Mayor James Hahn announced today that he now supports using the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as the venue to attract a new NFL team to the nation’s #2 market. LA has been without any pro football team since the early 1990s, when the Rams left for Saint Louis, leaving La-La land in the lurch. However, Hahn’s proposal will likely wind up chasing off the NFL rather than attracting them back, regardless of the TV revenues:
Mayor James Hahn said he now thinks a modified Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would be the appropriate home for the possible return of an NFL team to the city.
Hahn had previously backed a proposal to build a new stadium, but said the progress the Coliseum has made in preparing environmental impact documents has given it the edge over other possible sites. …
A $400 million renovation to prepare it for a pro team would reduce the Coliseum’s seating capacity from 92,500 to 78,000 seats and add 200 luxury boxes. It also would add new locker rooms and a press box.
I spent most of my first thirty-five years living in the greater LA area, and have been to the Coliseum on a number of occasions. I saw the great Walter “Sweetness” Payton’s last NFL game there against the Raiders during their nomadic period, and I’ve been to a number of other concerts and events staged there as well. The Coliseum consists of hard, steel benches and stone steps, and that’s it. Not only that, but the structure itself looks old and tired, and the neighborhood in which it resides is frightening, even in daylight. It’s not South Central, but it’s close.
The Rams couldn’t draw fans there in the 1970s when they fielded some pretty good teams, which is why they bolted for Anaheim. The Raiders drew passably good attendance, but if you ever went to a Raiders game there, you’d understand it was because they actively marketed to the thug demographic (mostly wanna-be thugs). One Pittsburgh fan was beaten nearly to death there for rooting for the Steelers; he spent time in the local ICU. Gang fights and drunken brawls happened with depressing regularity, something notably lacking at Rams games in Anaheim, or even Dodger games in LA, just north of the Colisem in the hills.
In fact, LA screwed Peter O’Malley out of his shot at owning an expansion NFL team and building a new stadium at Chavez Ravine, next to Dodger Stadium. O’Malley needed to get some land with which to expand, but otherwise planned on building the stadium himself with his own money. The city played him along, encouraging him to work with the NFL and draw plans up for the crown jewel such a facility would have become:
In August 1995, [Mayor Richard Riordan] phoned Peter O’Malley and asked the Dodgers owner if he would research building a football facility adjacent to Dodger Stadium. Or as O’Malley later told friends, “I was sitting in my office, minding my own damn business, when the mayor called and told me I could be a big help.”
For more than a year, O’Malley and then Dodgers vice president of finance Bob Graziano worked almost exclusively to produce a viable stadium blue-print, largely leaving the day-to-day running of the Dodgers to then executive vice president Fred Claire. …
At the same time, according to one source, the mayor was privately urging R.D. Hubbard, CEO of Hollywood Park in Inglewood, to put a stadium next to the track while nudging others to develop a plan for South Park. Problem was, the mayor soon realized he needed Ridley-Thomas’s support to get the proposed downtown Staples Center approved by the city council. Ridley-Thomas, belatedly recognizing the value of the Coliseum in his own backyard–and with an eye on hizzoner’s job–told Riordan he could have his vote if Riordan would back a Coliseum-renovation plan. The mayor agreed. Shortly thereafter, in August 1996, O’Malley received a visitor–Ridley-Thomas.
After wasting 18 months of O’Malley’s time and effort, the city instead told the NFL that the Coliseum would have to be the venue for any new team. Since all of what happened with O’Malley and his efforts to land a football team had taken place discreetly, most Angelenos were unaware of this stab in the back. Frustrated, O’Malley decided to sell the Dodgers and walk away from Los Angeles altogether; with his typical class, he walked away silent about the NFL bid. This article doesn’t mention his sense of betrayal, but the story found its way into the local media eventually.
I understand the long, glorious history of the Coliseum and why Angelenos want to see the venue brought back to its former heights of fame. But unless Hahn spends that $400 million razing it to the ground and building something completely new in its place, with a phalanx of National Guard troops surrounding it, then they’re wasting their time and money. They had a golden opportunity to bring back the NFL with a privately-financed, first-class facility run by one of the most storied families in professional sports. Instead, now as then, they’re pitching an old and unattractive facility while promising to spend almost half a billion dollars of public money to fix it.
And you wonder why I moved to Minnesota.