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“Football nowadays is for cities that still have to put themselves on the map,” Nelson said. Places, that is, like Jacksonville, which ballooned up from a Faulknerian swamp town over the last 40 years. These are the places that tend to win NFL bidding wars because they still see the pro pigskin as a sign of urban adulthood, the way a 20-year-old grows a mustache. As Nelson put it, “Do you think that if you stopped the average guy on the street and asked him ’What‘s really wrong with L.A.?’ that he‘d say we don’t have a pro football team?”
While researching the original Staples deal (which was also tenuously attached to a similar stadium proposal), Nelson found that the average NFL team “generates local revenues on the order of a large Wal-Mart.”
“I think the greatest benefit of an NFL franchise goes to AM radio talk-show hosts,” Nelson hazarded. “Team members make such great guests.” Of course, the enormous concentration of local electronic media as a whole benefits hugely, or so the promoters‘ thinking goes. Except, of course, for that local broadcast blackout. And, of course, there are the leviathan 15 million residents of the region, all of them potential game-goers, though you can only fit most of the inhabitants of Santa Monica into the largest imaginable stadium. Which is empty 340 days of the year. Still and all, the gross considerations do make media moguls go snork, drool. Just look at the fool mega-has-been Mike Ovitz made of himself, trying to plant a team on a dump site in Carson a few years back -- that was the seasonal L.A. pro-football “game” before the last one.
But wait: L.A. already has a successful pro football team. If, like most of the world, that’s what you call the sport of soccer. The L.A. Galaxy has won a league championship and attracted loyalty and youthful enthusiasm that any L.A. NFL team might envy. Attendance has stalled a bit -- it‘s lately been around 16,000 per game, said Galaxy vice president Doug Hamilton.
“But that soccer audience is now a growing audience,” said Hamilton. It was recently reported that nearly 40 percent of the city’s population was born outside the U.S., in places where soccer, not hardhat football, is the national sport. And in a half-Latino city, Galaxy fandom potential is out of sight -- not even counting Anglo soccer moms and kids.
“It‘s played from January to November, it’s got a world audience in the billions,” Hamilton said. And since there are women‘s teams, it’s a sport that half of the human race can care about. By June of next year, the Galaxy will be playing in its own new, $120 million, 27,000-seat stadium on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills. “Soccer can only get big when we‘re in control of the revenue stream,” said Hamilton. That’s long been the rule in the NFL.
No wonder that the major power behind the Galaxy is -- guess who -- Phil Anschutz‘s AEG: Key player in the latest round of “Get the NFL ball club.” I suppose only billionaires can hedge bets this big. But that’s how they get to be multibillionaires.