The City of Los Angeles has been making a case for a number of years for the NFL to return to their city, but really this isn’t a story so much about the Atlanta Falcons possibly making a move to the west coast. This is unfortunately a story about just one thing…money.
If you want to sum it up in a few sentences, it goes like this.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank wants a new stadium for his team; the Atlanta City Council doesn’t want to pony up the amount of the ever increasing costs of said stadium that Mr. Blank would like; Mr. Blank suddenly shares information with the council about “business interests” in Los Angeles that have an interest in the Falcons.
Posturing, flexing and borderline extortion…nothing more.
That’s not to say if the leaders in Atlanta take a hardline stance on the stadium deal that Blank wouldn’t shed his books of the franchise and sell it, but it’s highly unlikely. What it is, is unfortunate.
Georgia, and the City of Atlanta in particular, have been amongst the slowest in the nation to recover from the economic downturn. The state is facing huge budget deficits, and the city is still furloughing police, fire and emergency personnel, as well as educators. The last thing on the minds of even the most loyal Falcons fans is a new stadium, particularly one that is going to cost in excess of $1-billion.
While it’s true the Falcons would cover most of the $1-billion bill for a new stadium, the state would still have to have to shell out about $300 million, the bulk of which would come from an extension of a current hotel-motel tax. As it stands right now, the state leaders have said to have been willing to go as high as $100 million.
Arthur Blank has done a lot to bring this franchise to national respect, and he’s become a pillar of the community in Atlanta, dating back to his days as founder and CEO of the Atlanta-based Home Depot corp., that’s why this is all so disappointing. The level of trust that has grown between owner and fans had reached unheard of proportions in Atlanta, rivaling the type of relationship that former Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner had with the fans.
But Arthur Blank is a businessman first and foremost, and he’s also accustomed to getting things done the way he wants them.
Things haven’t reached a point of ultimatum yet, and hopefully for the loyal Atlanta Falcons supporters it won’t reach that point, but just the fact that Blank wants to throw the possibility of the team leaving Atlanta into the ring has to make everyone a little uncomfortable.
It wouldn’t be the first time that an owner turned his back on a franchise’s long-time home and its fans. Art Modell did it to Cleveland, Robert Irsay did it to Baltimore, and Georgia Frontiere did it to Los Angeles. The scary part of those past situations is that, like Atlanta, the disputes and reasons for leaving all revolved around new stadiums and leases with the cities.
It could be that Blank is only using the words “Los Angeles” as a bargaining chip just to see how much money can actually be squeezed out of the state budget, but then again…maybe not.