Indianapolis Colts, the team L.A. didn't want

December 14, 2009
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As the Indianapolis Colts pile up a 13-0 record this season and become the winningest team of this (or any) decade, I’m wondering what’s going through the minds of the people who were in power in Los Angeles at the turn of this decade.

That’s when the City of Angeles had a shot at luring the Colts to their city. Let’s not kid ourselves. In 2001, it was becoming apparent the small and aging RCA Dome was no longer going to work as an NFL stadium.
As Indianapolis officials were trying to get a financial package and plans for a new stadium worked out, the Angelic ones hovered, flirting with the Colts about moving team owner Jim Irsay and his posse out west.

There were rumblings about moving a team into the L.A. Coliseum or the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. L.A. officials even commissioned a study which was forwarded to the NFL. Among other things, the study laid out plans for stadium rehab and renovation and stated which team(s) would be a good fit in L.A. Results of that study were not made public.

All this, naturally, put pressure on Indianapolis officials and helped the Colts craft a deal to stay here for years to come. But amid all this commotion the tide pulling the Colts out west hit a strange barrier.

I had several well-placed sources either within or very close to the L.A. City Council in 2002 telling me L.A. didn’t want the Colts. I was surprised by the sentiment then, and even more amazed by it in retrospect.

A primary concern is that Irsay would act like a college girl in a Girls Gone Wild video when he got to L.A. Well, not act exactly like that, but you get the point.

Irsay was seen as too unpredictable—and too self-centered—in a town already scarred by the antics of Raiders owner Al Davis, sources told me.

In October, 2002, one source close to the L.A. City Council told IBJ: “We don't want your team. There’s a prevailing sentiment among council members and other officials that the Colts and their ownership would not be a good fit here.”

To be fair, Irsay has had a few dust ups that I won’t go into here. But still, I couldn’t help think these thoughts were a bit off base.
The comparison to Al Davis probably had more to do with Irsay’s dad, (former team owner Robert Irsay) than it did with anything in Jim’s track record.

But the vibe from the West Coast was overwhelming.

“The general sense is that people here are weary of incompetent ownership and that would certainly include the Colts, [San Diego] Chargers and [Arizona] Cardinals,” Bill Shaikin, who covered sports business for the L.A. Times, told IBJ in 2002.

The cruelest things the left coasters said about Irsay and the team’s front office management were said off the record, and so were not printed in the IBJ. But here are a few tidbits that were unleashed on the record in the fall of 2002.

“We certainly haven’t forgotten Al Davis,” said L.A. Councilman Dennis P. Zine. “That could color the decision of which franchise to bring in. Al Davis has his own best interest at heart and nothing else. There are owners in business and in the NFL who are shrewd, and then there are other owners, well, like Davis.”

Zine and other council members made it clear they felt Irsay could leave a trail of Davis-like debris in his path.  

“People in L.A.’s guard is up,” said David Carter, principal for Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group, which helped the council study the stadium issue. “We're not going to tolerate a carpetbagger owner who’s not going to be concerned about the community.”

Again, I’m not here to say Jim Irsay is a saint. But I think the Colts have been as community-minded as most other professional sports teams.

And I’m not going to say the Colts front office—from football operations standpoint—hasn’t made an error or two. But I don’t think there’s been an NFL owner more committed to winning this past decade than Irsay, and the record demonstrates that.

Meanwhile, the City of Angels—when it comes to NFL involvement—is still hovering.
Though they’re probably being weighed down a bit more these days by a heavy load of regrets.

  • You're wrong
    You suggest that the civic players in L.A. only had to accept the Colts, and they would have moved there.

    You are wrong. Facts, observation of events at the time, and Jim Irsay's own words confirm it.

    The Colts never were seriously considering moving to L.A. Never.

    Talk about a new stadium was initiated by Indy's civic leaders, not Jim Irsay. They needed to expand the convention center and to simultaneously upgrade the Colts home field.

    During discussions on how to play for it, certain realities were bandied about which confirmed the Colts needed to generate more money to compete. The city and Irsay were in agreement of this.

