The announcer(s) fans love to hate

The sentiment is probably not unique to Packer fans, but Packer fans are convinced Fox announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman hate the Packers.

The reason probably has to do with (1) Aikman’s having been the Cowboys’ quarterback, who engineered all the Packers losses to the Cowboys in the 1990s, and (2) some people’s belief that saying anything negative about your team means they hate your team.

Buck and Aikman will be announcing Sunday’s NFC championship, as they have done all of the Packers’ playoff games since Aaron Rodgers first got the Packers into the playoffs. (Including all four 2010–11 playoff games and the final two must-win home games before those.)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interviewed Buck and Aikman before last weekend’s NFC playoff game:

Let’s get this on the record right up front: Joe Buck loves Green Bay.

Fox’s top play-by-play football announcer enjoys coming to Wisconsin, even when the weather is less than hospitable. He respects Packers coach Mike McCarthy. He admires quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

His father, the legendary Jack Buck, was in the broadcast booth at Lambeau Field on that wretchedly, wickedly cold day 47 years ago when the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL Championship Game.

“I was indoctrinated in the Ice Bowl and the Packers at a very young age,” Buck said in a telephone interview.

So why do a lot of Packers fans think he has an anti-Green Bay bias?

“It cracks me up,” Buck said. “It’s equal parts funny and frustrating. It’s just baffling to me. I’ve said that McCarthy is the coach I would start a franchise with, and (Rodgers) is the quarterback I would start a franchise with.”

Buck and his partner, analyst Troy Aikman, will call the NFC divisional game between the Packers and Cowboys at 12:05 p.m. Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Aikman, the former Cowboys quarterback, beat the Packers regularly in the 1990s and won three Super Bowls. So maybe there’s some guilt by association?

“I think that’s part of it,” Buck said. “He had success against them. But Aikman feels the same way. Troy loves Aaron.”

Aikman said he took the criticism from Packers fans in stride.

“It’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “It’s not isolated to me or Joe or one crew. There was a petition for Phil Simms not to do Denver games. It’s part of the job. Joe probably said it best: Fans say, ‘We want you to be unbiased,’ but they really don’t. They want you to be biased toward their team.”

Buck gets it, too. He understands that the venom heaped on him in social media by a segment of fans comes with the territory. There’s even a “Joe Buck Sucks” Facebook page.

He isn’t a “homer,” an announcer who is paid by the team and therefore refrains from being critical. But he can’t recall anything he’s said that would make fans think he roots against the Packers or revels in their misfortune.

“I honest to God can’t think of anything critical we ever said except for maybe (kicker) Mason Crosby when he was struggling in 2012,” Buck said. “I think we’re in a different era and some of that stuff gets fanned by social media.

“I mentioned it to McCarthy the last time we were there and he was like, ‘What?’ It is what it is and it’s nothing anybody has lost sleep over.”

Buck said that when he visits Green Bay, people he meets in hotels and restaurants are unfailingly polite.

“When you walk around town,” he said, “people could not be nicer.”

But when he sits in the open-air broadcast booth at Lambeau, fans throw peanuts at him and Aikman and yell things that aren’t fit for print.

“What are you even listening to?” Buck said. “Did you hear my Week 17 call last year, when (Randall) Cobb caught the touchdown pass (that beat the Chicago Bears)? I almost pulled a groin on that call. That was raw emotion coming out.”

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch interviewed Aikman:

How much do you currently enjoy broadcasting?

I’ll tell you a story: We did the GiantsPatriots Super Bowl in Arizona in 2008. It was a great finish, an unbelievable game. The Patriots trying to go for the undefeated season, the Giants upsetting them. I was staying at a different hotel from the rest of the Fox people and when the game ended I went back to the hotel. I was married at the time and my wife said, “Are we going to go to the [Fox] party?” I said, “No, let’s just go downstairs and grab some dinner.”

I was a little down, to be honest, a little depressed. So we are sitting there having dinner, relaxing, and [ESPN’s] Ron Jaworski comes over. He was eating at the other side of the restaurant. So he says, “Hey, man, what a great game! How about that catch from [David] Tyree!” He’s all excited. I was like, “Yeah, it was good.” He is going on and on and then finally says, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing is wrong.” He said, “Why aren’t you excited? You just called this great game.” I said, “Ron, I didn’t do anything. I’ve played in that game. I won that game. I know what that feels like. All I did was talk about it. I didn’t do anything.” And he walked away and when he did, he gave me this quizzical look. It was like, “What is wrong with this guy?”

So he walks away and I said to my wife: “You know, this may be the greatest game that I ever call. I may have just called the biggest game that I will ever have the opportunity to call in this profession and I could not be more depressed right now.” It shook me up a bit. I thought, “Man, where does the joy come from broadcasting when you have already been the one out there doing it.”

But I will tell you since that time I have not experienced that low again. We did the Super Bowl last year in New York and I could not have felt a greater accomplishment in this business. I don’t know why I am all of sudden getting real satisfaction out of this job, but I am and that has really helped me. The preparation is extensive and I put a lot of time into it, but I enjoy it. As a former player I have a real appreciation for a guy like Aaron Rodgers and how much time he puts into his craft and how good he is doing it. I enjoy the relationships I have with coaches and players. I enjoy the process of getting ready each week. I enjoy my crew. I like the weekends and being at the site of the games, and we get to do great games.

I am so fortunate to have had a career like I had playing — I lived my dream playing in the league — and now to do a job where I get to be around the sport is beyond imagination. The only negative for me is I have my girls [he has two daughters, 12 and 13] and I am gone for six months out of the year. I miss a lot of their activities. I do get to see a lot of them during the week that a lot of dads don’t get to see and then I have six months where I am always there. But being gone on the weekends and missing some important moments in their life is really the only negative.

How did this professional fog lift? And how long did it exist?

You know, I don’t really have a great answer. I never felt it again. Of course it was three years until we did our next Super Bowl, which was the game in Dallas. But I didn’t feel that way after future playoff games. I have not experienced that feeling again and I’m not sure exactly why. I don’t want to say everything was fine the next season, but when we did our next really big game, I didn’t experience it. So because of that, I really have been able to enjoy the profession.

“At the time this was happening, I’ll admit I was thinking everyone wants to take pride in what they do and feel satisfaction and I was thinking, Do I need to go into coaching or something else to experience the highs and lows of winning and losing? That for me is real. You love the winning when you were playing but you just miss having so much invested and then not knowing completely whether we got it done or did not get it done. That’s how I felt in 2008 but I have not felt that way since.

You’ve been a broadcaster since 2001. At what point does a sports broadcaster reach his or her apex and why?

Good question. I feel that last year midseason is when the craft kind of clicked for me. I feel like I have been at my best since midseason last year. The one thing about being an athlete, say you are struggling with throwing a comeback route, well, then you go out and practice it. You throw it 100 times a day and you get better at it, and you see those improvements pretty rapidly. In this business, you don’t get the practice reps. You can’t work on it as much as you like to work on it. Your practice time is live. I find you have to do a lot of evaluating on your own. I’m asking myself, Why is this good? Why does this work? And not everyone agrees with that. We are in a business that does not give a lot of feedback and you just try to be a critic of yourself. Or you ask other people why something is good for them and try to incorporate it into what you are about but still remain authentic.

