Is L.A. the next stop for the Colts?

Is L.A. the next stop for the Colts? – Behind the Scenes

Vito Stellino

EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO, A FLEET of Mayflower trucks arrived at the Baltimore Colts’ complex in the dead of night and moved one of the NFL’s most historic franchises to Indianapolis.

That incident had major ramifications. To prevent the Baltimore Orioles from doing something similar, the state of Maryland built them a new stadium funded by lottery revenue. Camden Yards was the first of baseball’s retro parks, a style that has been copied across the country. In 1995, Baltimore then lured Cleveland’s Browns (who became the Ravens) to a brand-new downtown stadium next to Camden Yards. The Ravens captured a Super Bowl title in 2000. On some levels, it can be argued that the Colts’ departure rejuvenated the Baltimore sports scene.

For Indianapolis, though, the move turned out to be a mixed bag. While it brought the city the enhanced status that goes with having an NFL team, the Colts have yet to reach the Super Bowl, or even win a home playoff game. Their high-water mark was when they narrowly lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1995 AFC title game. But the future could bring better times to the Colts. With the trio of Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison spearheading the offense and new head coach Tony Dungy fixing the defense, the team is poised to be a contender for several years.

But the question now is, will it happen in Indianapolis?

Just two decades after their arrival, the city is in danger of losing the Colts. The main problem is that the RCA Dome, which opened in 1984, has become antiquated. It doesn’t have the number of premium seats that the newer stadiums have, which is why the Colts are near the bottom of the league in team revenue, and its total seating capacity is only 56,125. On top of that, Indianapolis is a small market.

Adding to the issue is the league’s apparent determination to have a team in Los Angeles by 2006, the year the next TV contract will kick in. With the economy showing few signs of perking up, the NFL needs something special to offer the networks in the next contract. A team in the Los Angeles market, the second-biggest in the nation, could be that hook.

After years of snags, the league finally seems to have a viable plan for a suitable stadium, in the form of a rebuilt Rose Bowl. Officials from Pasadena, Calif., home of the Rose Bowl, have already hired consultant John Moag, who played a pivotal role in the Browns’ move to Baltimore, to broker a deal.

The league likely would promise to play several Super Bowls in the new stadium. Given the lure of the Rose Bowl, Pasadena probably could charge record fees for personal seat licenses and luxury boxes to finance most of the construction; a loan from the league would cover the difference.

It’s not a given, however, that the Colts will be the team that moves to LA. Expansion is out of the cards by ’06 and beyond, but the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints are two existing teams that could wind up there. Still, the Colts seem to be the best fit. In Indianapolis, they are jammed between bigger markets in Cincinnati and Chicago. In addition, basketball rules the city; the Colts often play second fiddle to the NBA’s Pacers.

Most importantly, the Colts may be able to get out of their lease after the 2006 season, if not before. The lease runs through 2113, but the Colts can leave Indy after the 2006 season if their revenues are below the league median in two of the previous three years, provided the city doesn’t make up the difference. Those payments could start as early as 2004 and likely would cost the city more than $10 million a year. If the city opts not to pay that money, the Colts could be gone by ’04.

It’s noteworthy that team owner Jimmy Irsay hasn’t promised to keep the team in Indianapolis. He was noncommittal when asked by The Indianapolis Star if he planned to keep the team in Indy through 2006. “It’s like asking me hypothetically, `What are you going to do if Peyton Manning gets hurt?’ I don’t contemplate that,” he said.

Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson seems determined to explore an avenues to prevent the team from leaving, including asking the state for help or raising taxes. “I wouldn’t put anything off table,”, he says. Imagine the outcry, though, if he tried to raise taxes to subsidize an NFL team.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group