Pro football has a “California problem.”
So say the most powerful people in the sport. As a new National Football League season kicks off this weekend, those people are busily pursuing solutions that serve themselves, not the state. So California needs some offense – our own creative counterproposals.
First, let’s start by congratulating ourselves. The existence of a California problem is actually a triumph for the Golden State.
While other places have spent public dollars on stadiums for the NFL and its billionaire owners, California localities – with the prominent exception of Santa Clara, which helped the 49ers build their new Levi’s Stadium – have wisely refused to throw good money after football. As a result, Los Angeles has no team and the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers play in old, rundown stadiums and haven’t been able to convince their cities to build new ones.
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What to do? The Chargers and Raiders owners plan to abandon their California communities and build a shared stadium in the Los Angeles County city of Carson. But this has created another problem, since the St. Louis Rams want to move to L.A. as well.
All three teams think they will be worth more in the nation’s second-largest city. But no one has figured out how to fit one team or two teams (three teams is too many, everyone agrees) into L.A.
News coverage surrounding the dance between L.A., the NFL and its three restless franchises suggest this is a complex puzzle. It’s not. This big state offers many places that could host football; what’s needed is a plan that would serve the state’s interests, not just those of the NFL.
Here’s mine. For starters, the Raiders shouldn’t have to leave Northern California when they’d likely be welcomed in Sacramento, which loves to fund pro sports. That city just gave more than $250 million to an arena for basketball’s Sacramento Kings.
Sacramento’s community of lobbyists could easily afford the luxury boxes NFL teams are so eager to sell. If Sacramento balks, Fresno – whose 520,000 residents make it larger than 12 of 31 NFL cities – might step up to big-league status. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was born in Fresno and went to Fresno State.
As for the Chargers, my plan would have them move just a few miles south to Tijuana. Building a stadium on the Mexico side of the border would be far cheaper than in San Diego, and the NFL would accomplish its goal of establishing a team in Mexico, where it has a huge following.
The name Chargers would fit Tijuana (a center of electronics manufacturing). And the team would boost the branding of San Diego-Tijuana as a uniquely binational North American metropolis and economic hub. Already, San Diego and Tijuana are building a bridge to connect San Diego travelers to Tijuana’s airport.
If L.A. must have a team, finances favor the Rams. The Rams’ stadium project in Inglewood is part of a larger redevelopment of the former Hollywood Park racetrack property, so it would inject more money into the economy than a Chargers-Raiders stadium in Carson. And the Rams wouldn’t be abandoning other California cities to come to Inglewood.
Maybe state leaders have a better game plan. Maybe you do. If so, we need one now. The season is underway, California. It’s time to strap on our helmets.