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Who Will Be L.A.'s Next Football Team?

The nation's second-largest media market hasn't had an NFL franchise since 1994. But it is shopping around

1. Live from the Stadium Managers Association Conference

The stadium boom of the millennium is fast drawing to a close—what's next?

This week, we'll be taking in the 35th annual Stadium Managers Association conference, held this year at the Rancho Las Palmas resort in Palm Springs, Calif. Unlike PGA Tour sponsor Morgan Stanley (MS), which last week held a three-day conference at the five-star oceanfront Breakers in Palm Beach, Fla., the SMA, the leading association in the sports industry with an exclusive stadium focus, is not currently seeking TARP funds; participants are thus free to gather at the beautiful desert resort reasonably free of taxpayer scrutiny.

The economy, TARP, how to navigate the recession from a sports facility perspective, and technology innovation as a key to the future are the top notes of the keynote address I will be giving to the conference's several hundred participants. Additionally, forward-looking panels on the state of the pro sports leagues, the "greening" of stadiums—and the stadium of the future, as narrated by the lead architects on the New York Yankees, Lucas Oil, and Dallas Cowboys stadiums, are sure to compel.

2. Super Bowl XLIII Afterburn

So, what did we learn from Super Bowl XLIII aside from Jack (Mr. Box) got hit by a bus, the Boss still rocks, and Arizona fields a pretty darn good football team, holding its own against the now six-time Super Bowl winning Steelers?

Actually, we learned a lot. We discovered that, like the movies, the Super Bowl provides a communal form of escapism from the realities of the grim recession—some 90 million people tuned in, representing a 42.1 Nielsen rating and 65 share, according to early Nielsen Media Research figures.

We found out that people still like to throw Super Bowl parties. The average Super Bowl party across the U.S. cost $172 this year, according to Visa (V), and most of the big players at the game itself still partied, though on a much-scaled-back basis. In Tampa, Maxim magazine cut its guest list in half, to 1,400 people, while across town the manager of Tijuana Iguana sports bar eschewed the $300 cover recommended to him by a promoter in favor of $10 general admission and discounted drinks; 800 people had bought tickets almost a week before the game.

We realized that a down economy didn't stop people from gambling—far from it. Las Vegas and friends were expecting close to $10 billion to be wagered on this year's game; the MGM Mirage (MGM) properties in Vegas alone were hoping for $90 million in wagers, and overall the city of Las Vegas saw only a 1% drop in occupancy from last year, according to that city's convention and visitors bureau.

We figured out that the Super Bowl still may be the best spot on the calendar to debut new products and services, as the last-minute sellout of advertising proved. While General Motors (GM) went from $45.9 million to zero in terms of ad spending, most firms that chose to advertise during the Super Bowl still scored big. However, we also learned that there is still no exact science to measuring the popularity and impact of these ads—in the dozens of news sources and Web sites we scoured on Monday, we never found two whose "best of" and "worst of" lists were even close to matching, while several companies stepped forward to declare such ads as the Go Daddy spot starring female Indy car driver Danica Patrick and Monster's (MWW) "moose" ad "the winner." In other words, it's still all so subjective.

Finally, we learned that pro football endorsers are smarter than swimmers—how many pictures of NFLers did you see on TMZ on Sunday holding a bong? But the jury is still out on the long-term marketability of both Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, due to his age and his strong religious beliefs (and, oh yeah, he lost), and MVP Santonio Holmes—who like a certain swimmer, has been publicly caught with marijuana in the last six months and admitted during a Super Bowl press conference to selling drugs as a teen.

Perhaps Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio summed it all up best: "We are in a recession," she said to The New York Times. "We're either in a recession getting to host the Super Bowl, or in a recession without a Super Bowl. Those are the two options. Which would you rather have?"

3. Charging to L.A.?

As you might recall, the San Diego Chargers spent their first year as a professional football team in Los Angeles, before literally bolting 120 miles south on I-5 to their current home. The "City of Angels" was also the football residence of the Rams and Raiders until each of them left following the 1994 season. Now, 15 years removed from having a professional team, could the NFL be making a comeback appearance in the nation's second-largest media market?

According to Nick Capena of The San Diego Union-Tribune, if the Chargers do leave town for L.A., it will not be in 2009. The Chargers have a three-month window that began on Feb. 1 to inform the city that they are moving out of Qualcomm Stadium by paying a $56.2 million lease-termination penalty. If the team stays through 2010, the penalty drops to $26 million, and decreases each year after that until the lease runs out in 2020. Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani has assured fans that the team was not leaving town this season, but he offered no commitment beyond 2009.

