Just one week before NFL owners are scheduled to vote on the Cleveland Browns' proposed move to Baltimore, the Seattle Seahawks stunned the league by telling Seattle-area officials yesterday that they plan to move to Los Angeles this fall.
"It came out of the blue," said Browns owner Art Modell, who said that Seattle owner Ken Behring had promised to vote for the Browns' move, but hadn't indicated he planned to move.
The development was surprising because the Seahawks don't have a firm commitment for a new stadium in Los Angeles and they would be defying a league resolution giving all 30 owners control of the future of the Los Angeles market.
The Seahawks would play at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., until a new stadium is built, possibly in Orange County near Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium.
Behring didn't comment yesterday and King County (Wash.) Executive Gary Locke said the two sides would meet again today. "We're still talking, and that's always a good sign," Locke said.
The Seahawks are the fifth NFL team to announce a move in the past year.
The Rams and Raiders moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis and Oakland, Calif., respectively, last season and the Browns announced a move to Baltimore on Nov. 6. The Oilers plan to move from Houston to Nashville if the Tennessee city meets certain ticket goals.
This latest move would contribute to the league's image of instability.
One team executive, who requested anonymity, said, "If the league had six eyes, they'd all be black."
The owners are scheduled to meet in Chicago next Thursday and Friday to vote on the Browns' move and revised revenue sharing, but the Seahawks' move likely will be discussed.
All indications were that the Browns' move would be approved easily, but Modell said he didn't know whether this latest development would alter the vote.
"I have no idea what effect it'll have on the electorate. They could say, 'Art played by the rules, let's give him his approval' or they could say, 'Let's put a stop to all moves,' " Modell said.
Seattle is likely to put up a spirited fight to block the move.
Gov. Mike Lowry said he expects the Seahawks to honor their Kingdome lease, which has 10 years to run. The Seahawks contend the Kingdome is not the first-class facility guaranteed under their agreement.
Sen. Slade Gorton (R.-Wash.) said he would back King County in any legal action. "It's totally outrageous," Gorton said. "Two weeks ago, Behring was in my office assuring me the team was staying in Seattle. It is plain that he planned this all along, and it has nothing to do with the Kingdome."
House Speaker Clyde Ballard said state aid is out of the question and added that Behring "has just been looking for an excuse to move."
An NFL spokesman, Greg Aiello, said he had no information on the proposed move, but noted that the league passed a resolution last year that the "Los Angeles franchise opportunity would be controlled by the league, the 30 teams collectively."
Any team wanting to move to Los Angeles was supposed to apply to the league first.
John Moag, head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said the fact that the league passed a resolution to control the Los Angeles market means that it shouldn't be compared to the Browns' move.
Behring said it would take $200 million to renovate the Kingdome, including $90 million to fortify it against earthquakes.
The Seahawks also are unhappy that the Mariners are getting a new baseball-only stadium.
"I knew they were unhappy and a little angry about $220 million being earmarked for a baseball stadium while they were ignoring the Seahawks completely," Modell said.
Modell said he didn't want to take a position on the move until he gets more information.
"I don't want to prejudge Ken Behring," he said.