Houston, We Have a Football Team Again

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Whatís another few hundred million when youíre talking about Texas football? Energy billionaire Robert McNair was oilman-frank about how he brought the NFL back to Houston Ė- by going "higher than any reasonable person would go" with a negotiations-ending $700 million bid for a franchise. "We knew we differentiated ourselves," he said. Result? Two groups (one led by Hollywood power broker Mike Ovitz) that wanted to bring a team back to oft-abandoned Los Angeles are going home unhappy. And the price of a sports team ó which these days comes with the additional cost of the kind of snazzy stadium that McNair is promising in Houston Ė- has just been bid further up into the stratosphere. (By comparison, Carolina and Jacksonville both won teams for $140 million just six years ago.) "The $700 million shocked the league," Ovitz said. "I couldn't compete with that."

Ovitz's real problem may have been his cityís fans. L.A. certainly had plenty going for it, namely television. With broadcast deals skyrocketing at least as fast as franchise fees, TV is the best source of the leagueís long-term revenues, and Los Angeles is the nationís second largest media market; Houston is the 11th. Both cities have shed teams in recent years ó the Oilers left Houston in 1996, and both the Rams (in 1995) and Raiders (in 1994) have found it too hard to make a go of it in L.A. But it was McNair that came up with $195 million in public financing for his $310 million new stadium. Itís a sign of community interest that neither of the L.A. groups could come up with in blasť La-La Land, and to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, itís a sign that football isnít dead in Houston. Of course, donít be too surprised if in a few years football is suddenly declared viable in L.A. again. Say, for an even billion?