In the same week last month that the refurbished Superdome opened for Saints football, an equally significant event happened in Los Angeles. That Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council passed legislation that put together a financial package that will fund an NFL-caliber football stadium. The operators of the city’s arena, the Staples Center, will be a minority investor in the project, but for them to get involved they must receive notice that L.A. will be getting a team.
Since 1995, when the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis because of the absence of a modern faculty, L.A. has been the boogeyman in the back of the room of NFL venues. The NFL has said that it won’t create an expansion team, so L.A. will have to attract an existing franchise. Whenever a city with a team is mired in a stadium issue, there is speculation that the team might move to the lucrative West Coast market. New Orleans, serving a small market, is usually part of the speculation as well. (Even the team’s name when tagged on to the city of “The Angels” seemed to fit.)
This time, however, with the L.A. deal finalized and the West Coast stadium on the way, New Orleans’ name wasn’t mentioned. As part of the Dome renovation deal, the Saints are committed to the city through 2025. That same plan also masterfully triggered a redevelopment initiative in the neighborhood of the Dome that will give badly needed energy to an area that has merely limped along.
While big, rich L.A. is still struggling just to get a team in place, little ol’ New Orleans has parlayed its franchise into an economic engine.
Because of its own stadium controversies and short-term lease, the San Diego Chargers are the team most likely move to L.A., located a short ride up the expressway. Jacksonville, Fla., home of the Jaguars, would be a more deserving choice for relocation. (The move would take the team from the western terminus of Interstate 10 to the eastern end.) Attendance there through the years has been a disappointment. (Last season the Jaguars drew an average of 7,000 fewer fans per game than the Saints.) A long-term lease will probably save the franchise from moving but, notably, Jacksonville, before it got an expansion team, once heavily courted the Saints, back in the early days when the team’s original owner wanted to sell. It was partially the threat from Jacksonville that prompted former governor Edwin Edwards to look for an owner – a process that ended with finding Tom Benson.
(Benson would later tell the story that when Edwards called he said he had a group of potential investors lined up and asked if he wanted to be part of the plan, but when he got to Baton Rouge, Benson said, he discovered that he was the only investor they had.)
New Orleans has much to be proud of in the way that this saga has developed so far. Between the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and SMG, the Dome’s management company, some of the city’s best minds are in sports management. For the Saints and their neighborhood the future looks good. One day, when the renamed Los Angeles Chargers come to town, they can look around and see a city that did things right.