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The L-Word: Football's Go-To Bargaining Chip

Several NFL teams have threatened to move to L.A. after cities refused to give them money. The teams never do.


An NFL team is upset that taxpayers won’t hand over money to fix its stadium. Word gets out the team is pondering a move to Los Angeles.

If you guessed I’m talking about the Chargers, you’re right. If you guessed I’m talking about any other team, you’re right.

In recent months, both the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers have followed the NFL’s time-honored tradition of threatening to take their talents to the nation’s second-largest television market to squeeze public dollars out of their respective cities.

The Dolphins lost out on state funding for a proposed stadium renovation earlier this month, and its CEO wouldn’t say whether the team was staying in Miami. In January, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was invited to a private meeting of Charlotte’s City Council, where city staff warned that Los Angeles was lurking should Charlotte not help pay for stadium renovations. The team eventually struck a deal for $87.5 million in taxpayer money.

This kind of maneuvering has happened as a matter of course during the almost two decades since Los Angeles has been without a team. The specter of Los Angeles is the NFL’s leverage with other cities.

Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times described one of the most outlandish efforts in a December 2010 Q-and-A:

One of your best insights during the Los Angeles stadium search is that Los Angeles has more value to the NFL without a team than with one. Can you explain what leverage the NFL has with a team-less L.A.?

Los Angeles is a huge hammer for the league to hold out there — for any team to intimate that they might relocate to Los Angeles, which seems like a very real and natural possibility. It’s the nation’s second-largest market. We saw it with (Saints owner) Tom Benson in New Orleans, we saw it with (Colts owner) Jim Irsay in Indianapolis. Jim Irsay had his Colts plane at Van Nuys Airport with the Colts horseshoe logo on the tail section and it was parked there for a week uncovered, uncanvassed, or whatever you say.

Their team plane?

Their team plane was parked.

He could have just been vacationing, he could have been visiting friends, he could have been doing anything, but it sent the message to Indianapolis that, “Wow, there’s a flirtation going on with Los Angeles. We better make a financial commitment to keep the Colts here.”

One of the reasons why the NFL will always hold out Los Angeles as a two-team market is because they don’t want to lose that leverage. If a team were to move to L.A., they don’t want to give up that trump card of, “We could still put another team there.”

When the Dolphins news came out, Farmer blasted recent speculation about teams moving.

Just two weeks ago, U-T San Diego sports columnist Kevin Acee insisted that the Chargers “will not wait forever” for a new stadium. He wrote:

The window of opportunity to get a stadium here is ajar. But we have learned that windows of opportunity don’t stay open very long with the Chargers.

If Acee was referring to the team’s declining ability to contend for a Super Bowl, he’s right. If he was referring to a stadium search, well, it’s been more than 10 years without much movement. That window’s pretty wide open.

San Diego has plenty of reasons to consider a new football stadium. The city losing $10 million-plus annually to run Qualcomm with tens of millions more in needed stadium fixes is a big one.

The team possibly moving to Los Angeles, however, isn’t one of them, at least for the foreseeable future.

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

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