I have a Fearless Football Prognostication for you, but it has nothing to do with who might win a particular game. My pick is this: The Indianapolis Colts will stay in town at least until their lease is up in 2014. Even if the city decides to never hand the team another dime.
Sure, there"s been a lot of breathless talk about Colts owner Jim Irsay firing up the moving trucks for Los Angeles if the city fails to give him a deal that guarantees the team"s revenue stays in the median of the NFL"s 32 teams. When Irsay told The Star that the Colts would be at the Dome through the end of next year, he pointed out that even if he got, say, a new, sweet publicly-funded stadium with more seating and big-money luxury boxes, Indianapolis still might not be able to support it. California, here I come! Except the reality is that L.A. - the alleged new address of the Colts - is an NFL sinkhole. The nation"s second-largest television market hasn"t had a team since the Rams left for St. Louis (St. Louis!) in 1995. There are no other options for relocation; any other city the Colts could move to, with the exception of say, Portland, Ore., is smaller and poorer than we are. And Portland isn"t bucking for a team. There"s no place else for Irsay to go. The most immediate problem in L.A. is that Raiders owner Al Davis, who won a lawsuit against the NFL to move his team to L.A. from Oakland in 1982, thinks he still owns the rights to that market. On Sept. 24, a Los Angeles judge reinstated Davis" $1.2 billion lawsuit against the NFL, which he claims effectively forced him out of L.A. in 1995 by making deal-breaking demands on a stadium Davis wanted built. Davis claims he, not the NFL, owns the rights to the L.A. market, and that he can decide who can play there. Davis might sell the rights to Irsay - say, for $700 million. This lawsuit means it"ll be at least another two or three years before any other team knows if it"ll get sued by Davis for moving to L.A. To wit, Davis has sued the NFL at least eight times related to L.A., and he never settles. It may be no coincidence that the court made its ruling on Sept. 24 and on Sept. 25 Irsay was assuring Indianapolis the team would stay until the end of 2003. OK, let"s assume that the NFL wins its case against Davis. And let"s even assume that Irsay"s lawyers have found a way for the team to break its lease before a 2006 option kicks in. Now the Colts can go to Los Angeles, right? Wrong. What"s missing in L.A. is a stadium - at least one with luxury boxes, club seats and all the other amenities owners have gotten used to. There"s no sign that L.A. will be building one of these in our lifetimes. If it could do that, it would have a team by now. In 1999, the NFL offered one expansion slot, practically begging for L.A. to get its act together. The City of Angels was outbid by Houston. L.A."s political infighting and its lack of commitment to spend public money for a stadium haven"t changed in the three years since. Absent a publicly-funded stadium in the works, Irsay will not move the Colts. Here"s why. NFL teams split TV contract money equally - about $91 million per team. They also split gate receipts 60/40 with the visiting team. Exempt from that split are luxury boxes, in-stadium revenue (such as advertising) and any other goodies that teams can extract from the local yokels. If the Colts get stuck in the L.A. Coliseum, or even the large but suite-less Rose Bowl, and can"t fill it (the Raiders and Rams couldn"t fill their stadia), they could be in worse financial shape than they are now. The city of Indianapolis can play hardball (or should I use a football term, like blitz?) against the Colts. A city in a state leading the nation in foreclosures and bankruptcies should make a strong case that paying at least another $10 million a year on top of the $12 million it already pays annually to a pro football team is not a wise investment - especially when that team is a relatively small business. The Wall Street Journal reported the Colts" 2001 revenues at $135 million, slightly less than small-town bank holding company First Merchants of Muncie. Downtown Indy would not die if the Colts left - you"re talking 10 dates a year, with a crowd that mostly drives in, parks and drives home. Perhaps Los Angeles, or Portland, or Ottuma, Iowa, will surprise me and offer a lavish package to get the Colts. But I"m willing to bet that someday, Jim Irsay"s heirs will be wondering how they can make more money in Indianapolis.