Every influential voice in the league favored Los Angeles over Houston in the battle for the NFL's 32nd franchise, and with good reason: L.A., the nation's No. 2 market, has three times as many TV households as No. 11 Houston. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also didn't want a generation of Angelenos growing up without a home team, and as Patriots owner Bob Kraft put it, "It's just not good business not to be in the second-largest city in America."
Still the league gave Houston, not L.A., its landmark 32nd team last week (landmark because this will be the last expansion team awarded for at least a decade). In the end Texas billionaire Bob McNair delivered what neither Hollywood's Michael Ovitz nor anyone else in L.A. could. McNair, 62, rounded up $195 million in public funding for a 69,500-seat stadium and promised to pay for the rest, probably another $200 million. He said he'd build the stadium with a retractable roof so that grass could grow but air conditioning could flow. He guaranteed five years of sellouts. And when he was told quietly by two influential owners that he still needed to distance his $600 million bid from Ovitz's $550 million, it was no problem. Throw in a Super Bowl, McNair said, and I'll go to $700 million. Done deal.
"Everything we asked him to do, he did," said Steelers owner Dan Rooney, "while Los Angeles had people vying against each other, an argument with the state over funding, and three stadium sites. They had real problems."
Five years ago the expansion Panthers and Jaguars sold for $140 million apiece. The Houston deal represents a jump of more than 300%, and that has NFL owners, who'll get $23 million each from the deal, jumping for joy. " McNair has validated the value of our franchises," said the Ravens' Art Modell, who should now have no problem finding a minority owner to bail him out of his cash crunch. The Jets should benefit, too, with buyers lining up to pay at least $600 million for them.
What about Los Angeles? Al Davis might still move his Raiders back to town, and teams with onerous stadium leases—Arizona, Minnesota, New Orleans—can always threaten to move to LA But if the City of Angels is to become the City of Saints, it must settle on a stadium site and find the public funding other towns hand out to lure teams. In faction-riddled LA, that may be an impossible dream