Actions speak louder than words, as the idiom says. Although the Chargers' immediate future in San Diego may be safe, the franchise announced last week that they have retained Wasserman Media Group to market the team in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The hiring could very well be a precursor to the team returning to its roots, possibly at the Ed Roski-proposed stadium in City of Industry. In fact, in less than two months, the NFL's owners meetings will be held in Laguna Beach—a veiled threat that the league is seriously considering the market?

Whenever "Los Angeles" and "NFL" are mentioned in the same sentence, an undertone of a franchise follows. Other teams rumored to be heading to L.A. besides the Chargers include the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Minnesota Vikings. Worth keeping an eye on in any scenario is a proposal by Governor Schwarzenegger that would add a 10% tax to all sporting events in the state of California. While the Chargers will be subject to the tax if it is signed into law whether they stay in San Diego or migrate north, the tax could be a major deterrent to other teams relocating from out of state.

4. Championships at Shared Sports Venues

With the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders both looking for new stadiums, the best bet might be for the two teams to collaborate on a deal similar to the New York Giants-New York Jets project. Having two teams play at the same place doubles the likelihood of playing host to a championship (or in the NFL's case, a championship team). Of the 13 venues in the four major sports housing two or more teams, these six can stake claim to multiple titles:

1. Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, six titles (MLB's A's 1972, '73, '74, '89; NFL's Raiders '76, '80)

T2. Madison Square Garden, three (NBA's Knicks 1970, '73; NHL's Rangers '94)

T2. United Center, three (NBA's Bulls 1996, '97, '98)

T2. Staples Center, three (NBA's Lakers 2000, '01, '02)

T2. Giants Stadium, three (NFL's Giants 1986, '90, 2007)

6. Dolphin Stadium, two championships (MLB's Marlins 1997, 2003)

Notes: The Oakland Raiders won their 1983 Super Bowl while playing in Los Angeles. The New York Rangers won three Stanley Cups when they played at previous Madison Square Garden venues. The Chicago Bulls won their first three NBA titles at Chicago Stadium before moving into the United Center in 1994.

5. Hungry for a Panini?

What do Topps and Upper Deck have in common when it comes to the NBA? The answer: Effective Oct. 1, neither company will be an NBA trading cards licensee. That sole distinction now belongs to the Panini Group, an Italian company that signed a four-year deal with the NBA for exclusive rights to trading card production, collectible stickers, and sticker albums. While terms were not disclosed, the three card companies had agreed that only one of them should hold the rights; sources say that Panini's offer was 25% larger than the two incumbents.

Within the U.S., Panini is best remembered for producing stickers for the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB through 1996. While their U.S. presence has since been dormant, they are one of the most respected trading card producers in the world, responsible for the card sets of multiple soccer leagues and the World Cup. NBA Senior Director Lisa Goldberg said that the "opportunity to expand sales overseas" was one of the primary factors that led the league to choose Panini.

Gone are the days when kids would bike to the card store and spend hours looking at the treasures. The trading card market has significantly diminished in recent years, and it is unlikely that Panini's increased awareness will suddenly turn that around. If nothing else, expect Panini to use its new deal with the NBA to earn similar licenses with other major pro sports leagues. The one question left unanswered—instead of finding sports cards in packs of gum, are we going to find them in our deli sandwiches?

6. Wednesday was National Signing Day. Hooray.

Raise your hand if you think that Florida, for the good of college football, should be required to sit this recruiting year out.

Feb. 4 was National Signing Day, and for thousands of high schoolers across the county, their dream of playing collegiate football will finally come to fruition. For these kids, the decision-making process is painstaking, based on endless criteria from campus locale to coach's pedigree. Estimated time on the field is key: Florida has already lost one of their top prospects because it was unlikely he'd get any immediate playing time.

Tracking high school recruiting is a growing trend on college campuses across the country. Recruiting has gotten so big that high school games and press conferences to announce college intentions are televised. Dedicated Web sites such as Rivals and Scout allow fans to see who the nation's top prospects are, what schools they are considering, and who has already committed, and to comment via message boards.

However, every fan now thinks of himself as an expert. This became apparent in 2008 when Kevin Hart, an offensive tackle from a small town in Nevada, faked scholarship offers from Division I-A schools before staging a press conference to announce that he would "attend Cal." As equally astonishing to Hart's confession that the whole thing was a sham were comments on Cal message boards following his "commitment." Fans were calling Hart "a great sleeper" and a "solid pickup for the Golden Bears," despite, presumably, never having seen him play a down.

