J. Jones Says L.A. a Top Priority for New Commish
OXNARD, Calif. -- During a lengthy conversation as he watched his team's practice here Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the NFL remains on course toward putting a franchise back in Los Angeles within the next few years.
The issue has been put on the back burner while the sport's franchise owners go through the process of selecting a new commissioner. But Jones listed getting a team back in the nation's second-largest market as one of the top priorities for the new commissioner-to-be.
"I'm not going to rank a job one," Jones said. "But I will say that... Los Angeles is a priority. Certainly the league and the players' relationship is a priority. Our media, the opportunities we've got ahead for showing our games, that's certainly a high priority area.... I list all of those in the top five."
The owners have been considering possible stadium sites in Los Angeles, which has been without an NFL franchise since the Raiders and Rams left following the 1994 season. Outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue this year added several owners, including Jones and the Seattle Seahawks' Paul Allen, to his Los Angeles working group.
"I think there is more momentum right now in the NFL today than there was this time last year," Jones said. "There is more, 'Roll your sleeves up. Let's get down. [It's] not easy, but let's figure something out.' There is more of that. I've had six committee meetings about Los Angeles. This time a year ago, I'd never been to one. I wasn't on the committee. Now it's been expanded. It's a point of emphasis. When Paul Allen starts coming to those meetings, getting in those calls and that type of thing, then that shows some real emphasis and interest.
"It's not going to be easy. We all know you've got to get the team resolved, and you've got to get the key individual or individuals involved [to own the franchise]. We don't have that.... I don't have the answer--I don't think we've got the answer right now--as to getting it done. [But] it is a priority. I've been in interviews here the last several weeks about a new commissioner. Never in one did Los Angeles and a team in Los Angeles not come up."
Last summer, with the debate about whether to increase revenue-sharing among the teams raging among the owners, Jones cautioned that a greatly bolstered revenue-sharing plan could jeopardize a Los Angeles franchise because the team would be so expensive to own and operate there and the owner of it would need to retain his revenues for his investment to make financial sense.
The owners did agree to a beefed-up revenue-sharing plan, transferring more money from high-revenue teams to low-revenue clubs, in March in conjunction with approving a labor settlement with the players' union. But Jones said that while the deal hurts high-revenue teams, including a prospective Los Angeles franchise, it is not so taxing that it would preclude a club from being able to operate successfully in Los Angeles.
"Shame on us if we do it to the degree that would keep us from having a team in Los Angeles," said Jones, whose team has its training camp about an hour's drive north of Los Angeles. "It's possible to do that. You could do it strong enough that it'd be tough to ever get a team in Los Angeles, if you were strong enough with it. The tradeoff that we looked at [was that] we said, 'Okay, what do we do to have competitive balance and what do we do to work together, which is the tradition of the NFL?' But it's a question of degree. I don't think we seriously damaged the opportunity to get a team in Los Angeles. Some of the dialogue, if we'd gone down that road, might have damaged it, some of the ideas."
The owners seem intent on keeping the league at 32 teams, so it's likely that the club that ends up in Los Angeles will be a relocated franchise rather than an expansion team. The New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers have been mentioned as leading potential candidates. Some owners might object to the notion of allowing an owner who has failed in another city to have the coveted Los Angeles market. But Jones said that he wouldn't object as long as the owner had done all that he could to make things work where his team was.
"The implication is if they moved from another market, they failed," Jones said. "But if you made the assessment that they maximized all their opportunities and they did a great job but the market itself didn't allow them to be everything they could -- some of the best financial runs there are is getting back close to the line of scrimmage or taking a yard loss. It could be one of the greatest plays you've ever seen offensively just to get back to a yard loss. If we have owners that have shown and exhibited that kind of resourcefulness and that kind of commitment, then I could envision a situation where it wasn't working and yet the owner would be worthy of having Los Angeles." ...
Jones also is on the eight-owner search committee that picked the five finalists, announced Sunday, to succeed Tagliabue, who is retiring after nearly 17 years on the job.
Roger Goodell, the NFL's chief operating officer, is the heavy favorite to be elected commissioner when the owners meet next week in Chicago. Another finalist, Washington-based attorney Gregg Levy, could be regarded as the distant No. 2 choice because of his similarities to Tagliabue. Levy is the league's chief outside counsel, as Tagliabue was before he was elected commissioner in 1989. Levy works for the same firm, Covington & Burling, as Tagliabue did.
The other three candidates are outsiders -- Cleveland attorney Frederick Nance; Robert Reynolds, the vice chairman and COO of Fidelity Investments; and Mayo Shattuck III, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Constellation Energy in Baltimore. There seems to be little incentive for the owners to pick an outsider as commissioner at a time when the league is thriving. But Jones defended the search committee's choices and said it would be possible for someone from outside the league to succeed as commissioner.
"It's very do-able, very do-able, for someone without NFL experience to come in and really do a good job as commissioner," Jones said. "I think the process that we've had and [the fact that] we've got these candidates, three of which are from outside the league, will give us an opportunity to really discuss that. We are so much more than we were 17 years ago. We are so much expanded in the business of the NFL and some of the sophistication that's required relative to our media, relative to labor negotiations and certainly other areas, the business ventures that are there. ... The ability to manage those can be acquired from their experience in business and other professions. It doesn't have to just come from experience in the NFL.
"Certainly if you've spent a lot of time in the NFL and have a real command of those and have demonstrated that you handle those well and you have the ability to interface and handle some tough times and have got a little experience there, that is a plus. But it is that way in any succession in any business: People on the inside have those things going for them. On the other hand, while they've been doing that, someone else has been really selling and developing skills outside that they could bring to the NFL that might expand our potential. Yes, it's possible."
Possible? Perhaps. But it's not likely that an outside candidate will get the chance this time around, with many owners convinced that more than the 22 votes necessary to elect Goodell are lined up entering the Chicago meeting.
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