By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With the National Football League poised to award Los Angeles a team - and maybe two - owners also face the delicate task of picking at least one loser.
Three franchises - the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders - applied on Monday to relocate, the first time any team has formally requested to fill the L.A. vacancy since the Raiders and Rams left the region in 1995.
The owners likely will green-light at least one relocation this week, sports business experts say. The bigger debate may be whether L.A., already saturated with sports and entertainment options, can support two NFL teams.
Any decision leaves at least one team trying to repair strained relations with fans and officials back home.
"The teams going back to their home markets … that is a problem," said Marc Ganis, president and founder of Chicago-based sports business consulting firm SportsCorp.
The Rams may face the most trouble at home: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch just published a dartboard featuring owner Stan Kroenke’s face after the team trashed the city’s stadium proposal and its economy in its relocation application.
All three teams would clearly rather start packing for Los Angeles. Unlike many franchises in the past - more than a dozen have threatened an L.A. move - these teams do not appear to be using L.A. as a negotiating ploy to secure more public money in their current cities.
"It’s been 14 years that we’ve been working very hard to try and get something done here," said Chargers owner Dean Spanos earlier this week. "We’ve had nine different proposals that we’ve made, and all of them were basically rejected by the city.”
League owners will gather for a special meeting in Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday to resolve the uncertainty.
In January 2015, Kroenke proposed a $1.86 billion stadium next to the Forum in Inglewood, which effectively jump-started the competing relocation bids. The Chargers and Raiders responded the following month with a joint proposal for a $1.75 billion NFL stadium in Carson. The two teams currently play in the league’s oldest stadiums.
So far, neither plan is believed to have the needed support of 24 of the 32 votes from NFL owners, but consensus has formed around the need to make a decision.
"It's time to get a conclusion," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told reporters in New York this week during committee meetings to evaluate the applications.
The league has said a decision on the relocation bids could come on either of those two days, and any team that ends up moving will pay a $550 million relocation fee.
The owners could pick one of the two proposals from the teams or a completely different solution. That leaves open the possibility that any one of the three teams – or any combination of them - could play in L.A. next season.
"The ownership is not bound to any particular outcome," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
The stalled stadium negotiations in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland will have as much to do with the owners’ decision as a desire to finally bring football back to Los Angeles, said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
"It's unlikely those franchises considering relocation will all be able to find suitable, workable stadium deals in their home markets,” Carter said.
Both Los Angeles proposals are expected to be financed privately without relying on major subsidies. But a move to the nation's second biggest market holds the allure of greater revenue from naming rights, television and future hosting of the Super Bowl.
In the past, the threat of relocation to Los Angeles has worked to push other cities to pony up public money, with the league often encouraging such brinkmanship.
Most recently, league officials began talking up the charms of Los Angeles while the Minnesota Vikings were seeking a new stadium in 2012.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Minneapolis to warn state legislators that Los Angeles was a viable option, and shortly after that lawmakers approved a deal to finance a new stadium for the Vikings, scheduled to be open for the 2016 season.
The city and state paid for about half of the Vikings' $1.087 billion U.S. Bank Stadium.
"L.A. has definitely been for the NFL what Washington D.C. used to be for baseball - a bogeyman that you use to scare city councils," said Neil deMause, editor of Field of Schemes, a website that tracks stadium subsidies.
Some cities are pushing back more against taxpayer money for pro sports teams, but others have long resisted – including Los Angeles.
"One reason L.A. hasn't had a team in so long,” deMause said, “is that that city's voters have never expressed much appetite for stadium subsidies.”
(Additional reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; editing by Brian Thevenot)