People who work in regular jobs get quarterly reviews or end of the year evaluations. How does you get your work reviewed?

Fox began a few years ago using an anonymous person to evaluate each broadcast. We also get a report each week — things they liked, things they did not like, things they felt I could have added. Or this was a great anecdote, things like that. It is helpful. But the frustrating thing for this business, and I think everyone experiences it, I use the analogy that when I played, I would be watching a Monday Night game and if Joe Montana threw three interceptions, you would say, “OK, he had a tough day but he is still a helluva quarterback.” In this business, it just seems like really more opinion than anything else. One is only as good as what people think. There is no real measuring stick as there is in athletics. That part of it is frustrating for all us who played competitively and then have gotten into television. But I receive critiques from my bosses each week and the weekly reports.

So how do you view the Dez Bryant play now that a couple of days have passed?

When it happened I did not think for a minute it was not a catch. When it happened, I’m thinking it is an unbelievable catch. Then when we went to break, [Fox rules analyst] Mike Pereira said he thought the call was going to be overruled. I said, “Really? It looks to me like if anything is changed to the call it will be ruled a touchdown.” They ruled it the way Mike saw it. I’m not going to argue with Mike. After the game you hear from all sorts of people about the call and 99 percent of my friends who texted me are just fans and most don’t know the rules. But I did hear from some coaches and that got my attention. And they felt it was a poor call.

The question becomes about the whole football act and that’s why it ultimately was not a catch. If you said Dez made a football move, then it would have been down by contact. Since it was through the process of the catch when the ball was bobbled, then it was incomplete. I trust Mike Pereira and I trust the New York office had the ability to communicate with [referee Gene] Steratore. But I think in general there are way too many discrepancies in our rule book. I have felt for years they should blow the whole thing up and start over and make it simpler. What is a football act? There are just all kind of different exceptions and not just on catches but the rules in general.

Something that’s interesting to me is that I believe Pereira frees up you and Joe not to have to get in-depth about rules decisions. I see that as a positive because broadcasters can get in trouble with rules-based stuff in any sport. But you might view it differently. Does Mike free you up, or do you still feel you have to get an evaluation in?

I don’t feel he necessarily think he frees me up. I think he is great to have and I think everyone has seen the benefit of Fox having Mike Pereira on our network because now everyone has gone with someone like that. And it makes sense. It is great for the viewer. The rulebook is extensive. The league sends a video out every week to the broadcasters on all the various plays that happened the previous week and here is why it was ruled that way. You go back and forth on why things are being called the way they are being called. Mike and I have disagreed on calls. Go back to the NFC Championship Game [Jan. 2010] between the Vikings and Saints. Mike said a hit on Brett Favre should have been roughing the quarterback. I disagreed. I think when you have a call that helps determine the outcome of a game and you are able to go to the guy who was once the head of officiating, it is a great luxury for us to have. But that does not take away from what my job is. So I don’t know that it frees me up. I just think it is a great luxury for us at Fox. …

Do negative comments ever impact your broadcast?

It doesn’t impact me. It really doesn’t. I think it is because I was a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys for 12 years. I have been in the middle of the storm. I have thrown game-losing interceptions and had to deal with that for a week. Whatever is said, such as people saying I am hating on some team, it has no relevance to me.

As an athlete, you were trying to reach the top of your profession both individually and with the Cowboys. How important is it for you to be considered the top NFL analyst on television?

Well, that is what you strive for, that is what I work toward. But I don’t know that you ultimately ever achieve it.

Because it’s subjective?

Right. It’s like saying who is the greatest quarterback of all time? That’s what great about sports. It is a great debate. No one has ever ultimately achieved that unanimously. So if a fair percentage of people regarded me as the best at what I do, that would be a great complement to me and that is what I strive for.

Joe Buck is a strange case. He’s not a polarizing broadcaster with his content yet he draws emotion on both sides, especially from viewers who dislike his work. People always have a definitive opinion of him and, obviously, there are some fan bases that just don’t like him. Have you ever been able to figure out why a guy who is not provocative or a shock jock draws such strong opinions about him?

Yeah, that is a very good question and I don’t know that I have a good answer for you. I have worked with Joe for 13 years and the guy is phenomenal. He is so good at what he does. He simply does not make mistakes and with all that is going on, he just handles everything so effortlessly. I think Joe’s style is that he wants to come across as very casual, but the amount of time that he puts in for preparation is off the charts. He is a play-by-play guy who is not interested in just blending in. He has opinions and he is going to give them and people are going to take notice of him during a broadcast, And that is great. Beyond that, people just like something or they do not. To me, I think it speaks to how great he is, that people immediately have a reaction to Joe Buck. But as far as people viewing him unfavorable because of something he might have said or challenging this particularly fan base, nothing could be further from the truth. He is a great guy, cordial to everyone he comes across. I don’t quite get it and I don’t know if he is impacted by any of it. But there is no one I would rather be working alongside. …

Is there one game that you consider your best sports broadcasting performance?

There is usually two or three broadcasts a year that I come out feeling really, really good about. The game was great, we were really good, it was lively, and we had great conversation. Not that everyone agrees with that [laughs] but that’s how we [Buck and Aikman] assess it or how I assess what I did. But I will say I have never come out of a broadcast and didn’t look back and think I wish I had said something a little differently or pointed something else out. And I was like that as a player. I tend to think I will never have the perfect broadcast but when I am done I do think I will look back at one or two and say this was about as good as it got for me.

Part of this probably has to do with Aikman’s getting the biggest games, as part of Fox’s number one team with Buck. (Who gets complaints as well; Buck is Fox’s number one NFL and baseball play-by-play guy.) Their CBS counterparts, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms (who get complaints of their own — Nantz for being too vanilla, Simms for saying nonsensical things), apparently are setting a sports broadcasting record by announcing their 30th game of the season, the AFC championship, on Sunday.

Whether that’s overexposure depends on whether you like the announcer. Buck is following the path (maybe not by choice) of Curt Gowdy, who was NBC’s number one announcer for football, baseball and most other sports (including the 1972 Winter Olympics) in the 1970s, and Al Michaels, who did the same for ABC in the 1980s.

It’s not easy to be the number one announcers. (Though one of the networks really should give me the opportunity …) In addition to the pervasive commentary about and criticism of the commentators, there is the fact that they have to sort of dumb down their commentary the farther in the playoffs they go, because the last two rounds of the playoffs are viewed by an increasing percentage of casual fans who may watch the playoffs and not much of the regular season. That’s probably why Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated often would rank announcers lower on the network pecking order higher in his announcer ratings, because Dr. Z was a football guy and wanted to hear about such inner details as line play. There will be many viewers of Super Bowl XLIX (carried by NBC in two weeks) who could not care less about the difference between an offensive guard and an offensive tackle, or a safety (the defensive player) vs. a safety (the offense’s ending up in its own end zone.)

