McKay to run football squad for NBC/WWF-owned venture

Against all odds, professional football will be coming to the L.A. Coliseum, but it won’t involve Mike Ovitz or even the National Football League.

The XFL, a fledgling pigskin venture co-owned by NBC and the World Wrestling Federation, said Wednesday that one of its eight charter teams will be based out of Los Angeles and play games at the stadium.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was the slated venue for an NFL expansion team under plans proposed last year by bidders including an Ovitz group, but the league opted instead to authorize a franchise in Houston.

Los Angeles’ still-unnamed XFL team will be run by John McKay Jr., a local football hero from playing days at the University of Southern California and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McKay also was involved in L.A.’s NFL sweepstakes, backing first a proposal to place a team at Hollywood Park and then joining one of Ovitz’s rivals at the Coliseum.

As vice president and general manager of the XFL franchise, McKay will operate the team but he won’t own it. The XFL is using an unusual business model — similar to one used by Major League Soccer — in which the league will own all of its teams and award rights to franchises in various markets.

Cost-control measure

The arrangement is aimed at tightly controlling payroll and other costs.

“I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to be a part of the XFL in its inaugural season,” McKay said.

“The L.A. Coliseum is one of America’s great stadiums, and (McKay) is the perfect executive to head up the L.A. team,” XFL president Basil DeVito said.

In a sign of the league’s modest aims, the L.A. team doesn’t plan any major renovation to the 77-year-old Coliseum, a cavernous facility of 90,000-plus seats last upgraded in 1994 after earthquake damage. By contrast, the proposals to bring an NFL team to the site featured stadium redos priced in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

But though the league will have a long way to go to match the NFL in sporting glamour, or even athletic credibility, the XFL will launch in February under a huge media spotlight. Three of the league’s four weekly games will be telecast on either broadcast or cable television.

Shared coverage

NBC will air Saturday night XFL contests. And UPN and TNN: The Nashville Network — which enjoy relationships with the WWF for wrestling programming — will show games Sundays.

“The most exciting thing for us is that there is professional football in the Coliseum again,” enthused Kathryn Schloessman, president of the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission. “This is going to be exciting.”

The local franchise — providing XFL exposure in the nation’s No. 2 television market — has been promised that all five of its 2001 home games will be played on Saturday nights for broadcast on NBC, Schloessman said.

The XFL also announced Wednesday that it plans a team for Las Vegas’ 40,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium, but no team exec was named. The XFL also has placed teams in San Jose, Calif., Chicago and Orlando, Fla., with two additional franchise announcements expected shortly.

The Los Angeles area has been without a professional football team since 1995, when the NFL’s Raiders left for Oakland, Calif., and the Rams for St. Louis.

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