National Football League owners and executives are huddling in Phoenix this week and Chargers fans are waiting for big announcements that probably won't come. The owners were given a thorough briefing on the team-relocation situation in Los Angeles, but it's doubtful there will be definitive word coming from this meeting.
However, team owners may have dropped a hint that the Los Angeles mess could be near a resolution. Next season, the league will end its blackout rule — the blacking out of home games on TV if they are not sold out 72 hours before kickoff. (Actually, teams themselves and companies have thwarted blackouts by buying up tickets.)
If some team or teams will be moving to Los Angeles, the league will not want a re-run of the experience when the Houston Oilers moved to Nashville in the 1990s.
In 1996, the Oilers played another season in Houston even though they had announced they were moving. Attendance was a disaster. In 1997, the team played in Memphis — another attendance disaster.
If the Chargers or Raiders announce a pending departure, then play another season, fans would not show up and the local TV audience would shrink. Or if either team played a season or two at another L.A. venue before going to a new stadium, something similar could happen. In theory, the NFL's ending of the blackout rule only applies to next season, but it could be extended.
If the owners are smart, they will be discussing (probably in private) the obvious bifurcation of NFL teams. Certain rich and populous locations are perfect for the NFL: the teams can rake in money from seat licenses, luxury seats, and suites, as well as fat TV markets.
Among the juicy markets: New York, L.A., Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Miami, Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco (including Silicon Valley), Minneapolis, and Seattle. Then there are markets that are medium-sized but not so financially flush: Phoenix, Detroit, San Diego, Tampa, St. Louis, Denver, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Nashville, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Buffalo (ailing Oakland is considered part of the San Francisco market).
The game is changing: by and large, the big and rich markets get the fanciest stadiums — the kind that are out of the question in San Diego, with its huge infrastructure and pension deficits. The Chargers claim that Orange and Los Angeles counties represent 30 percent of the team's market; if that's true, an L.A. team — or two — would pull the rug from under the Chargers' market. You can see why the team so badly wants to relocate to L.A. The Chargers and Raiders came up with a goofy plan to combine their assets in a stadium in Carson. What assets? According to Forbes, the Spanos family is worth $1.25 billion and $1 billion of that represents the value of the Chargers. Oakland's Davis family is not even listed with Forbes's sports billionaires. Neither team can put significant cash into a Carson facility.
TV is increasingly the future of the NFL. But according to stationindex.com, San Diego is the 28th-largest TV market — even smaller than Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, which is 20th, and Raleigh-Durham, which is 27th.
The Chargers' last hope would seem to be getting named the second team in Phil Kroenke's planned Inglewood stadium, which has its entitlements and is theoretically ready to go.
Kroenke, owner of the St. Louis Rams, will presumably move the team to Inglewood. He would make a lot of money if a second team played at his stadium, too, but he would charge a team heavily for the privilege — and that could eliminate the Chargers and Raiders. (On Monday, March 23, Raiders owner Mark Davis was asked if he could be happy if his team stayed in Oakland, and he replied, "Absolutely.")