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Sports Business

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

December 14, 2009
KEYWORDS Sports Business

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.

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