But: Does this sound like someone who hates the Packers?

At least Aikman is willing to change his mind if the later evidence contradicts his first opinion.

I like Buck and Aikman (in the former case probably because we’re contemporaries age-wise), but regardless of your opinion, if you are from the ’80s or ’90s you should find this funny:

The Golden Eagles, the Panthers and their meccas

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on Milwaukee’s two basketball schools and their respective arenas, which are in view of each other:

Panther Arena, formerly the US Cellular Arena, formerly the MECCA, formerly the Milwaukee Arena, is shown at lower left, opposite the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Marquette University, which has been at the BMO Harris Bradley Center since its inception in 1988, wants a better handle on what Bucks owners Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan have in mind. For now, the Bradley Center is an important asset to Marquette’s men’s basketball program. Recruits are told they will play in the same arena as the Bucks.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a different challenge. UWM, which signed a 10-year, $3.4 million agreement last summer with the Wisconsin Center District for the naming rights to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, as well as the right to stage additional programming, is concerned it will lose the arena to the wrecking ball.

The Bucks’ preferred choice is land now occupied by the headquarters ofJournal Communications, the UWM arena and, possibly, the Milwaukee Theatre. A source with knowledge of the site-selection process said Bucks officials are eager to get control of the Journal Communications building, which houses the Journal Sentinel and sits on the block bordered by W. State St., N. 4th St., W. Kilbourn Ave., and N. Old World Third St.

The Bucks are focused now on negotiations with Journal Communications and hope to have a site in place in a month. Should that fall through, the Bucks have other sites in mind, including land just north of the Bradley Center, a city-owned parking lot at the corner of N. 4th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. and land at N. 2nd and W. Michigan streets.

If the Bucks secure the Journal Communications block, the team is expected to turn its attention to the UWM arena, first opened in 1950. Franklyn Gimbel, chairman of the Wisconsin Center District, which owns and operates the UWM arena, Milwaukee Theatre and the Wisconsin Center convention center, has been adamantly opposed to giving up the arena.

Marquette’s lease at the Bradley Center expires in March 2017. Brian Dorrington, a Marquette spokesman, said President Michael R. Lovell has met with the Bucks owners multiple times “to get a better understanding of their overall vision and plans.”

“These discussions haven’t dealt with one specific aspect of the project, but rather the comprehensive vision for the new arena, the overall development plan and Marquette’s prospective role,” Dorrington said. “President Lovell has often stated that he feels it is important that Marquette is at the table for the region’s most important discussions, and we are continuing to work to gain a better understanding of the Bucks’ detailed plans.”

The Bucks say many parties are involved in discussions over the effort to build a new arena downtown.

“Marquette is an important stakeholder in the arena discussion,” Bucks team spokesman Jake Suski said. “We plan to work closely with them and important stakeholders as we move forward for the benefit of the entire community.”

The Bucks also have met with UWM officials, and interim chancellor Mark Mone has said the university’s goal is to maintain a presence at the UWM Arena. If the UWM Arena is demolished to make way for an alternative facility, UWM has said it wants an alternative facility.

Francis Deisinger, a local attorney and a backer of UWM Athletics since the late 70s, says he is frustrated by the talks so far.

“My biggest frustration is it doesn’t have to be this way. Why does it have to be here?” he asked of the UWM arena site.

Deisinger noted there are other sites available in the downtown area.

“This would be very much like the destruction of the Chicago & Northwestern depot on the lakefront — the difference being that while the trains had stopped running to that beautiful building, the arena is still a living, working building,” he said.

The issue isn’t the Bradley Center’s size (at least from the Bucks’ perspective), it’s its lack of 21st-century accouterments. On the other hand, Marquette doesn’t come close to selling out the Bradley Center unless Wisconsin plays there. The Bradley Center is far too big for UWM. Marquette has the Al McGuire Center, and UWM has the Klotsche Center, but neither on-campus facility means NCAA Division I minimum capacity requirements.

Some schedule irony: Marquette is hosting Wisconsin Saturday. Marquette refuses to play UW-Milwaukee or UW-Green Bay, believing that that would be beneath the Warriors … I mean Golden Eagles … I mean Gold … I mean Golden Eagles. (Translation: A Marquette loss to Milwaukee or Green Bay would look really bad.) Wisconsin not only plays all the other in-state schools, but even plays road games against them.

Whether or not taxpayers should pony up the funds for a new Bucks arena, that decision has consequences on others.

Buck(s)ing against taxpayer dollars

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos apparently thinks his fellow Republicans are not really interested in providing state funding for a new Bucks arena, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee Bucks investors who are seeking public money for a new arena will have to negotiate a difficult political path in Madison, where Republicans have widened their control of the Legislature.

The latest sign of trouble for those wanting public money for the arena came from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who said he thinks Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry made a mistake by greeting President Barack Obama at the airport in the lead-up to last week’s election.

Obama was in town Oct. 28 for a rally at North Division High School on behalf of Democrat Mary Burke. A week later, Republican Gov. Scott Walker beat Burke to win a second term.

Vos said Lasry’s appearance “did not make my job easier” in terms of persuading Republican legislators to back a possible financial plan to build a new, multipurpose arena in Milwaukee.

“It’s a tough sell when you’re asking for millions of dollars,” Vos said.

The Bucks want to replace the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center with a new downtown arena at a cost of $400 million to $500 million. Lasry, co-owner Wes Edens and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce have said some public funding would be needed for the project.

Lasry and Edens have committed $100 million toward a new arena. Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has also said he would put $100 million toward an arena, and additional private investment could bring the total commitment to $300 million. Kohl sold the Bucks to the two hedge-fund investors this year for $550 million.

Finding state money for the project will be difficult. Some lawmakers are ideologically opposed to using public money for a private facility. Others are open to the idea, but the proposal must compete with other issues they hope to tackle. …

A detailed proposal has yet to be put forward on getting public money for a new arena, though one idea under consideration is capturing the income taxes paid by professional athletes and other employees at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. An estimate from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau concluded that the athletes and other employees paid state income taxes of approximately $10.7 million in the 2012 tax year. If accurate, that could potentially support state bonding totaling $125 million or more.

[Gov. Scott] Walker has called that idea interesting and said he wants to keep the Bucks, but he has not publicly embraced a particular plan.

“Governor Walker has said that we first need to hear details of a plan from elected officials, Bucks officials and civic leaders in Milwaukee,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said by email. “Then we will review and evaluate any role that might involve the state government.”

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) said he had not been briefed on ways to fund the arena, but expressed skepticism on using income tax receipts that are already earmarked to fund schools and an array of state programs.

“I’d be very cautious” on using funds the state generates from income and sales taxes, Cowles said.

One idea — extending the 0.1% Miller Park sale tax in five counties — appears to be dead.

“That will not happen on my watch,” Vos said.

Walker has also rejected that idea, saying there is no support for it.

Approving the sales tax was a difficult political battle that resulted in the 1996 recall of then-Sen. George Petak (R-Racine), who voted for the stadium tax after saying he wouldn’t.