    Talk about Irsay's threat to move the organization to L.A. NEVER HAPPENED. Though Irsay was aware, from a business angle, talk of a team move was to his benefit, he was never the instigator nor seriously considered it could happen. He knew Indy would not want or allow that to happen over getting a new stadium built.

    The press gets a story going, and then since it's being reported, it gains steam and is reported elsewhere -- next thing you know, it's assumed by most that there's some truth to it.

    The truth is, though, that Jim Irsay never threatened or considered moving the team to Los Angeles, and ever more inaccurate is your assertion that L.A. could have had the team but rejected them as unworthy.

    Sorry, but this is a very poor example of journalism. Spreading vague rumors (the Colts were rejected) on top already unsubstantiated rumors.

  • Colts to LA
    The idea that Los Angeles wouldn't touch the Colts because of the questionable conduct of its owner is ludicrous. Indiana is surely the moral high ground compared to Los Angeles. I seriously doubt Jim Irsay ever contacted anybody in SoCal about a possible move.
  • Al Davis
    Another "brilliant" decision by Al Davis.
  • contact was made
    Joyce, Jim Irsay wouldn't have had to contact anyone in SoCal. They contacted him. Well, they didn't contact him directly. These types of negotiations are always done via intermediary. And yes, folks from L.A. did in fact make serious inquiries about bringing the Colts west. The team's high-flying offense was very attractive to the Show Time city. The owner, was not. Their mistake, Indy's gain.
  • LA
    Irsay is a gentleman compared to Davis.namaste
  • what are you sniffing
    Kevin, do you even know what journalism is? Are we reading the same post I am. And how on earth would you know what the Colts' ownership was considering? I don't see anywhere in this post where it says that Jim Irsay threatened to move the Colts to L.A. But the threat existed nonetheless. And no one ever said L.A. could have had the team for sure but simply walked away. There's one thing worse than "spreading vague rumors (the Colts were rejected) on top already unsubstantiated rumors." Throwing in the opinion of a numbskull on top of that. Now go take your prozac and settle down.
  • Most of LA doesn't want an NFL Team
    In my discussions with people in the middle class in LA, not one bemoans not having an NFL team and not because of any supposed behavior of the owner. They prefer unlimited TV to all of the NFL to what they would have if there was a team. The NFL generally has priced itself out of the market for most people.
  • I think we all owe LA' Council a huge thank you for being "picky" and "rejecting" the Colts. While I do not think Jim would have moved them, and I know he never threatened, serious money thrown around by LA could have had an impact. More importantly, this shows you should not judge a book by its cover. While Jim did have personal and professional issues, (which if us does not)he straightened them out and hired the right personel and the rest is history and in the history books. Greatest team in any decade. Has a nice ring to it.
  • Baltimore Colts
    We'll s ee how smart LA was in a couple of years when Lucas Oil sits empty when Curtis Painter is qb and they are 1-15 and the taxpayers are still getting raped while Little Jimmy is sitting on the Forbes 400. Maybe the worlds largest barn will fill up with more tractor pulls and monster truck shows.
  • So your hater status goes beyond IMS, Tony George and Danica Patrick?

    The Colts were led by a very misguided Bob Irsay and a very young Jim Irsay in the old 1-15 years. They were an orphan team in a town that had been dominated by Bears, Bengals, Cowboy and Packers fans. Even then they averaged close to 50,000 a game. Now Jimmy is older and much wiser. He knows what his dad never did, which is hire good people and let them run the team. In addition, the Colts now have not only won over thousands of fans of other teams, locally and nationally, but a generation of young fans have grown up on Colts football and are buying tickets.

    So I doubt we would ever return to the bad old days, but if we did, there is a stronger fan base to fill the stadium.

    That said, Lucas Oil was built for much more than the 16 to 20 days a year the Colts play there. But facts never have mattered to haters like you.
  • San Franciscan
    What a bunch of baloney...while you congratulate yourselves in Indy for pro sports, it's your fool (and highly unemployed) taxpayers who are bailing out billionaires like the Irsays and Simons. Let's all dig deeper for Lucas Oil and Conseco!! LA taxpayers won't foot the bill for stadiums (nor will citizens in most of the rest of California).

