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NFL: An L.A. Team Will Carry A Hefty Price Tag

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Diving inside what it would take to move an NFL franchise to Los Angeles.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The time for a decision on the Los Angeles market is edging closer, and the teams considered as top candidates are holding all the cards...

The sale of the Buffalo Bills for $1.4 billion lit the greed fuse, and I think NFL fans may be shocked by the teams who now could be putting a possible move into their future plans.The most talked about teams - Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and San Diego Chargers - have the fewest barriers in front of them to make a move. All have stadium deals ending, and very little in the way of hope their communities would be willing to throw billions of taxpayer dollars at billionaire team owners' feet.

What's been called an overpriced sale of the Bills to the Pegula group, had to have raised a few eyebrows by team owners. With the kind of big money potentially out there - estimated to be OVER $2 billion - there's going to be a few teams added to the list of possible L.A. franchises. Stadium lease buyout clauses won't act as a deterrent. This means the pool of teams who have just completed minor stadium upgrades could be swayed to consider a move too.

If there's a stumbling block to moving, there's a big one remaining. Rodger Goodell has stated he believes the L.A. market is a "two team" zone. Any team considering a move won't want to split the market with another team out the gate, and any second team moving in later would more than likely play second fiddle, as the L.A. Clippers did to the Lakers in the NBA. I have little doubt that if the NFL granted an exclusive on the L.A. market, teams would be lined up to move. Yes, Los Angeles has a huge population, but there's a load of competition for discretionary spending sports dollars. Splitting up NFL ticket buyers between two teams will have franchise owners shaking their heads at the moving prospect.

Yet, the money to be made in the 2nd largest market in the U.S. will have even billionaires drooling. Private cable deals for an NFL franchise in L.A. could be worth billions. In the sprawling southern California megalopolis - featuring high real estate prices, millions of automobile drivers, and sub-par mass transit - parking could be a bigger money-maker than tickets sold. It's easy to imagine any L.A. team having the highest ticket prices in NFL, but the revenue would be used to help pay for a stadium that'll cost an estimated $2.5 to $3 billion in construction and ancillary area improvements. Parking is going to have a high price, and less in the way of overhead.

The pool of possible buyers of an NFL franchise in the L.A. market isn't big. If someone has to buy a franchise to move to L.A., it's going to be a "billionaires - billionaire". Larry Ellison - of Oracle Inc. fame - is rumored as someone interesting in joining the NFL fraternity of owners. His estimated net worth of $51 billion makes him a perfect candidate, since he could open his checkbook and pay for everything himself. Not that he would, since it's become common practice for NFL teams to demand taxpayers pay some of the expenses for the honor of having a team in their city.

So what teams make my list of possible L.A. candidates? First, here's a baseline statistic I'll use - percentage of stadium capacity filled for each home game. When all is said and done, it's about "butts in the seats". Yes, things like local cable contracts are huge, but ticket sales are a good barometer to gauge community support for a team. The numbers reflect the per game attendance percentage average over the last three NFL seasons (2011-2013):

Miami Dolphins - 80.93

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 86.56

Oakland Raiders - 86.6

St. Louis Rams - 86.76

Cincinnati Bengals - 88.06

San Diego Chargers - 88.6

Jacksonville Jaguars - 92.93

One of the names on my list probably shocks more than a few of you: the Cincinnati Bengals. They make my list because their ticket sales aren't rising as fast as I'd expect with a rising NFL team as far as quality of play. While their numbers have been fairly steady, it reflects - to me - a kind of cap they've reached. Add in the fact their ownership isn't exactly "cash rich", and it makes this a team a potential owner would be interested in. Plus, due to the fact the Bengals aren't a bad team, they'll garner a premium price: $1.8 billion to $2.4 billion

The Miami Dolphins are my sleeper favorite to become a major player in the L.A. NFL game. Over the last few years, the Dolphins' organization has been pummeled in the press, and have a fading fan base. Their current stadium is crumbling, and the city isn't moving heaven and earth to build a new one. A change of scenery for the Dolphins to L.A. would rock the NFL world, but don't be surprised if it happens... A storied franchise, this team would break the bank in purchase price: $2 billion to (gulp!) $2.9 billion.

