Originally created 10/24/98

LA proposals to NFL offer sparkle and tradition



LOS ANGELES -- Stripped of an NFL team when the Rams bolted to St. Louis and the Raiders took a U-turn to Oakland, Los Angeles has two markedly different groups waiting in the wings for an NFL franchise.

Hollywood deal-maker Michael Ovitz and supporters like Kevin Costner, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal are pushing for a new stadium on a toxic landfill in the suburb of Carson, 10 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

The downtown contender for an expansion team is headed by Los Angeles Kings co-owner Ed Roski, whose company put together the deal for the Staples Center arena being built in the heart of the city. Their plan, which has the backing of Mayor Richard Riordan and other city officials, is to gut and rebuild most of that 75-year-old stadium so steeped in Olympic history. Only the shell would remain intact.

Each group is taking its show on the road to perform for a tough audience -- NFL team owners and league officials.

Roski said each Los Angeles delegation will try to convince the owners that the area is ready for a team, saying Los Angeles is the "entertainment capital of the world" and that "NFL football is entertainment."

The Coliseum, however, has alienated and lost football tenants in the past; Ovitz's group is somewhat of an unknown quantity; and both groups were scrambling to nail down details for their presentations at the league meetings in Kansas City next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Houston, which lost the Oilers, is also bidding for the NFL's 32nd franchise and seems to have its package, including finances, in better shape.

The expansion franchise isn't expected to be awarded until sometime next year and ostensibly would begin play in 2001 or 2002.

Some team owners believe Los Angeles should not be without a franchise, although support among them has been fragmented.

"I've said it all along. I'll continue to say it. LA has got to have an NFL team sooner than later," said Ravens owner Art Modell, who left Cleveland without a team when he shifted his franchise to Baltimore following the 1995 season.

"It's hard for me to comprehend that we can go on without the LA market."

Modell emphasized, however, that he would not make up his mind until he hears the presentations next week as well as the league's report on an expansion site.

Even if the league decides to go with Houston, LA's presentation could influence a disgruntled owner, swayed by what he sees and hears, to pull up stakes and head for California.

"It might pique somebody's interest in moving to the Coliseum," Roski said.

Although the bottom line for owners is usually financial, the proposal by Ovitz's group appears to be the more imaginative of the two LA bids.

The complex would include a 1.5 million square foot shopping mall anchored by a California mission-style stadium with 77,000 seats. Bells would toll when the home team scores -- six for a touchdown, three for a field goal -- and a "business center" would allow harried executives to watch some football and stay in touch with the office at the same time.

Peter Levin, an associate of Ovitz, called the meeting "an opportunity to present what we feel is, in the second leading market in the United States, ... a very viable option to bring NFL football back to Los Angeles."

Although Roski, who recently became the Coliseum point man, infuses new life into that sales pitch, the stadium carries some negative baggage with the NFL. The Coliseum joined Raiders owner Al Davis in a winning antitrust suit against the NFL that allowed him to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982 and cost the league millions of dollars in damages.

The tab for either LA site would be substantial, with the NFL's franchise fee -- Cleveland paid $530 million for its team that begins play next season -- bumping the total as high as $1.2 billion.