Have I got a deal for you!

It's a classic Los Angeles sales pitch. And it compares favorably to those boomtimes in the 1880s when real estate developers stuck oranges on the green spikes of a Joshua tree and told sales prospects that their desert lot was really an orange grove.

Today's real estate developer sticks a corporation's name on an artist's rendering of a football stadium to convince sports fans that their town will once again have an NFL franchise.

"We're united," said Magic Johnson at today's (02/01/11) announcement that naming rights to an unbuilt stadium had been sold, "And that's the sentiment all over the city. The fans, the community want this bad. . . . I don't know what happened in the past but I (think) the community now is really excited about football returning to Los Angeles."

History in Lios Angeles - even sports history - suggests that excited booms are inevitably followed by busts. What Angeleños desire is never a fixed quantity. We want so much and we're so often unsatisfied.

[Update: ESPN Los Angeles examines the politics and economics of the stadium deal in detail here,]

The NFL and other professional football leagues brought multiple teams to Los Angeles between 1926 and 1994. None of them stayed.

In the 1926-1927 season, the Los Angeles Wildcats and Buccaneers played to enthusiastic fans, but not enough of them. Pick-up professional teams played intermittently from the late 1930s through the early 1940s, but never found a place in the national franchise system. The Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference arrived in 1946, lasting four years before folding. The Cleveland Rams of the NFL also arrived that year. They moved to Anaheim in 1980 and left in 1995 for St. Louis. The American Football League brought the Chargers in 1960 and moved them to San Diego in 1961. The Oakland Raiders arrived in 1982 and returned to Oakland for the 1995 season.

Hanging over each of these failed efforts at football boosterism have been the economics of professional sports.

In fact, Los Angeles serves the NFL very well as a city without a team. In negotiations with reluctant cities, franchise owners can leverage their threats of leaving for L.A. into a new stadium, a sweeter cut of parking revenue, even more emphasis on high-rollers over average fans, and other deals that benefit the owners at the expense of the hometown.

For cash-strapped cities with an NFL franchise, Los Angeles is the zombie city they fear they'll become if their franchise flees to a better package of subsidies.

The NFL has other economic issues. too. The league must first resolve its dispute with the Players Association or cancel the 2011 season. That deadline - which seems likely to be met - still serves as an "exit strategy" for stadium developers if the deal with the city begins to dim.

And there's a competing plan - "shovel ready," according to its backers - to build an NFL stadium in the City of Industry.

According to ESPN, even with a naming rights deal in place, construction of a downtown stadium is a long way off. The project must pass environmental impact reviews, overcome opposition from some community groups, complete an entitlement process, and sign a long-term lease agreement with the city. Stadium developers also need $350 million in municipal bonds that will help replace the wing of the Convention Center that will be taken down to fit the new stadium on its downtown site. And both the convention center and the stadium will have to provide additional parking spaces.

Nevertheless, Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group and the principal pitchman for the newly named stadium, is ebulliently confident. "It's simple: 13 million people went through the campus last year, we've proven we know how to handle 80,000 people because we do it quite often," Leiweke said at today's press conference. "We have 32,000 parking spaces and we have all the freeways. We sent a message today that it's about the community. We're going to get this done now."

The guy with the oranges and a Joshua tree couldn't have blended self-deception and snake oil any better. On the basis of freeways and parking spaces - the elements that apparently define who we are - a community is celebrated and given meaning by a football stadium deal.

It's never been that simple.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Claremont Colleges Digital Library. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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