    When there's no health care, education keeps getting cut and the only jobs created in Indiana come with state and local subsidies or are in casinos, you can really stand up with pride and say it's only the Republican American way -- government subsidies for the rich but get government off the backs of the needy because they might benefit.

    I really enjoy visiting your city, but your priorities are backwards. Keep making Indy a better and more cultured place and stop playing fools to rich team owners. How about ZERO dollars unless ALL team finances -- Colts and Pacers -- are made public in great detail. The public subsidies are public, so, too, should be the teams' books.
    • Haters?
      I don't see anywhere in that article that says IBJ or Anthony is a "Hater" of the Colts.

      Just reporting the news.

      The Colts built the stadium to keep up with every other team in the league. You have to keep up with Houston, Dallas, etc. The stadium is an investment to the city. Would Indy be hosting the Super Bowl in 2012 if we were still playing in the RCA Dome? Would we be attracting the Final Four if we were still in the RCA Dome. If we didn't tear down RCA Dome to expand the convention center would Indianapolis be attracting the large conventions?

      It's not just about the Colts. People need to quit crying and realize it's the best thing for the city and that state of Indiana.
    • coming from a resident of a bankrupt state
      You do bring up a valid point, the citizens of Los Angeles county refused to fund a team. However, our state has not resorted to begging the federal government for money as California has.....Indiana has a balanced budget, California a huge deficit.
    • Lucas Oil
      Bob the Goofball from San Fransissysco:

      Bobby, you fail to understand simple economics as most who love to worship the government. The stadium was built for convention business first, then for the Colts. There was no BAILOUT of the team or the stadium. The entity that operates the stadium was underfunded because the legislature failed to do their job adequately. That leaves the city and the state with the issue to resolve. And, note the biggest part of the job of that entity, in addition to operating the stadium and Conseco, is to promote city convention business.

      Perhaps you should study how much income the city and state have generated because of the city's bold move with the convention center, dome, and now stadium. Also, how many jobs have been created as a result. And, the growth and rebirth of this great city's downtown. Add to that the tax generated from the dollars being spent in those facilities from people outside this area as well. Study also how the success of Indy has been noted and imitated in many other cities.

      Next time, leave your rant for the State of California. Perhaps when they get their border secure, you can then put on your big boy pants and resume your rant against us Hoosiers.
    • response to SF
      San Franciscan Bob,
      The reason California cities do not give subsidies to business or sports team is because you guys cannot afford to do so. You have high taxes and people are leaving your state in droves. Indy may need to improve in other areas, but I would much rather live in a state where we can balance a budget and not run business down the road. When it comes to education, I would not brag about California either. L.A. schools are some of the worst in the country. Let us worry about our own matters, Bay City Bob.
    • Rubes
      Hater is a term used by those who can't come up with any argument and know they are wrong. These are the same people who tell you that the Hoosier Dome had 50,000 people in the stands when the Colts were 1-15 (it held what, 63,000?) and that Lucas Oil stadium will be full once Peyton is gone and the team is rebuilding.
    • San Fran Bob - Pretty much right on!
      I've been in the Indy area for 40+ years and lived in Marion County for 15. SF Bob is right on. Indianapolis can't build new parks and playgrounds but can destroy 25 year old "palaces for the rich" and replace them with bigger and better but still for the same. Lucas Oil was built only for Conventions??? RIIIGHT! And the Colts have their hand out each and every time the doors to the stadium swing open.....
    • Lucas Oil Haters

      Like Bob, not only are you economically illiterate, but you also can't read. NO ONE said the stadium was built only for conventions, rather that was the MAIN purpose. There are more dates in that faciility for high school events than there are for the Colts. Add NCAA, BIG TEN, College games and the multitude of covention dates. Just how much revenue comes from other sources for the stadium as opposed to the 10 dates the Colts have?

      Duh, gee, I never thunked 'bout thet, says 'ol Dave in Indy. This city's means and facilities are admired all over the nation for what has been accomplished and the revenue generated.

      Read up, dude, do your research. And stop whining about benefits for the rich guys. One thing's for sure, you'll never be one of those.

