Joe Mathews: The last thing L.A. needs is an NFL team

An artist’s rendering of a proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles.
An artist’s rendering of a proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles. AEG

Mayor Eric Garcetti says Los Angeles shouldn’t give taxpayer dollars to the National Football League. I disagree. L.A. would be wise to pay the NFL – to stay out.

Unfortunately, 20 years after the Raiders and Rams left town, the very bad idea of luring the NFL back is gaining momentum. Los Angeles just extended a downtown stadium deal that was expiring. The NFL is surveying rich Angelenos to see if they’d buy season tickets. Garcetti himself says it’s “highly likely” a team will land here in the near future.

So there’s no time to waste in organizing an all-out blitz to stop the drive for a new team. The arguments against bringing the NFL are so strong and numerous that I can’t list them all in a short column, but here are a few:

1. An NFL team would add to our deep bench of dubious celebrities. L.A. already has enough athletes and other celebrities to distract TV stations and newspapers from covering things that actually matter; we don’t need to add a team of rambunctious football players to our Kardashian culture. And then there are our sports team owners. After the damage Frank McCourt and Donald Sterling did to our civic fabric, why risk bringing another rich and crazy person to town?

2. An NFL team in L.A. would cannibalize existing businesses. Studies show that adding a pro sports franchise doesn’t add to a city’s wealth. Instead, it redistributes existing dollars away from other entertainment options to the new franchise. Since the three candidates likely to relocate to L.A. are the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers or St. Louis Rams, we’d be stealing from our fellow Californians, or from pitiable Midwesterners who don’t enjoy L.A.’s wide range of cultural offerings.

3. A new team would be wasteful. The NFL requires cities to build a new football stadium in order to get a team, but we already have plenty of stadiums. Pasadena has spent nearly $200 million modernizing the Rose Bowl, USC is refurbishing the Coliseum, and baseball’s Dodgers and Angels play in stadiums capable of hosting football. If you want to see what can go wrong with a brand-new stadium, check out the parking, traffic and fan violence problems at the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

4. A new team might be bad for Los Angeles’ own football fans. Just as ocean life often thrives around collapsed oil rigs, the absence of the NFL has allowed a delicate football ecology to flourish in the City of Angels. Our TV stations air the best pro games from across the country. And on Sundays, Angelenos with roots all over America gather together, dressed in their hometown team’s jerseys, to watch games in bars and restaurants. And if you must see the NFL in person, the Chargers are just a train ride away in San Diego.

Despite all this, many of our leaders insist that a city of our grandeur should have an NFL team and that a downtown stadium deal won’t cost us anything. Yet the current deal uses public land and requires the city to sell some $300 million in bonds to build new convention space. And the NFL might draw big public subsidies by giving L.A. two teams instead of just one, or committing to hosting multiple Super Bowls here.

Ask yourself: Do you trust the L.A. political leaders who just granted a $1.6 billion tax giveaway to Hollywood to hold the line against public support for a pro football team? Me, neither.

To avoid giving big money to NFL billionaires, L.A’s best hope may be to offer the league incentives to stay away. When you think of all the costs of having a team – potential stadium costs now and long-term, additional traffic, the business that football would divert from other entertainment options, and all the time wasted on the NFL drama – paying off the NFL becomes a bargain.

The county and city should offer the league $100 million in exchange for a guarantee never to put a team here. And if the league turns it down? That, at least, would make the reality undeniable: The NFL wants to take L.A. for all it’s worth.

Joe Mathews is California and Innovation editor for Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.