Colts may fill NFL's L.A. void
By JEFF LEGWOLD
At the league meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., this past week NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue dropped the anvil-like hint that every city with both an NFL team and a stadium problem should take quite seriously.
Tagliabue said he would like to choose a site for a new, state-of-the-art stadium in Los Angeles by next May and have that stadium up and running in 2008.
Then he will need a team to put in it.
So, consider the fate of the Indianapolis Colts.
Colts owner Jim Irsay says he's falling a little more behind each day in the league's financial race because he plays in the NFL's smallest stadium — the 55,306-seat RCA Dome. He said he has sold just 40,000 season tickets for 2004 despite last season's 14-5 finish that included a trip to the AFC Championship game.
''From my perspective it's how much longer you can keep putting your own money into a situation with no foreseeable change in the future,'' Irsay said.
Irsay dug deep into his own personal wealth to pay Peyton Manning's record $34.5 million signing bonus earlier this year. He is now trying to determine if there is enough long-term interest in his team in Indiana to even begin what will be a decidedly uphill fight for a new stadium.
''The Peyton Manning deal was a good football decision, but it was not a good business decision,'' Irsay said. ''When you have a political leadership that is really trying, but the market isn't there, that is the problem.''
And not so coincidentally while the Colts lease at the RCA Dome runs through the 2013 season, Irsay does have an escape clause in 2007. Or just about the time Tagliabue would like a stadium in Los Angeles to be ready.
There are too many TV sets in L.A. for the league not to be there and a new stadium would certainly put the city squarely in the Super Bowl rotation.
And Irsay, without a firm plan for a new stadium in Indy, would be just one of several owners lining up to try to get there.
''I'm 44 now,'' Irsay said. ''I don't want to sign (a deal in Indianapolis) until I'm 74 unless we have a strong long-term plan.''