      Liberals and dufuses, sheesh........
      • hey Brett...
        There WERE 50,000 people in the stadium during the few really bad years; I was there. Capacity at RCA was never more than about 60K. Two of the last three games have seen crowds over 67K at LOS.

        But don't let the facts get in the way of your rants.


        Let's start a more-realistic rumor: Jacksonville Jags to LA, (and the NFC West) and St. Louis to the AFC South in exchange. Gives the Jags a real market; cuts travel for the Rams by keeping their away-division games close.
      • Mutt of Thunder
        Thundermutt, I think you are on to something. Seriously, I think the Jags to LA angle has legs. And I don't care what anyone says, there are lots and lots of people in LA LA Land who would love to have an NFL teams. Lots of profit centers in that sort of enterprise in a market of that size.
      • funny
        I didn't know you could count that high, did you have to take your shoes off Munderthutt? The Dome was a ghost town, just like it will be when Peyton is gone. What team will the fair weather Colts fan latch on to? The NY football Giants? The Bears?
      • Thanks Thundermutt for correcting Brett. But it is not unusual for him to rant regardless of the facts.

        And thanks Brett for demonstrating what I mean by hater. I could have explained it, but you showed everyone.
      • Little Brett is clueless
        Brett -- ignorant and hating -- what a combination. The world is a changing place. The way things were back in 1984 is not the way they are in 2009 nor how they will be in 2018. I think you're living your life a few decades behind the real world. The Indianapolis Colts have grown their market tremendously over the past 25 years. The population within an 80 mile radius of downtown Indy is a little over 3 million people and many fans come to games from beyond that area as well. There is currently a waiting list of over 20,000 people for Colts season tickets. Undoubtedly, the team will have its ups and downs over the decades -- but we have a very strong and growing base of fans in this area. Also -- the Stadium is part of the expanding 750,000+ square foot convention center complex. Along with pro football, college football, high school football, state and national high school marching band competitions, international drum corps world championships, concerts, NCAA basketball championships, the Super Bowl, motocross races, and others -- there will be dozens of very large conventions of all types filling Lucas Oil Stadium along with the Convention Center. It will be used five or six times more often for other major events than it is used for Colts football games. While the stadium is important for the Colts, it is more importantly economically for all of the other events it hosts. I think you are obviously still living in a 1985 time-frame. You might want to come out of your trailer a little more often and see what's going on in the real world. It is almost 2010 now.
      • not all bad
        I guess Brett conveniently forgot the Eric Dickerson years and the trip Jim Harbaugh led to the AFC Championship game several years BP (Before Peyton).
      • Brett
        Don't be too hard on Brett, guys. He's spent so many hours wasting his illogical rants and hate toward others that he's turned into the Jethro he didn't want to be.

        Oh well......
      • Ole Dave
        The point that Dave makes that others fail to address is that the Colts take a share of revenue from all the other events at LOS. There are many, including myself, that object to this corporate welfare.

        Berwick asks "Just how much revenue comes from other sources for the stadium as opposed to the 10 dates the Colts have?" Good question. If someone can answer that question i would be interested. I've read 50% goes to the Colts so what's left? Not enough based upon the CIB problems.
      • Irsay's self interest
        I would certainly contend after the screwing the Colts gave the city and state on the L.O.S. lease that Jim Irsay is concerned with his own self interest first and foremost. Claiming otherwise is naive.
      • I would say the contract is not a screwing by Irsay, but a screw up by Peterson. He is the one who negotiated it. I cannot blame a business owner for taking a good deal, although the City benefitted greatly as well. Without the new contract, we would be paying the Colts $15 to $20 million a year directly with no new stadium in sight.

        If Jimmy wanted to screw Indy, he would either have taken the team elsewhere, or he would be cutting costs to the bone like his old man did.
      • And yet again Brett provides us with a perfect example of a hater. instead of constructing an arguement based on facts he attacks Tommy G. Had Brett even attempted to provide some facts or even a coherent arguement one could have some respect for him. But no, in typical hater fashion, it is just a series of insults and personal attacks. Truly sad.

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      1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

      2. has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

      3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

      4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

      5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.