A two-decade break came to a screeching halt Tuesday when NFL owners agreed to allow the St. Louis Rams to move back to the Los Angeles area for the 2016 season. The San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, were also given a one-year option to possibly join the Rams as an equal partner in a planned new stadium at the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood.
The new stadium is projected to open in 2019 with a price tag that could approach the $3 billion mark and will almost certainly be a regular stop in the Super Bowl rotation, considering Los Angeles’ size and climate.
The vote in favor of the Rams and possibly Chargers sharing the Inglewood Stadium passed by a 30-2 margin when things were shifted to a secret ballot at a suburban Houston hotel with the Chargers getting the 365 days to decide if they want to join the Rams as well as an additional $100 million to help fund a potential stadium solution back in San Diego.
The third team in the mix for a potential move, the Oakland Raiders, was given that same $100 million to work out something in the Bay Area, along with the ability to head south if the Chargers decline their option and stay in San Diego.
The Rams will “most likely” play at the Los Angeles Coliseum, their old home, until the new stadium is ready. It’s not known where the Chargers would play if they decide to relocate for 2016.
The Rams called Los Angeles home from 1946 until 1994 before moving to St. Louis.
“This has been the most difficult process of my professional career,” said Rams owner Stan Kroenke. “While we are excited about the prospect of building a new stadium in Inglewood, California, this is bitter sweet. St. Louis is a city known for its incredibly hard-working, passionate and proud people. Being part of the group that brought the NFL back to St. Louis in 1995 is one of the proudest moments of my professional career. Reaching two Super Bowls and winning one are things all St. Louisans should always treasure.”
That mea culpa was too little, too late for many in St. Louis, who believe Kroenke’s motives and the league’s intent were always to move west into the far more lucrative Los Angeles market. The billionaire is a Show Me State native but has a home in the Malibu area, and the NFL has certainly coveted a presence in the nation’s second-largest media market for a long time.
“The NFL ignored the facts, the loyalty of St. Louis fans, who supported the team through far more downs than ups, and the NFL ignored a strong market and viable plan for a new stadium,” St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said in a statement after the decision. “I am proud of our effort and what St. Louis was able to accomplish in an extraordinarily short period of time. I thank everyone who worked so diligently on this project, especially the Governor’s Task Force.
“In the meantime, we need to increase our focus on the region’s hospitality industry— conventions, tourism and amateur sports. These events and the hotels and restaurants that support them put thousands of City and County residents to work in good jobs. St. Louis is great place to live and build a business — with or without NFL football.”
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger was even harsher in his assessment:
“As a football fan and a lifetime resident of the St. Louis area, I am bitterly disappointed in tonight’s news. This region deserves an NFL team. This region is fully capable of supporting an NFL team. That team should have been the Rams. The NFL and Stan Kroenke have displayed a callous disregard for the St. Louis area and its loyal football fans.”
Aware of his disintegrating reputation back home Kroenke tried to ease the pain of an emotionally charged situation, likely with little success.
“While there understandably has been emotionally charged commentary regarding our motives and intentions, the speculation is not true and unfounded,” the Rams owner claimed. “I am a Missouri native named after two St. Louis sports legends who I was fortunate enough to know on a personal level. This move isn’t about whether I love St. Louis or Missouri. I do and always will. No matter what anyone says, that will never change.
“This decision is about what is in the best long-term interests of the Rams organization and the National Football League. We have negotiated in good faith with the Regional Sports Authority for more than a decade trying to find a viable and sustainable solution. When it became apparent that we might not be able to reach an agreement, it was then and only then that we looked at alternatives.”
Kroenke and Chargers owner Dean Spanos are not very close and Spanos would have preferred a 2-for-1 deal with Mark Davis of Oakland, but the Raiders are on the outside, looking in as developers begin to transform the massive Inglewood site into what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has envisioned as “NFL Disneyland.”
From a business perspective the thought that the country’s most popular sports league did not have a presence in Los Angels for 21 years was troubling but the market as a whole is generally much more laissez-faire than the normal NFL fan base thanks in large part to the year-round favorable weather and a high-influx of transplants whose loyalties lie elsewhere.
Ultimately, the Rams importance in the market will be much like their first go round. When the team was good, interest was high and when they weren’t, things waned quickly.
As far as the NFL is concerned, however, this was always about getting a state-of-the-are facility in the market which obviously needs a tenant or two.
And now it finally has that.
As for the eventual outcome, as with most things in life you can explain the result by following the money.
Kroenke won points with his grandiose plan, along with the promise to build a complex for the NFL’s media arm on the Inglewood campus. He’s also financially well-heeled to easily accomplish all of this, making a substantial fortune in the world of commercial real estate.
Ranked by Forbes as the second richest of the NFL’s owners with assets approaching $8 billion, Kroenke will be given the option of paying the $550 million relocation fee over 10 years but plans to write the check up front and he’s also prepared to kick in over $1 billion toward the cost of things in Inglewood.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season every day at 4:05 ET on ESPN South Jersey, on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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