The stadium fight has “salted the earth” on using a sales tax to fund a sports facility, said Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine).

“It is a tougher path than it was before. And if you don’t believe me, ask George Petak,” Mason said.

Another way to fund the project would be to create a modified tax incremental financing district.

Tax incremental financing districts borrow money to pay for public improvements and other expenses. Property taxes from the new developments are used to pay off the debt.

For the arena, the TIF district would also capture state income taxes and state sales taxes generated within the district to repay that debt.

For the moment, Vos’ comments about Lasry’s visit with Obama have grabbed the headlines on the issue. In addition to his statements to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he made similar ones to the Milwaukee Business Journal and WISN-TV’s “UpFront with Mike Gousha.”

“If you’re looking to people for support, you certainly don’t want to poke people in the eye,” Vos told the Business Journal.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are hoping to stay out of the political fray and are reaching out to both parties.

“We don’t view revitalizing downtown Milwaukee as a political issue. Our objective is to have a transparent, open discussion with all the stakeholders to come up with a plan that unifies the city and state to do something transformative,” said Bucks’ spokesman Jake Suski.

The Milwaukee Business Journal adds a partisan wrinkle:

Despite Vos’ displeasure with Lasry, he said he anticipates Walker will consider strategies to support the Bucks.

“I support what we can do to save a business,” Vos said. …

The biggest arena cheerleader besides the Bucks so far has been the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, which is friendly with Republicans. MMAC president Tim Sheehy said Wednesday he believes both Walker and Vos are open to considering state funding.

After the election, both the state Assembly and the state Senate remained in Republican control.

“Knowing who the make-up of the leadership in Madison is — from the governor to both the Assembly and Senate — the leadership is very helpful in thinking through potential approaches to address our need for a new civic center, home for the Bucks,” Sheehy said.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which spent heavily in support of Walker and against Burke, believes “Milwaukee needs thriving arts and entertainment options to keep and attract a dynamic workforce and quality of life,” said WMC CEO Kurt Bauer. That position echoes statements Sheehy has made in support of a new arena for more than a year.

“We may become more involved when the details are revealed,” Bauer said.

Would legislative Republicans go against one of their biggest supports, the business community?

Well, yes, they would, or at least they did in the mid-1990s during the Miller Park vote. That was a truly bipartisan vote in that Republicans and Democrats both favored and opposed the stadium sales tax.

That, however, was for a stadium funded by a five-county sales tax. Lambeau Field’s early-2000s improvements were funded by a 0.5-percent Brown County sales tax. And the Brewers and Packers are much more statewide teams than the Bucks. In terms of statewide interests, the gap between the Bucks and the Brewers, Packers and Badgers is the approximate size of the drive from Superior to Platteville.

Not surprisingly, the hypocrisy is strong on this issue. Those who complain about Vos’ comments apparently ignore the fact that if the new Bucks owners were Republicans, then Democrats would be complaining about a new arena being a “playground for the rich” staffed by minimum-wage workers with zero benefit beyond the Milwaukee city limits, and would suggest that the new owners should fund it themselves.

According to the MacIver Institute, Vos is floating a proposal to devote proceeds from income taxes of players and Bradley Center employees, about $10.7 million per year, to bond up to $150 million for a state contribution to the new arena project. The arena is estimated to cost $400 million to $500 million, so Vos’ idea would work, if you don’t mind the state’s paying $214 million (including interest) over 20 years for an arena. (Cue Democrat complaints about state debt levels in 5 … 4 … 3 …)

It would be hypocritical to complain about walling off this $10.7 million — which in a $35 billion annual budget isn’t much — when state voters just approved (correctly) walling off transportation funds from the next fund raid attempt. But where is the City of Milwaukee’s contribution? Where is Milwaukee County’s contribution?

This blog has previously reported that the purchase of the Bucks has a National Basketball Association buy-back option if the Bucks don’t get a new arena. A Bucks move is certainly possible, though it would make more financial sense for the NBA to add two teams instead of moving the Bucks.

Of all the new stadium projects, this makes the least sense for anyone outside Milwaukee. The Bucks may be Wisconsin’s only NBA team, but the Bucks are far from a statewide team.

I think the Republicans will make a deal to get an arena built. Not that they necessarily should. The Packers are a statewide team, and yet Brown County paid for the stadium expansion. The Brewers needed Miller Park and its roof to become a statewide team. The Bucks are not now, and are not likely to become absent Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls success, a statewide team.

 

Game(s) on

Regular readers know that my avocation (as opposed to “vocation,” a three-syllable word meaning “job”) is sports announcing.

I’ve been doing a whole lot of sports announcing lately. Last week, I announced two high school football playoff games and two high school playoff volleyball matches in four days. The previous week, I did four matches and one game in five days.

Tonight, I make my college basketball (re)debut announcing the UW–Platteville exhibition basketball game at UW–Milwaukee. Friday, I am announcing three matches at the WIAA Girls Volleyball Championships in Ashwaubenon. If more than none of those three teams wins Friday, I will be back Saturday for the state title match(es).

(You can listen here to all of that, however much “that” there turns out to be.)

Going to Green Bay via Milwaukee may seem a bit much if you don’t live in southeastern Wisconsin. (But someone who works for a Rice Lake radio station is going from Rice Lake to Green Bay for state in the morning, then going to La Crosse for a high school football playoff game Friday night. Depending on what happens at state, he may be back Saturday.) Last week, I went from Platteville to Whitewater, stopping in Darlington to do a playoff football game.

Why do we do this? Good question! Because it’s fun, particularly for us who are sports fans but were never good enough to actually participate. It’s even more fun to be part of a postseason tournament experience, because the stakes are higher — to get to the NCAA tournament, or to get to a state high school tournament. The crushing loss isn’t losing at state; it’s losing the game before state, because regardless of what happens at state, if you get to state, you’ve had a great season, and if you don’t get to state, whatever you accomplished falls a bit short.

Recall that ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports opened with “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat,” but the sentence after that was “the human drama of athletic competition.” You think you know what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean that that will happen. Teams enter postseasons with losing records, and exit the postseason at the state tournament. (That’s happened twice with teams I’ve covered.) Favorites to go to state don’t get there.

Travel for announcers is far from rare. (Indeed, Major League Baseball announcers of an advanced level of experience, such as the Dodgers’ Vin Scully and the Brewers’ Bob Uecker, often cut back their schedules due to onerous travel.) The venue tonight, Panther Arena in Milwaukee, formerly was the home of the Milwaukee Bucks and thus their second announcer, Jim Irwin. At the time, Irwin also did the Packers and Badger football, which meant some weekends had him doing a Badger game on Saturday, the Packers Sunday afternoon, and a Bucks game Sunday night. And if none of those teams played at home, Irwin went with the team; on occasion a second announcer started the Bucks game before Irwin could get back from wherever the Packers played. And, by the way, Irwin did the morning sports on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee, when he was around to do so.

