LOS ANGELES -- NFL to city: Get money. City to NFL: Get real.
Before awarding the 32nd NFL franchise to Los Angeles, football owners have insisted on a stadium deal with more public financing, which the state and city have adamantly refused to do. The impasse prompted the state's negotiator to quit and sent competing ownership groups and local officials scrambling Wednesday to plot their next move.
"They have to decide how to invest their dollars," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "A new Coliseum or revitalized Exposition Park, Super Bowls, other events -- is it worth some level of public support? ... If LA decides it's not, we have to explore other options. It's their decision."
Asked to comment, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan issued a statement through a spokeswoman saying he "still believes the NFL will do the right thing by awarding a team to Los Angeles and that it'll be good for the city and NFL."
The dispute has provoked little public outcry from fans still stinging from the defection of the Rams and Raiders.
The latest snag climaxed Tuesday with the resignation of Bill Chadwick, appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to be the state's chief negotiator.
Chadwick asked NFL owners last week in Chicago to sign a non-binding agreement requiring owners to build a stadium on publicly owned land at Exposition Park at no cost to taxpayers.
The agreement said the state would charge the expansion team $2.5 million to $5 million in annual rent for the property and pledged the state's support for issuing $150 million in bonds to pay for parking at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Instead of signing it, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue asked for more cash. Some speculate Chadwick's rent proposal may have irked owners; many NFL teams play in rent-free stadiums.
The NFL views the parking bonds proposal as league-generated money because the funds would be repaid by parking fees for stadium events.
"An NFL expansion team at the Coliseum requires a new stadium with adequate access and parking, and an economic plan that allows the team to be successful and to compete," Aiello said. "Building the stadium and running it under Bill Chadwick's proposal would not work."
A frustrated Chadwick sent a three-page resignation letter to Davis on Tuesday, suggesting that pro football in Los Angeles might not be worth the trouble. The governor's office did not return phone calls on whether he will accept the resignation.
Chadwick, an investment banker, found the NFL's machinations infuriating, said state Sen. Kevin Murray of Angeles, who has taken part in the negotiations.
"He put together a good-faith effort ... and by the time he gets home, he finds out the NFL is saying, 'We need this, we need that,"' Murray said. "Particularly people outside of government get frustrated by that."
Chadwick won't be gone "until the governor says, 'I don't want you any more,"' Murray added.
Representatives for prospective owners Ed Roski Jr. and Eli Broad declined comment. Michael Ovitz, who heads a competing ownership group, was out of the country and unavailable to speak, his spokesman said.
The NFL is "in contact with the governor's office and awaiting direction from the governor on how to proceed." Aiello said.
Meanwhile, football-hungry Houston ready to step in if Los Angeles fails to submit an adequate stadium proposal before a Sept. 15 deadline.
"Maybe they can do it faster, we couldn't," said Bob McNair, the businessman heading Houston's NFL bid. "We know how much work it took to do it in Houston, where there is a lot more support. I'm not saying it can't be done. It is a real challenge for them."
Houston came in second in March when the NFL chose Los Angeles for expansion. Houston offered the NFL a publicly financed $310 million stadium and guaranteed sellouts for five years.
"For it to be successful, the owner can't put up the money for the stadium and the franchise," McNair said of Los Angeles' proposal. "It is just too much."
But Allen Sanderson, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who follows sports business, said Los Angeles' approach was the right way to go.
Cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, whose Bears want the city to finance a new stadium to replace aging Soldier Field, can afford to use a hard-line approach because the NFL is desperate to have franchises in metropolitan areas rich with TV households, Sanderson said.
Los Angeles has 5.5 million TV households, compared with 4 million in Houston. Approximately two-thirds of the NFL's income is derived from TV revenue and advertising.
"You rarely have a decent bargaining position (with the NFL)," Sanderson said. "Los Angeles is in that unique position now, and it'd be nice to see them exercise it."
Cities with smaller TV markets seeking pro football teams need to offer big packages to entice the NFL, he said.
"The issue has always been: To what extent can we fleece the local economy?" Sanderson said. "That strategy hasn't changed that much."
Returning the NFL to Los Angeles has largely been met with indifference from fans.
"We use tax money for everything else," said special education teacher Janean Gammage, 29, as she stood at the Coliseum. "We might as well use it to bring a team back to LA. I don't mind at all."
Still, no NFL team in Los Angeles has its advantages to some fans.
"Without a football team, we don't have to deal with being blacked out of all the good games on TV," said sales representative Jeff Suckiel.