Saints, Jags at home in L.A.?

NFL Week

October 30, 2005|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

In a flurry of activity worthy of a playoff drive, the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars have begun positioning themselves for a brighter future.

When it comes to the NFL's bottom line, however, that means stadium leases and revenue sources, not first downs and field goals.

One team was displaced by a hurricane. The other could be banished by political machinations and fan apathy. A tentative solution may be which franchise can get to Los Angeles the fastest.

Just when you thought you had seen the last of the NFL's heavy-handed leverage tactics, the cities of New Orleans, San Antonio, Jacksonville and Los Angeles all have been dumped into the swirling broth of relocation.

The Saints can't go back to New Orleans any time soon because of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The resulting flood left them without a stadium, fan base or home.

Temporarily settled in San Antonio - where team owner Tom Benson has a residence - the Saints reportedly are interested in relocating permanently in Texas. According to the Los Angeles Times, San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger recently said Benson wanted to meet with him to talk about relocation beyond the 2005 season.

After New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin cried foul, Benson announced he had made no plans to move.

A Washington Post article last week said the NFL will consider moving the Saints to Los Angeles - after playing the 2006 season in San Antonio - if New Orleans cannot recover from the hurricane. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue already had indicated in a news conference early in the season that the league did not look favorably on adding a city the size of San Antonio.

In the meantime, the bedraggled Saints (2-5) are playing home games in San Antonio (three) or Baton Rouge, La., (four).

The Jaguars ostensibly became a player in the Los Angeles sweepstakes last week when infighting between the city and team went public. Bill Prescott, a senior vice president with the team, said the Jaguars will be forced to move if the city continues to deny revenue streams at Alltel Stadium.

The city told the team it could not run its electronic signage at yesterday's Florida-Georgia game. It also is demanding a $2.7 million payment from the Jaguars in Super Bowl revenues, saying the team sold naming rights for club areas without proper city approval.

Furthermore, the city council is expected to pass an amendment calling for the city to receive a share of signage revenue at non-Jaguars events. The club is threatening to go to court over that issue.

Prescott said the Jaguars want to stay in Jacksonville, but may not be able to with reduced revenue streams.

"The indications we're getting [are] that they want us to move," he said of the city's politicians. "If they want us to move, just ask."

The Jaguars have had a dwindling fan base since joining the league as an expansion team in 1995. According to The Florida Times-Union, they rank 31st in ticket revenue, have about 3,000 unsold premium seats (worth $6 million in revenue), and this season covered up almost 10,000 seats in an attempt to avert TV blackouts.

A college town, Jacksonville has turned lukewarm to the NFL.

In hindsight, of course, that makes Tagliabue's 1993 push to award the city an expansion team a critical mistake. But here in Baltimore, we already knew that.

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