings, that seat license will average about $2500. The Minnesota authorities proudly assert that their fans are getting a good deal compared to the license fees extracted in other places.
It’s a rich man’s entertainment. The vast majority of Angelenos won’t be buying seat licenses and season tickets. A lot of us would suffer from increased traffic congestion though.
There’s actually something even uglier about all the begging and pleading going on in the L.A. City Council. NFL owners have used the availability of Los Angeles as an excuse to extort concessions from local governments. It’s been happening in San Diego, where the stadium was upgraded as recently as 1997. The owners want a brand new one. We can feel fairly certain that the Minnesota Vikings ownership used Los Angeles as a billy club to beat Minnesota legislators over the head.
Minnesota taxpayers will pay close to half a billion dollars for the construction of the new Vikings Stadium. The Raiders have been the Oakland Raiders, the Los Angeles Raiders, and then the Oakland Raiders again, and will presumably demand concessions from their (current) city lest they go back to being the Los Angeles Raiders one more time.
By the way, the alternative — creating a new expansion team — is no longer viable since the NFL expanded to 32 teams. A Texas group outbid the Los Angeles group for the franchise rights, and that was that. The number 32 is not only a lot of teams, it is a nice round number that provides for 8 divisions of 4 teams each, which in turn provides a three level playoff system. To add a 33rd team would complicate things beyond belief. An expansion would obviously be opposed by the majority of NFL owners.
So here we are, having been outbid for the last viable expansion franchise and reduced to begging for some existing team to move here. The problem is that there is a de facto principle, beloved of NFL owners, that government is required to help them financially in order for them to bestow the blessings of their presence. We’ve seen it in Dallas and Minnesota recently, and we will presumably see some sort of negotiated ransom in San Diego one of these days. It’s unlikely that the majority of NFL owners would be willing to see the city of Los Angeles, alone among American cities, get away with winning a team without having to pay through the teeth for the privilege. That would set a terrible precedent in their view.
By the way, the LA City Council isn’t satisfied with trying to get one NFL team to move. They have figured out that the only way to get their numbers to work out is to get two teams. That might allow for the proposed Gridlock Field to break even, but — think about this — it would make for even more days and nights of traffic jams on the 110 and the 10. It also makes it that much harder to win the battle, since it is even more unlikely that two teams would move here than for even one team to come.
So here’s my alternative proposal, which gains us even more self worth. Let’s be proud of the fact that we are an NFL-Free Zone. We will remain alone among major U.S. cities in rejecting the extortionate demands of the billionaires who control the NFL. We don’t mind if they build their own stadium somewhere that doesn’t provoke huge new traffic jams on our most critical roads, and if they do it on their own dime. They can build in the City of Industry if they like, or they can go down the road towards Temecula. We just won’t foot the bills, and we won’t agree to make life more difficult for the hundreds of thousands of motorists who depend on the 10 and the 110 to make a living.