The current version of Irwin is Wayne Larrivee, who announces college football on Saturdays, and until a few years ago did Chicago Bulls games on TV Saturday nights. Before he got to the networks Marv Albert juggled Giants football, Knicks basketball on TV, Rangers hockey on radio, and sports on WNBC-TV in New York (which did not carry Knicks games; Albert was one of the rare announcers who appeared on more than one TV station in the same market). Somehow he never announced baseball.

The ultimate in non-air non-highest-level travel must be the NCAA Division III Midwest Conference, within which I started doing Ripon College basketball in the late 1990s. Going from St. Norbert College in De Pere to Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill., makes a trip from, say, Whitewater to Superior seem, well, shorter.

The Midwest Conference schedule features weekend women’s and men’s basketball doubleheaders to reduce travel costs when northern teams (Beloit, Carroll, Lawrence, Ripon, St. Norbert) go south of the state line (Lake Forest, Illinois College, Knox and Monmouth in Illinois, and now Cornell and Grinnell in Iowa), or vice versa. The teams went down a day early, and we never traveled with the team, so we’d take Friday off from work, drive to site one, announce the game, drive to site two, arrive in the wee hours of the morning, do that game, and then drive home.

There were two epic driving trips in that schedule. One year, I did a game in Monmouth, then drove to Grinnell for Saturday’s game, where I met my wife (and, I mention only because this adds to the story, our four-months-away-from-being-born son) and car. My partner drove back to Ripon while we continued to the Twin Cities, where she had an alumni event Sunday morning. So I spent the weekend doing a thousand-mile driving loop of the Midwest.

One year later came Operation Krispy Kreme. That year’s schedule had a trip to Lake Forest and Illinois College. Early that season I was reading the Wall Street Journal at work and read a story about the cult of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Intrigued, I discovered that Krispy Kreme had a store sort of on the way to Illinois College. So we decided to hit Krispy Kreme between games.

Mrs. Presteblog told her coworkers about Operation Krispy Kreme. By the time we left, not only were we getting doughnuts for ourselves, we were getting them for her coworkers — two of this, one of those, and so on for a page-long list. Complicating matters was that the Lake Forest game, on the north side of Chicago, went to overtime, making us wonder if we’d get to the store, on the south side of Chicago, before midnight, when the store closed. We made it with 20 minutes to spare, and the store was full.

Armed with Krispy Kremes and their coffee, we left Chicago, drove through snow and arrived in Jacksonville, at 3:40 a.m. The following day, we announced two more games, then headed back, and I got home at 3:25 a.m. (On the other hand, as we noted numerous times, the scenery in most of Illinois is best viewed at night.)

That, however, is not as far as I’ve traveled for college sports. The University of Utah, one year removed from playing in the NCAA championship game, invited Ripon to play. And so we flew via O’Hare Field in Chicago (because O’Hare never closes because of snow) to Salt Lake City, celebrating the New Year with the most polite people you’ll ever meet on earth. On New Year’s Day, which happened to be the same day as Wisconsin’s second Rose Bowl win over UCLA, we watched at the hotel bar, then I ran to our room to get a tape recorder for the pregame interview with Utah coach Rick Majerus, getting to our room just in time to see the game-ending quarterback sack. Then after watching the Utes’ practice, I asked Majerus seven questions, and got 15 minutes of answers.

The morning of the game, we awoke to find out that O’Hare, which never closes because of snow, was closing because of the 23 inches of snow the airport was in the process of getting. Task number one of game day therefore was to get our Sunday flight home rescheduled — as it turned out, to Wednesday. The radio station news and sports director said later that it was the most listened to game in the station’s history, because Ripon was getting hit by 18 inches of snow, and the game wasn’t on TV.

Division III athletics is more difficult than Division I, because the student–athletes are students first, and therefore lack the accouterments of Division I — buses instead of planes, for instance. Another partner of mine tells the story about going to a game riding on the team bus, and hearing absolute silence after the bus pulled away because the students were studying. (The UW Marching Band bus experience is different, to put it mildly.)

 

Badgers and Packers and Brewers and Bucks — oh my!

Can we get all of Wisconsin’s major sports teams (even the Bucks) into one blog? Yes we can!

First: The New York Times plays Fun with Maps:

Twice so far at the Upshot, we’ve published maps showing where fan support for one team begins and another ends — once for baseball and once for basketball. Now we’re pleased to offer another one: the United States according to college football fans.

Unlike professional sports, the college game is much more provincial, with scrappy regional programs dominating their corners of the country. Texas and Oregon are two of the most popular teams, but together they account for only 25 percent of territory in the lower 48 states. There is no team with a level of national support that approaches that of, say, the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox or the Los Angeles Lakers. …

All told, 84 programs can reasonably claim to be the most popular college football team somewhere in the United States.

Like the other sets of maps, these were created using estimates of team support based on each team’s share of Facebook “likes” in a ZIP code. We then applied an algorithm to deal with statistical noise and fill in gaps where data was missing. Facebook “likes” are an imperfect measure, but as we’ve noted before, Facebook likes show broadly similar patterns to polls.

The most consistently loyal fans in America live in Wisconsin. More than 87 percent of fans in some Wisconsin ZIP codes support the Badgers, a level that isn’t reached anywhere else, our estimates show. That’s why the red in the map is so dark. Though the numbers aren’t nearly so high elsewhere, Wisconsin territory also stretches into Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan.

Minnesota has won 57 games and lost 56 in its long-running battle with Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but you wouldn’t know it from the map. Wisconsin, which recently went to three straight Rose Bowls, more than holds its own in its state and wins in some counties in Minnesota, including the Twin Cities; it even wins in the home ZIP code of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium (also the temporary home of the N.F.L.’s Vikings). Bucky rules.

Much of this, of course, has to do with the presence of only one Division I football team in the state, as in Nebraska. There is no Wisconsin State (except in the pages of the novel Gotcha Down) to pull off fans from Wisconsin. (Though it would be nice for Marquette, or UW–Milwaukee, or UW–Green Bay to have football.) However, Badger fans deserve credit for sticking with Bucky despite decades of bad football and basketball in the 1970s and 1980s. And it’s also good to see inroads outside the state lines given the annoyance of, when I came to Southwest Wisconsin in 1988, Iowa fans in Wisconsin. (One Iowa fan in Wisconsin is one too many.)

On to the real America’s Team. The NFL Spin Zone ranked all 32 NFL teams by historic greatness (or lack thereof), and guess who won?

1. Green Bay Packers: 714 Points

Established 1921 – There is something poetic about the team from the smallest market in the NFL being atop this list. It’s an ode of sorts to the founding of the NFL; which was comprised of numerous small market teams. Canton, OH., Muncie, IN., Duluth, MN., Rock Island, IL., Kenosha, WI., all had franchises early on, too. How did the Green Bay Packers, who are owned by the fans, not only remain but make it to the top of this list as, statistically, the greatest franchise in NFL history? Well, they have had numerous periods of greatness (aka success), including their dynasty of the 1960s — which some consider the NFL’s first real dynasty. Prior to that they won a league-high nine World Championships and have won four total Super Bowl Trophies (a trophy named after their legendary coach Vince Lombardi). Their 13 NFL Championships are the most all-time. They have the second-most Hall of Fame inductees (22) and have made the playoffs 29 times. Their seven AP MVP awards do not hurt their point total either. Green Bay’s combination of ancient, modern, and current success has landed it atop this list. And they’re current roster, led by Aaron Rodgers, shows no signs of slowing down.

