By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Like a shimmering desert mirage, the prospect of a National Football League (NFL) team returning to the Los Angeles area has tantalized fans in Southern California for two decades without coming to fruition.
Since the Rams left Los Angeles for St. Louis and the Raiders moved back to Oakland, both departing before the start of the 1995 season, there have been more than a dozen proposals for the NFL to return to the nation's second-largest market.
Each and every time, though, the follow-through has been lacking as bold promises, high hopes and plenty of behind-the-scenes intrigue have given way to missed deadlines and abandoned plans.
With the Super Bowl set to be played between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots in Glendale, Arizona on Feb. 1, speculation about an NFL team possibly moving to Los Angeles has escalated in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, the owner of the St. Louis Rams announced plans to build an NFL venue in suburban Los Angeles, the first time an existing team owner has controlled a site in the area that is large enough for a modern stadium and parking.
Whether or not this latest proposal proves to be successful, perhaps the most burning question to be asked is: does Los Angeles, the world's entertainment capital that already boasts two successful college football teams, really need the NFL?
"Los Angeles has never needed an NFL team," Daniel Durbin, Director of the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society, told Reuters.
"L.A. has lost none of its international cache over the last 20 years in spite of losing two NFL teams almost at once. L.A. remains the media capital of the world.
"The NFL has always needed L.A. far more than L.A. has ever needed the NFL. L.A. will always have the eyes of the world on it, whether or not it has an NFL team."
David Carter, executive director of the USC (University of Southern California) Sports Business Institute, agreed.
"Los Angeles already has a well-known and regarded identity as a so-called 'Big League' city," Carter told Reuters. "So while the addition of an NFL team would reinforce this, it isn't required to maintain the city as a global hub."
LA SUPER BOWL DROUGHT
A Super Bowl has never been played in a region that lacked an NFL franchise and the league's showpiece was last staged in the Los Angeles area in 1993 when the Dallas Cowboys routed the Buffalo Bills 52-17 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke's announcement on Jan. 5 that he has teamed up with Stockbridge Capital Group, which owns the 238-acre (96-hectare) Hollywood Park site in Inglewood, to build an 80,000-seat football stadium could be an NFL game changer.
"Stan Kroenke seems to be developing a coherent plan for potentially moving a professional team to L.A.," said Durbin. "In the past, the plans have involved developing a new team or building a stadium in hopes of luring a team to L.A.
"Even AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group), who had a seemingly endless stream of money to throw at this, couldn't get the job done. One of many challenges remains working with L.A.'s City Council and the taxes in L.A. County ... rather daunting."
In early 2011, AEG announced a $700-million deal for the naming rights to a potential football stadium in downtown Los Angeles -- Farmers Field. Last October, the L.A. City Council extended AEG's deadline by six months to attract an NFL team.
"The city has routinely been used as a threat to negotiate a favorable deal (for other teams)," Carter said in an opinion piece for the USC Sports Business Institute. "Los Angeles needs to remain wary of getting played."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)