NFL Sunday outtakes: Do Los Angeles sports fans even want the NFL to return?
updated 12:50 PM , June 23, 2015
LA CRESCENTA, Calif. -- Leo Lesh is from Corning, but he has been a sports-bar owner in the Los Angeles area long enough to express a native's conflicted feelings about the NFL.
In one breath, Lesh can't fathom how the nation's second-largest market doesn't have an NFL team. In the next, he laments the obvious reason.
"Can somebody tell me why we don't have two teams?" Lesh said recently at Leo's All-Star Sports Bar and Grill. "It's ridiculous. With the money in this town, how can they not organize something?
"But even if a team does come here, I'm not sure they'd support it."
Lesh was one of the many people I interviewed for Sunday's feature about the NFL in Los Angeles. I examined why the Buffalo Bills aren't a fit there despite generational fears they would move to Southern California when Ralph Wilson died.
I stopped by Lesh's spot to learn what a local businessman who depends on sports thinks about not having the NFL in his back yard.
"The NFL is why you have a sports bar, really," said Lesh, who still has a summer cottage on Keuka Lake. "Football season is when we make our money."
One might assume an L.A. football team would boost sports businesses around town.
L.A. is different.
As legendary Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long told me, L.A. is an "Ellis Island" market, where so many people come from elsewhere and have "allegiances with other cities."
Among the joys of being an NFL fan in Los Angeles is never worrying about a blackout. A team in Los Angeles would threaten an environment that makes so many people happy.
That's considered a major reason why locals haven't galvanized any semblance of community support for an NFL encore. Too many people are pleased with the status quo.
And if an NFL team were to return to L.A., then how easy would it be to sell out the games and eliminate blackouts? The region's track record suggests that would be difficult.
"I think they would accept a football team as long as it's a winner," Lesh said. "If you don't have a team that's kick-ass, people bail on it.
"In Buffalo, you can clean the snow out of your driveway or go to the Bills game. Out here, you have the beach, the mountains. You can go skiing, hiking. There's so much more to do."
Besides, the NFL is plenty huge in Los Angeles without a team.
Lesh said his bar's best night in a while was for the NFL draft. That's a whopper of a statement, considering the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks all played in the postseason.
"The NFL draft was the busiest night we've had in a month," Lesh said. "People even want to see preseason games. People call all the time in the preseason, wanting to know what games we'll have on."
The biggest crowds at Lesh's bar belong to the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers.
The area's diverse NFL interests also were reflected at Pro Image, a sports apparel store at Glendale Galleria.
On a wall of NFL jerseys, the Dallas Cowboys were represented by the most players, three. About a third of the jerseys were throwbacks for players such as Bart Starr (didn't play in L.A.), Jerry Rice (didn't play in L.A.), Jack Ham (didn't play in L.A.) and Eric Dickerson (who did, but this was a Colts version).
On the adjacent wall hung nine different Kobe Bryant jerseys.
"This city needs a team," Lesh said. "But do they want a team? That's a difficult question.
"If they wanted a team badly enough, we'd already have one."