As everyone knows, the NFL starts and ends at the quarterback position. And the Packers’ collection of top-tier quarterbacks, namely Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, is second to none. They are, or should I say will be, the only franchise with three Hall of Fame, Super Bowl winning, AP MVP quarterbacks. And don’t forget about Arnie Herber, a Packers quarterback from the 1930s who has a bust in Canton, too. Green Bay may not be your favorite franchise in the NFL, but there is no doubting it’s place among the NFL’s elite. Not to mention, it’s the oldest franchise to stay in one location. And that location is Titletown USA, home of Earl “Curly” Lambeau and the historic stadium built in his name. You hear that Titletown natives? It’s time to add another title to your resume as: The Greatest Franchise In NFL History…for now.

Icons: Vince Lombardi, Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Brett Favre

Which makes, incidentally, Super Bowl XLV between the Packers and Pittsburgh (ranked third, and listed as the greatest NFL team in the Super Bowl era) the greatest Super Bowl ever — two iconic franchises, both of which ownership harkens back to a simpler era. (The Packers are of course community owned, and I of course am an owner, while Art Rooney purchased the Steelers with racetrack winnings.)

On to the disappointment of the year, the Brewers, for which Rant Sports has roster suggestions:

Entering the 2015 season, much of the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster will be the same, but they are not a team without needs. The Brewers may target bats at both corner infield positions and veteran arms in the bullpen. …

4. Pablo Sandoval

With players like Kyle Lohse, Zack Greinke and Matt Garza, Doug Melvin surprised Brewers fans. If Aramis Ramirez isn’t brought back, he could surprise again with a player like Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval would not only give the Brewers a powerful lefty bat that they lack, but he also plays solid defense at third base.

3. Michael Cuddyer

Michael Cuddyer would solve a lot of problems for the Brewers at first base. While he is not a great defender, the 2013 NL batting champion hits for average and power. There are concerns about his durability, but his cheap and powerful bat would look great in Milwaukee. …

1. Adam LaRoche

If the Brewers want a left-handed bat at first, Adam Laroche is the best option. He is a weapon on offense who draws walks and gets on base, and has been a Gold Glove defender. If they were to sign LaRoche, they may finally have player who can hold his own replacing Prince Fielder.

The other two are free agents from the Brewers — closer Francisco Rodriguez and third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Each was one of general manager Doug Melvin’s better acquisitions. Rodriguez pitched pretty well this season, and Ramirez played about as well as Sandoval did for the Giants. The problem with Ramirez is his age, though that’s the same issue with Cuddyer and LaRoche. Sandoval is probably going to want more money than the Brewers are interested in paying.

Getting LaRoche would be great if for no other reason than his father — former Yankees pitcher Dave LaRoche, of the LaLob pitch:

(The clip shows Gorman Thomas striking out in a game the Brewers did win. One year later, Thomas got a base hit off LaRoche, and after going to first base proceeded to give a raspberry to the Yankees bench, which broke up.)

That blog demonstrates the Brewers’ player development weaknesses under Melvin. Developing pitching has been a problem for the entire history of the franchise, as you know, and the Brewers’ finances means the Brewers have to find someone who is affordable, which means players who are damaged goods for one reason or another. Fielder was a home-grown produce who the Brewers have never been able to replace.

I hate to end on a downer, but the last franchise on our list, the Bucks, may not be long for Milwaukee if you believe Business Insider:

In May, the NBA approved the sale of the Bucks to new owners Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for a then-NBA record $550 million.

Shortly after the sale, Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein of ESPN.com learned that as part of the agreement, the NBA had the right to buy back the team for $575 million if a new arena was not approved, built, and ready to use by November, 2017.

This did not seem like that big of a deal at the time because there was time to build the arena and there would have been little to gain for the NBA by purchasing the franchise.

But then the Donald Sterling fiasco in Los Angeles happened and Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers for $2 billion. Now, five months later, the Bucks still don’t even have a location for a new stadium and the Bucks are worth a lot more than $575 million. …

If the Bucks can’t get a new stadium built before the deadline, the NBA could buy the team for $575 million and then turn around and sell the team to a group in Seattle for an estimated $1.6 billion. …

It would also solve the problem of putting an NBA team back in Seattle, something the NBA has made a priority in recent years.

An alternative theory proposed by [ESPN blowhard Bill] Simmons is that the NBA could agree to not buy the team if the new Bucks owners agree to not build a new arena and pony up some more money — presumably a transfer fee of a few hundred million — and they would be able to remain owners by moving the team to Seattle.

Instead of investing $550 million for a team in Milwaukee, Edens and Lasry would then have invested maybe $900 million for a team in Seattle that may be worth closer to $1.6 billion.

That’s still a pretty good deal and everybody wins. Well, except for the Bucks fans in Milwaukee.

This theory, however, is blown up by the one comment on this story:

I find the notion that because Steve Ballmer overpaid for the Clips, that Bucks are worth 1.6 billion to be laughable.

There is another problem with Simmons’ conspiracy theory. The NBA could add to its coffers by simply adding two teams, to go from 30 to 32 teams. Seattle is an obvious expansion possibility, but so is Kansas City. So is Louisville. There are also other franchises at least as likely to move as the Bucks, namely Ballmer’s Clippers, Sacramento and New Orleans. The fact that the Bucks’ new owners are bringing in local minority owners is a point in the Bucks’ favor, though not an insurmountable obstacle to a move.

Some would argue the NBA shouldn’t expand, but should relocate the aforementioned weak franchises for on-court competitive reasons. (The Clippers are apparently the NBA’s answer to the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/TBA Raiders, having started life as the Buffalo Braves before moving to San Diego and then L.A. New Orleans used to have the Jazz before the Pelicans moved from Charlotte. Sacramento could move and yet still stay in California, to, for instance, San Jose or Anaheim.) The NBA being a business, however, adding two teams will bring in more money, particularly in an area hungry to get basketball back (Seattle), an area with no winter sports team to follow (Kansas City), or an area with no major pro sports team (Louisville). The NBA could add two teams and still have more areas wanting to get a franchise.

Yost vs. Yost

The World Series begins next week with a most unexpected American League representative, the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals’ manager is former Brewer player and manager Ned Yost, about whom the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes:

The Royals, who hadn’t been to the postseason since 1985, are managed by Ned Yost, who was fired by the Brewers with 12 games remaining in the 2008 season after a two-week slide threatened their playoff status. One of Yost’s coaches is Dale Sveum, who replaced him as Brewers’ manager in ’08 and led the club to the NL wild-card berth.

After the long wait to return to the playoffs, the wild-card Royals are 8–0 in the postseason, making Yost the first manager in MLB history to win his first eight playoff games. So, we can safely say he has landed safely on his feet six years after being canned by the Brewers.

