With Friday's City Council vote approving Farmers Field, LA has taken a major step toward bringing professional football back. Still, as sports consultant Marc Ganis said:
"If people are viewing this [council vote] as an end point, they're misreading it ... It's really a starting point."
Getting a deal done to bring the NFL to LA is incredibly complicated. And it's pretty clear that the finances didn't add up for Phil Anschutz, who is now selling AEG. The NFL only permits individuals to own teams, not corporations. There's really no individual who could afford to buy AEG outright, but an individual could partner with a corporation (say, Patrick Soon-Shiong and Guggenheim Partners) to make it work.
Still, if AEG is going to be spending over $1 billion to build a stadium, then they're going to want to get some kind of return on their investment. Most NFL owners keep a large portion of the revenues generated from their stadiums, so I don't envision a scenario in which AEG builds Farmers Field for someone else's gain. An individual that's part of the group that buys AEG would have to at least take partial ownership of a team for this deal to work.
With new stadium plans approved in Minnesota and San Francisco, I see only five teams that could move to LA at this particular point in time. Here is the list:
Buffalo Bills - As long as Ralph Wilson owns the Bills, then they're not going anywhere. But Ralph Wilson is 93 years old, the Bills will likely be sold after he's passed on, and the team is in the last year of their stadium lease. It's entirely possible that Soon-Shiong or some other individual could buy the Bills and move them to LA. It's also possible that a Western New York businessman buys them and keeps them in Buffalo.
Keep in mind, Roger Goodell grew up in Western New York and his father was former Senator Charles Goodell, so he probably doesn't want to see them leave. In Roger's mind, the Bills can survive in Buffalo if they continue to play games in Toronto, even though they haven't become a hot ticket up in Canada.
If the Bills did leave for LA, then I'm sure many people would lobby for the team to change names. And it's fun to think about what divisions would change as a result of a move. Personally, I'd move the "LA Bills" to the NFC West, then send the Rams to the AFC South, the Colts to the AFC North, and the Ravens to the AFC East. Then again, that makes too much geographical sense to happen.
Jacksonville Jaguars - If Roger Goodell could move any team to Los Angeles, then it would be the Jaguars. The city of Jacksonville holds no strategic value for the NFL, and a move would essentially turn the league's least valuable franchise into one of the most valuable. But as powerful as Roger Goodell is, he can't just do that.
First off, the Jaguars have one of the most difficult leases to escape in the NFL. It was negotiated by former owner Wayne Weaver, who is a Jacksonville guy through and through, and he would hate to see the team leave. And second, the Jaguars were just bought by Shahid Khan, who also bought a house in the Jacksonville area. There's really no indication of him wanting to give up partial ownership to an AEG partner so soon after making a commitment to the city.
Perhaps in five years, if the Jaguars continue to struggle with fan support and the novelty wears off for Khan, a move to LA could be in the cards. But it's hard to see it happening on Tim Leiweke's aggressive timetable.
Oakland Raiders - With Al Davis having passed away last year, the future of the Raiders will be decided by son Mark Davis. The Raiders probably have the worst stadium situation in football right now. I'd contend that their move to Oakland was the dumbest in the history of the NFL. They could have stayed in LA, played in a new stadium in Hollywood Park, and basically owned the market. Instead, they decided to move to an aging baseball stadium, share a market, and play on the less desirable side of the Bay Area.
No one really knows what to make of Mark Davis right now. There's no new stadium plan being discussed for the Raiders in the Bay Area, aside from sharing a new 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, which neither team seems thrilled about doing. There's been talk that Davis might sell the team, and if that's true, an individual who's part of the AEG ownership group could swoop in. Some wonder if Davis could move the team to LA on his own, but again he'd probably have to give something up. Either way, the Raiders stadium lease is up after 2013 and their current situation isn't sustainable.
If the Raiders did move to LA, then I hope they would rebrand the organization. LA does not want a team that so closely identifies with the city's gangs. Their association with local gangs scared away fans in the 1990s and played a role in declining attendance that helped drive the team north.
St. Louis Rams - The Rams have a clear out in their lease in 2014 and currently play in a mediocre NFL stadium. Owner Stan Kroenke may be a Missouri native, but he also has a house in Malibu and he has a history of working with AEG. Personally, I'd love to see the Rams come back, since I grew up an LA Rams fan.
But I don't see Kroenke eager to give up partial ownership of his team, so I don't know what kind of deal he'd cut with AEG. There's been talk that the Rams might come if they're the second team to move to LA. Another possibility is that Kroenke could be a potential bidder for AEG, as there's plenty of synergies with his own Kroenke Sports Enterprises. But that would also be complicated by his ownership of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.
San Diego Chargers - They've always been the favorites in this derby and still are. There's no obvious stadium plan in San Diego and the Spanos family has put up for sale a minority interest in the team (although it's not clear if that's still on the market). They also have a clear out in their lease after this season. (UPDATE: Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani wrote me to say that the team has in fact ceased efforts to sell a minority stake)
Still, the Chargers have had LA for their taking for a long time, and they're still playing in a second-rate stadium in San Diego. They've done marketing partnerships in LA, they've held training camp in LA, and they've had plenty of conversations with everyone from Phil Anschutz to Ed Roski to anyone else in the LA football game. Yet, the Spanos family has never seemed eager about taking that next extra step to move here. One wonders if there's a deal on the table that makes sense financially for them.