San Diego is the only logical choice to make the move to L.A. They'd come with a portion of their current fan base, especially if the can wangle a name like "The California Chargers". Formerly known as Jack Murphy stadium - and now renamed Qualcomm - this is a dismal place to watch any sporting event. Built in 1965 for $27 million ($196 million in 2014 dollars), it's a poorly designed venue at best, and so far below what current NFL stadium standards are today it borders on the absurd. If not for the great San Diego weather, this stadium would be hell on earth for sports fans. I can't imagine what watching a game would be like if this stadium had the weather of San Francisco's old Candlestick Park? The Spanos family isn't exactly flush with money, but they aren't anywhere near needing to sell. They'd want to keep the team, but there's no way they could afford internally financing a stadium on their own. If the Spanos family did decide to sell, the Chargers would command a high price: $2.2 billion to $2.6 billion

The Raiders have moved so many times in their history, no one can discount them from the L.A. market gambit. Mark Davis - the managing general partner of the team after his famous father - Al Davis - passed away, is one bowl shaped haircut away from doing something bizarre. His San Antonio visit was a poor attempt at threatening Oakland officials with leaving. Seriously... San Antonio? You couldn't come up with anything better, Mark? No one is buying it, so your only choices are sell the team, or... OK, just sell the team to Ellison, and let someone with a modicum of intelligence run the team for once. Raiders' fans deserve a shot at a return to their glory days, and it isn't going to happen with Davis at the helm. The baggage of their on field failures is going to drop their possible sale price, but not far: $1.6 billion to $2.1 billion

The St. Louis Rams have a strong history in the L.A. market, and that's what has media folks bending hard toward them being a lead candidate for a move. Of all the teams in this little play, the Rams are the only one who's possible sale price could hinge on their win-loss record. Mediocrity in anything drives market value down. Bringing a team - though being solidly rebuilt by Jeff Fisher and Co. - that's unproven to the L.A. market is a gamble. Loyal fans in L.A won't off set the loss of those currently in St. Louis for a number of years. So fan base is a wash, and not a guarantee for any kind of financial success. Owner Stan Kroenke has boatloads of his own money, and is married into the WalMart fortune. He has the cash to self-finance a new stadium anywhere he want to build one, and he's a savvy real estate investor. His 60 acres in Inglewood, CA turned some heads, and put some pressure on the city St. Louis to take a possible move seriously. (FYI Mark Davis: This is how it's done!) While those in the media have sold themselves on the Rams being the prime candidate to move back to L.A., don't believe it. There's simple no way Kroenke would accept being part of a "two NFL team" L.A... Zero, Nada, Zip... Not in need of money, even Kroenke might be swayed by some of the astronomical numbers being mentioned. Would he jump at a possible sale price of $2 billion to $2.8 billion?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are part of the Glazer family sports empire. A long sub-par franchise, everything from the stadium they play in, to a shrinking loyal fan base, makes the Bucs a surprise player in the move to L.A. game. In a straight business decision, the Glazers could load the trucks tomorrow and head for the Golden State. Like Kronke, they'll be swayed by the "two NFL team" vision of Rodger Goodell. Don't be shocked to find out some of the current heat Goodell is under isn't being fired up by those who want the current NFL Commissioner to leave so a single L.A. team deal can be made. With billions at stake, Goodell may have to play this card to keep his job. Will he? The value of the Bucs is going to be high, mostly because the Glazers are a savvy bunch who know the sports franchise business. $1.8 billion to $2.1 billion could get a deal done...

Jacksonville blew out a long breath when the signed a lease extension with the Jaguars. Featuring a substantial buyout clause, it was signed by Shahid Khan, who's a new owner. Having spent an estimated $760 million to buy the Jaguars in 2012, the idea of turning a 100% profit after only two years could sway anyone to sell. I don't think Khan will sell, but don't discount the ego boost a move to L.A. would give the auto parts mogul. He'd instantly launch himself into the spotlight with a Los Angeles move, easily off setting any buyout clause cost. The Buffalo purchase price set a stage for an "anything's possible" price for all NFL teams. The heat from interest groups for player transgressions, and focus of football related injuries like CTE, is effecting where the NFL may be in the next 10 to 20 years. If this is a "high market" time for NFL teams, Khan could be swayed to take the money and run too. The price of the Jaguars could be in the $1.7 billion to $2 billion range.

While many of you are wondering why these projected prices are so far above the Buffalo purchase, there's a few things you need to consider. One being that Buffalo carried with it a "You're staying in Buffalo" option. Limits on latitude always - ALWAYS - effects value. Include in the size of the Buffalo market itself, and it's easy to see why the Bills team price is substantially lower than the ones I've projected. Also, around a year ago, I wrote an article about what it would wind up costing for a team to move to L.A. and drew quite a few doubting comments when I predicted costs in the "above $2 billion" range. Looking at the $1.4 billion purchase price of the Bills, and the cost of Dallas' stadium estimated at $1.1 billion, I think I was being rather prescient, don't you? If anything - as absurd as it may sound - I may be UNDERVALUING what a NFL team might sell for - and be worth - in the current market.

So based on what I've written, who do I think will be the team to make the move to L.A.? As stated, the only real - and logical - choice is the San Diego Chargers. But the hitch of a possible second NFL team in the L.A. market is - and continues to be - the biggest stumbling block to any team moving to Los Angeles. If a guy like Larry Ellison buys a team with the intent to move it to L.A., the NFL is poised to make him pay an additional "exclusive license' fee, which may very well have been Goodell's plan all along with his "two team" pledge.