Yost has been criticized for ignoring analytics and supposed “proper” strategies by relying extensively on bunting, stealing bases and other unconventional methods of managing. But he certainly is getting the last laugh at this point with a team that is very strong defensively, has an impenetrable bullpen and is getting clutch hitting from several budding young stars.

The first three hitters in the Royals’ batting order started their big-league careers with the Brewers. Shortstop Alcides Escobar, the leadoff hitter, and No. 3 hitter Lorenzo Cain — the MVP of the ALCS sweep — were sent to Kansas City in December 2010 in the trade for Zack Greinke. The Royals also acquired starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi, now with Tampa Bay, and reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who resurfaced in Milwaukee this season and pitched very well down the stretch.

The Royals’ No. 2 hitter, rightfielder Nori Aoki, was traded to KC last winter for reliever Will Smith, a swap that worked out well for both clubs.

Many Brewers fans, still agitated by the team’s late-season collapse that knocked the team from the playoff picture, have sent me messages saying Milwaukee obviously was fleeced in those deals. Of course, few of them complained when Greinke helped the Brewers win a franchise-record 96 games in 2011 and come within two victories of the World Series.

This ignited an online and Facebook debate over the supposed proper managerial style — Yost’s apparent favor of bunting and stolen bases vs. the Brewers’ swing-for-the-fences style that worked until, well, it didn’t in the last six weeks of the season.

You’d think there would have been more of a debate over the merits of the aforementioned trades of Escobar, Aoki and Cain than over managerial styles, about which more momentarily. Without Greinke, the Brewers would not have won the National League Central in 2011. Smith did pitch well for the Brewers until he flamed out from overuse, but trading Aoki created a hole in the outfield that the Brewers plugged with Khris Davis, who predictably flamed out and is unlikely to have close to the career Aoki had with the Brewers. Instead of Escobar, the Brewers have Jean Segura, who has hit well for one-half of his two seasons as a starter. Given the horrible tragedy of his son’s death during the season, perhaps Segura’s future shouldn’t be judged by this season.

Aoki was a leadoff hitter, more in the style of getting on base than as a speed merchant on the bases, with the Brewers. Where did the Brewers’ lineup have problems all season? Leadoff, and whoever is the regular leadoff hitter gets the most plate appearances of any position in the batting order. (Which is why some teams put their best hitter for average — think Wade Boggs in his heyday — in the leadoff spot instead of their fastest offensive player — think Carlos Gomez — particularly if said speed demon lacks a good on-base percentage.)

Yost became the Brewers’ manager because he was a Braves coach, and the Braves were quite successful when Yost was a coach, though perhaps not because Yost was a coach. Yost was believed to be good with young players, but got fired because the Brewers believed Yost didn’t have what it took to stop the Brewers’ slide of the time. Sveum, his replacement, went 7–5, which is only one game better than .500, but the Brewers got into the playoffs.

If Yost’s Royals win the World Series, it won’t be the last time a supposed retread found success in Kansas City. The Yankees fired manager Dick Howser after one season and 103 wins because Howser committed the unpardonable sins of standing up to owner George Steinbrenner and getting swept by the Royals in the 1980 American League Championship Series. Howser’s Royals teams had two second-place finishes, two first-place finishes, and the 1985 World Series championship, thanks to …

(I had to throw that in to rib my late friend Frank the St. Louis-area native and huge Cardinal fan. A joke from beyond about playing tuba will probably follow.)

Howser’s Royals defeated the Cardinals, managed by Whitey Herzog, who previously managed, yes, the Royals. Herzog’s Cardinals teams were based on pitching, speed and defense, in large part because of the home-run-unfriendly Royals Stadium and previous Busch Stadium. That may be what Yost is doing with the Royals, and if so Yost deserves praise for tailoring his team to the place in which half their games are played.

Some argue that the Royals are in the World Series despite Yost, not because of him (largely because of a bad pitching move in the wild-card game that the Royals managed to overcome), but they are in the World Series and the other 14 AL teams, plus all NL teams except San Francisco, will be watching the World Series at home. It is possible that Yost learned not just what to do, but what not to do from his Brewers experience.

Miller Park is apparently considered pretty home run-friendly, and perhaps the Brewers are tailored for Miller Park too. Earl Weaver eschewed the bunt, the hit-and-run and stolen bases (his rationale was that “your most precious possessions are your 27 outs”) and won a bigger percentage of games than Herzog (.583, an average of 94 per season, to Herzog’s .532, an average of 86 per season). That’s not to say Weaver’s or Herzog’s methods are necessarily preferable. There is a difference between managing in the regular season, when you’ll face good and bad teams and not every game means as much (Weaver basically said only one-third of games really count, because every team wins at least one-third of its games and every team loses at least one-third of its games), and managing in the postseason, where runs probably will be at a premium because the pitching is better and every game does count.

The idea that the Brewers should have played more small ball is based on the fact that swinging for the fences stopped working, not out of evidence that small ball would have worked. One of the Brewers’ best fundamental hitters is Jonathan Lucroy, but he’s also one of the Brewers’ best hitters. What would be the value of Lucroy’s giving up his at-bat to move a batter along, particularly if the hitters who follow him fail to deliver? We also saw enough base-running misadventures to make fans question whether more running would have led to more stolen bases, or more outs. I’m not sure the Brewers necessarily need more team speed, but they certainly do need better base-runners.

Instead of blaming manager Ron Roenicke for his team’s failure to play small ball, the blame should be placed with general manager Doug Melvin for putting together a lineup too reliant on the home run and lacking offensive balance, ability in fundamentals, and ability in defense. The Brewers need to have more high-on-base-percentage hitters (which the Angels had when Roenicke was their bench coach) so that when the big sticks connect, more runs come in. (That’s particularly true when your lineup includes someone like Mark Reynolds.) Unless their offensive imbalance is rectified (which would allow them to play small ball when needed), 2015 won’t be any better than 2014, and could end up with significantly more losses.

 

The Cleveland/L.A./St. Louis/L.A. Rams

As part of the yearly rotation of non-division opponents, the Packers will host the Rams next season.

The Los Angeles Rams, that is, if this passed-on report from the Epoch Times is correct:

The St. Louis Rams have already made the decision to relocate to Los Angeles, and will make the official announcement after the Super Bowl, according to a new report.

“There’s a strong belief, people that are in–that I believe are in the know–multiple people, have told me that the decision has already been made and that the team is moving,” one of the hosts of 101 ESPN said in a recent show.

“Somebody told you that, really?” sharply questioned another.

“Yes.”

Jason La Confora of CBS Sports said recently that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is expected to make the announcement on February 15, 2015.

Kroenke stoked speculation in January by buying a 60-acre tract of land in Inglewood, California.

“The land is located between the recently renovated Forum and the Hollywood Park racetrack, which was shut down in December, and could potentially serve as the home of a future NFL stadium,” ESPN said.

