National Football League owners are meeting Tuesday and Wednesday to determine whether any of the three teams seeking relocation in Los Angeles will move there. While the huge LA market can support a thriving sports scene, at least one of those franchises probably won't make it there, experts said.
The Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams last week submitted applications to relocate — getting in their requests on the the first day they could do so. All three have postured to settle into the city, the second-largest in the U.S., which the Raiders and Rams both already left once, after the 1994 season.
Relocating to LA would almost certainly improve the financial prospects of the franchises. But facing a complicated process and the possibility of a crowded market, the NFL may approve the relocation of only one or two teams.
An owners' meeting in Houston could yield a vote on relocation as soon as Tuesday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The prospect of the Rams and Chargers sharing one LA stadium has gained traction among owners, the Post-Dispatch and Los Angeles Times reported.
But the NFL's six-owner Los Angeles committee recommended a stadium plan in nearby Carson proposed by the Chargers and Raiders, a source told CNBC on Tuesday. A plan would need approval from 24 of the league's 32 teams.
Each franchise has a strong incentive to move, as they have faced difficulties securing new stadiums and would likely see a big financial boost in Los Angeles. Any of the teams could see their value spike above $2.1 billion if they moved there, at least $500 million higher than if they stayed put, according to rough projections by John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University sports economist.
That factors in the hefty fee a relocating team would owe the league. Vrooman estimates the teams would have to pay $375 million, which could reach upwards of $550 million depending on how the league calculates it.
Approval could hinge on the strength of potential venues. Rams owner Stan Kroenke last year proposed a new stadium and commercial facility that would cost an estimated $1.8 billion in Inglewood, which sits southwest of downtown L.A.
The Chargers and Raiders later proposed the estimated $1.7 billion joint venue in Carson, backed by Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger. The media giant has a strong connection to the NFL through its sports network ESPN.
All three teams have claims to L.A, but one or even two of them could lose the sweepstakes. The process remains uncertain not only because of the business considerations but also internal politics among league owners, said David Carter, principal at The Sports Business Group.
Here are some potential scenarios outlined by experts:
The Rams could end up sharing the Inglewood stadium with the Chargers, said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, who studies sports. He contended that owners of both teams draw more respect politically from their peers than the Raiders' ownership does, which could prove crucial in the voting process.
He said the Inglewood facility proposed by the Rams could potentially offer a wider economic boost than the Carson venue. Zimbalist added that the Chargers, based on geographic location, and Rams, from their previous presence in L.A., would be able to generate fan bases there with relative ease.
But if history in the L.A. area matters, one may wonder why Zimbalist thinks the Rams would see a benefit, while the Raiders would not. His answer: The Raiders' ownership has butted heads with other owners in the past, which makes things politically difficult for the team. "I think that (the NFL owners) have no desire to let them move back again."
Still, Chargers owner Dean Spanos pledged at least tentative support for the Carson project as recently as Monday night.
"Right now, my focus is Carson and that's where my focus has been," he said, according to ESPN.
Relocating two teams seems feasible based on the city's size. The Los Angeles metro area boasts the second-largest number of television households in the U.S., with more than 5.5 million, Vrooman said.
However, he noted that "TV ratings and viewership for sporting events is typically lower in L.A. compared to other megamarkets, even if an L.A. team is involved in the game." When the Raiders and Rams both played in L.A., games were often blacked out on local T.V. because the teams failed to sell out tickets, Vrooman said.
Regardless of a city's size, the NFL prefers one-team "monopoly" markets to two-team "duopoly" markets, Vrooman said. The same number of NFL fans support one team instead of two, effectively driving ticket prices higher.
According to that thinking, it would seem that the league would prefer to move the Raiders to L.A. It would leave one franchise — the San Francisco 49ers — in the Bay Area, create a single-team market in Los Angeles and preserve existing monopolies in both San Diego and St. Louis.
However, the Rams may hold an advantage, Vrooman said. Assuming the league decides to approve relocation of only one team, the Rams would likely win out because of Kroenke's stadium plan, which promotes wider economic development.
"In the end, there is just not enough economic pop in the Carson project to justify the coexistence of two competing clubs," Vrooman said.
Regardless, franchises would face hurdles after being chosen. Even if a team gets relocation approval this year, its stadium would likely not be ready until after at least one more season.
It would also take time to regenerate a fan base in Los Angeles, a city that has shown lukewarm loyalty to professional football in the past.
— CNBC's Jessica Golden contributed to this report.