7. Mountain West: Yodeling into the Wind?

One conference that doesn't tend to get a lot of signing-day coverage is the Mountain West, which usually flies under the radar since they are not one of the six major BCS conferences. However, after a season in which three of the conference's nine schools finished in the top 16 of the final BCS rankings (by comparison, the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences each had one), the Mountain West is demanding to be considered one of college football's elite leagues.

Last week, USA Today reported that the presidents and chancellors of the nine Mountain West schools, along with conference Commissioner Craig Thompson, are pressing for a meeting with BCS Coordinator John Swofford to discuss the possibility of the MWC earning an automatic berth to a BCS bowl game. Thompson is admittedly "not optimistic," especially because the current BCS contract extends through 2013. It is extremely doubtful that the six major conferences would ever concede a spot in a BCS bowl with a guaranteed payout of $17.5 million.

The smart move for the MWC would be to put on the full-court press to get top 25-constant Boise State to sign on for expansion. With a lineup that included Utah, Boise State, TCU, and Brigham Young, maybe come 2013, the Mountain West could take the place of the perennially weak Big East. (Just don't bet on it.)

8. The Odd Couple Plays Ball

One is a CPA; the other, a media mogul. One grew up in the Big Apple, the other grew up in Beantown. One is used to spending his springs in Arizona; the other has to get used to it. Not since Oscar and Felix debuted in 1965 has a couple been so decidedly…odd. Nonetheless, when pitchers and catchers report for spring training on Feb. 13, holding hands over Camelback Ranch, their joint spring training venture, will be Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

The new 141-acre facility in Glendale, Ariz., has been dubbed "the jewel of Arizona spring training venues." Each team will have 6-acre practice fields to itself; the two will share a 10,000-seat stadium sunk into the middle of the complex. The White Sox hope to build a walk-of-fame on their side, while the Dodgers are planning a hotel and conference center.

The loser in this desert coupling is Vero Beach, Fla., and Holman Stadium, the 60-year home of the Dodgers' spring training facility before the team skipped town this year. Holman might be outdated, and the team may have worn out its welcome, but Vero Beach and the Dodgers certainly went better together than Jerry and Frank.

9. $erena

Serena Williams, the No. 1 female tennis player in the world, has surpassed golfing legend Annika Sorenstam as the all-time money winner in women's sports. Williams moved to the top of the list by advancing to the Australian Open singles final with a victory over Russia's Elena Dementieva, and by reaching the doubles final with sister Venus. After victories in both finals, Williams has now earned $23.5 million, overtaking the now-retired Sorenstam, whose career earnings totaled $22.5 million.

Williams turned professional in November 1995 at the age of 14, when she cashed a $240 check at a tournament in Quebec City. She passed the $1 million mark at the 1999 French Open, exceeded the $10 million mark in 2002, and the $20 million mark in 2008, both at the WTA Championships.

In her 14-year career, Williams has won 10 Grand Slam singles and eight doubles titles, and two Olympic gold medals (playing doubles with Venus). She is one of only six women, along with Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, and Monica Seles, to have won a championship at each of tennis' majors.

On a sad note, Williams was last seen buried alive under a gigantic pink blimp during her debut in the Double Stuff Racing League. No word on whether she, like opponent Peyton Manning, suffered "blimp in her milk."

10. Give Me a…What the ???

Is cheerleading a sport? Not only is it a sport, a ruling last week by the Wisconsin Supreme Court found that cheerleading is in fact a contact sport, in which participants cannot be sued for accidental injury. (Now don't go spitting your beer all over the couch.)

According to the National Cheer Safety Foundation, the decision, the first of its kind, likely sets a precedent for how courts treat all lawsuits related to high school athletic injuries. The ruling stems from a 2004 incident in which a varsity cheerleader was dropped by a counterpart while performing a stunt, causing head injuries. The plummeting pom-pom girl not only sued her bad catcher, she also sued the school district and its insurer, claiming that the coach was negligent for not providing the team with mats.

Cheerleading has accounted for nearly two-thirds of serious injuries to high school girls over the last 25 years. In the majority opinion, Justice Annette Ziegler wrote that cheerleading involves "a significant amount of physical contact between the cheerleaders that at times results in a forceful interaction between the participants," and cited stunts as an example. Judges ruled unanimously on the decision.

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