“Since the Raiders and Rams left Southern California after the 1994 season, Los Angeles has been subjected to enough meaningless artist renderings to fill a museum and more empty promises to encompass two decades worth of failed campaign speeches. There is, however, a big difference if Kroenke truly does have an interest in moving the Rams out of St. Louis and back to Los Angeles. He owns the Rams and now owns enough land in Los Angeles to build a stadium.”

“Every indication that you get, or everything that is not said by Stan Kroenke would lead you to believe that he wants to build a stadium and have a team there,” one of the ESPN Radio hosts said this week.

“This is a guy that lives in L.A., and tried to buy the Dodgers.”

Pro Football Talk started this by reporting earlier this week:

As the 20th anniversary of the NFL’s departure from Los Angeles, the NFL seems closer than ever to returning. Per a league source, the current plan is that the NFL will send one or two teams back to Los Angeles within the next 12 to 24 months.

The timeline would include a team announcing its intention to move in the 2015 or 2016 offseason, with arrangements to play at the Rose Bowl or the L.A. Coliseum pending the construction of a new stadium. Possible sites for a venue in L.A. include the AEG project at L.A. Live in downtown, the land purchased recently by Rams owner Stan Kroenke at Hollywood Park, Chavez Ravine, and a couple of locations that have not yet been publicly disclosed.  Ed Roski’s shovel-ready site at City of Industry is not regarded as a viable destination.

Currently, the universe of teams that may relocate consists of three:  the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers. The Raiders’ current lease expires after the 2014 season.  The Rams can exit without penalty after each season.  The Chargers can leave by paying a relocation fee that shrinks every year.

The Rams, who most people don’t know actually started in Cleveland …

… moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946, playing at the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum …

… before moving to Anaheim Stadium in 1980 …

… and then St. Louis in 1995:

The Raiders started in Oakland …

… moved to Los Angeles (the Coliseum) in 1982 …

… then moved back to Oakland in 1995:

The Chargers played their first season in Los Angeles before moving down Interstate 5 to San Diego.

Ever since the Rams and Raiders departed L.A. after the 1994 season, NFL-back-to-L.A. rumors have been as prevalent as car magazines’ stories about the next new Chevy Corvette. It is rather ironic that the rumors about the Rams’ and/or Raiders’ and/or Chargers’ moving (back) to L.A. involves two franchises that both moved to and from L.A. It’s also a bit ironic that two of the most recent teams to have moved (the last was the Houston Oilers, which became the Tennessee Titans in 1997, preceded one year earlier by the first Cleveland Browns, which became the Baltimore Ravens) are looking to move back.

Usually, teams that move move because of a combination of on-the-field lack of success and bad stadium situations, with one often affecting the other. (Which is kind of like being excited about buying a car that is a lemon.) The Rams play in the Edward Jones Dome, which opened in 1995. By 2012, the stadium was ranked the seventh worst U.S. sports stadium by Time magazine.

The Raiders are 0–4 and just fired their coach, and the Rams are 1–3 and in last place in the NFC West. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, the Chargers are 4–1. Another team often mentioned in moving discussions, the Jacksonville Jaguars, are 0–4, but their stadium, the former Gator Bowl, just had $63 million in renovation work. The Buffalo Bills were recently sold to the owners of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres, so they’re probably not going anywhere. (And the Bills are also 3–2 and tied for first in the AFC East.)

Both the Raiders and Chargers are supposedly working on stadium deals where they are now. That makes the Rams’ moving back to L.A. more logical, given the additional fact that since the Rams are in the NFC West, they could move back to L.A. without reconfiguring divisions. The Raiders’ situation is also intertwined with the Oakland Athletics, who share the former Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum with the Raiders in the only remaining baseball/football stadium. (The A’s want out too.)

As for the Chargers, U~T San Diego is worried:

For much of the 12 years the Chargers have been posturing and pestering for a new stadium in San Diego, they were the only team in the NFL with the ability to get out of their current lease with minimal or no penalty. Not so any more.

The St. Louis Rams recently won their freedom and can leave any time, and the Raiders are free to abandon Oakland after this season. Both teams, as do the Chargers, maintain their current stadium situations are unsustainable.

This is not the good news you might think it is. It doesn’t push the Chargers out of the L.A. scene.

What it might actually do is force the Chargers to make a decision — because they can’t let another team (or teams) beat them to Los Angeles.

The Chargers can’t have another NFL team in Southern California – not without getting a new stadium in San Diego.

The team says that 30 percent of its revenue is generated from Los Angeles and Orange County. To have a team in that region siphon that business would, Chargers officials have said several times, have a momentously adverse affect on their bottom line.

(A little refresher: The Chargers are one of a handful of NFL teams whose primary local revenue source is ticket sales. A new stadium would provide a lucrative naming rights deal, which the Chargers do not have now, as well as enhanced signage, among other revenue-generating features.)

If progress toward a new stadium remains stalled – the mayor’s dinner with Chargers President Dean Spanos and lunch with U-T columnist Nick Canepa and a few perfunctory meetings between advisers aside – the Chargers will be cornered if the Rams and Raiders appear headed back to Southern California.

Their two choices will be staking their claim to the region in the form of litigation trying to block any teams from moving to L.A. or moving to L.A. themselves.

So whatever anyone thinks about how L.A. will embrace an NFL team after 20 years or its decades-long inability to get a stadium built, those in the league know there will one day, sooner than later, be at least one team in the nation’s second-largest market.

After reading this, you are bound to ask: Well, if L.A. is such a great market, why isn’t a team there now? The Rams and the Raiders left the same season for similar reasons — the Rams got a sweetheart stadium deal in St. Louis, and the Raiders got a deal to move out of the L.A. Coliseum, which was old, in a bad neighborhood, and lacking in 1990s stadium amenities. Twenty years later, the L.A. Coliseum remains old, in a bad neighborhood, and lacking in 2010s stadium amenities, but the O.co Coliseum is similarly old and lacking in amenities. (Unless you consider sewer backups to be a stadium amenity.)

You can also gue$$ what el$e i$ motivating the new $tadium pu$h, both from the NFL’s perspective and the perspective of owners of teams that might move to L.A. The NFL would love to have Super Bowls back in the SouthLAnd, but that is unlikely without a team and without a better stadium than the Coliseum (which hosted Super Bowls I and VII) or the Rose Bowl.

This is also potentially tied to the NFL’s TV blackout policy. Because of (the importance varies) the cavernous size of the Coliseum, the lack of quality of the Raiders and Rams, and the fact there are so many other things to do, L.A. team games have often been blacked out in L.A. because the stadiums haven’t been sold out. (The situation didn’t change back in Oakland either; the Raiders last season reduced their stadium capacity to avoid blackouts. That might have to do with the fact that through 2011, the Raiders had had more blackouts than locally broadcast games.)

No one is likely to announce a move during the season, because that would result in ugly situations in their soon-to-be-vacated home stadiums, at least until after the teams’ last home games. Watch what happens, though, after Dec. 21, because, interestingly, the Rams’, Raiders’ and Chargers’ last games of this season are on the road. The Chargers’ last two games are on the road, in fact, which could give them a one-week jump start, though whether they would use it might depend on whether or not they remain in playoff contention.