Who says I’ve run out of Sunday NFL posts? I grew up in the greater Los Angeles area, and recall very clearly when then-owner Georgia Frontiere packed up the Rams and moved them to St. Louis in 1994, after running them into the ground over several years. Angelenos raged at the move, even though (ahem) LA enticed the Rams to move West from Cleveland after they won their first NFL championship in 1945. They have spent the last twenty years in futile attempts to get an NFL team to either relocate or originate in the nation’s #2 media market, an incredible streak of incompetence.
Now, a land sale has breathed new life into LA’s NFL dreams, and perhaps for a homecoming as well:
Stan Kroenke, the owner of the St. Louis Rams, has purchased a 60-acre lot in Inglewood.
The space, which is located between The Forum and Hollywood Park Casino, could potentially be used for an NFL stadium, according to the LA Times.
The Rams left the Southland for St. Louis in 1995, but the team will be able to leave its current lease at Edward Jones Dome after the 2014 season.
The team has tried to get its stadium up to date, but the commission in charge of the venue came short of the $700 million needed for renovations.
Chris Loesch, who lives in St. Louis, thinks there is real meat to this story:
— Chris Loesch (@ChrisLoesch) February 8, 2014
The LA Times’ Sam Farmer believes it to be at the very least an effort to use as much leverage as possible to resolve the Rams’ current situation, and that a land purchase rather than just a bid means Kroenke is serious:
What’s notable about this land purchase?
The NFL was thoroughly apprised of it. An owner doesn’t have to tell the NFL if, say, he’s buying a house in L.A., or even land for a business. But if he has a stadium in mind, he’s got to keep the league informed. That’s what the Rams owner did when he made the purchase through the Kroenke Organization.
How could this also be a game changer for other teams?
This could cause other clubs to consider more possibilities than they might have considered before. If you’re the first team to take a step toward L.A., you’re looking for perfection. You want the vision that’s in your head. But if someone else is the first mover, and you’re just sitting there … well, maybe something you initially thought was absolutely essential maybe isn’t so essential after all.
For instance, maybe you thought an L.A. site would have to include land for 22,000 parking spaces. Maybe now you can live with 18,000. Perhaps deals that were close but not quite good enough are starting to look better by the day.
When owners start thinking that way, deals tend to get done.
So who are the most likely candidates to move to the L.A. area, besides the Rams?
The usual suspects: the Chargers and Raiders. The Chargers can get out of their Qualcomm Stadium lease each year, and the city of San Diego can’t sue them for leaving. That’s a powerful trump card. The Chargers are also highly motivated to not have another team roll into L.A. and leave them in the shadows (with diminished leverage for getting a new stadium in San Diego.).
As for the Raiders, yes, they left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth during their last L.A. go-round. But by the league’s thinking, there are three ways to effectively rebrand a franchise: 1) new city, 2) new stadium, and/or 3) new owner. A move of the Raiders could have all three, even if it means Mark Davis doesn’t sell his piece of the team but brings in a savvy new controlling owner.
Rebranding the Raiders might not have to be as dramatic as changing them from the Hell’s Angels to the Pirates of the Caribbean. It might be more like what happened with the Seattle Seahawks when Paul Allen bought them and moved them into a dazzling new stadium. They went from a forgotten, wobbly franchise to the envy of the league, and now Super Bowl champions.
I’d guess that this is at least partly a challenge to St. Louis to kick in more resources for a new stadium — and it’s why I detest pro-sports economics these days. The Rams went to St. Louis for a new publicly-financed stadium just 20 years ago, turning its back on an extensively-remodeled Anaheim Stadium that transformed it into a dual-use facility. Now the team wants another new stadium even though there is nothing wrong with its current facility, except that it doesn’t wring as much cash out of the public as newer stadiums for other teams have — thanks to equally nonsensical public-fund investment in private playgrounds for millionaire players and billionaire owners in other cities.
But as Farmer says later in his analysis, “this is no joke.” The league wants a team in LA, and the market would be huge for any team that locates there. So why hasn’t the NFL moved a team to LA or added an expansion team? In part, owners like the idea of using LA as leverage to get better deals from their existing cities. The Minnesota Vikings just did that up here, getting Minneapolis and the state to provide much of the funding for a replacement to the Metrodome, which was built by public funds thirty years ago to house the NFL and MLB franchises. (Minneapolis built a separate stadium for the Twins a few years ago.)
But in arguably equal part, Los Angeles has booted the negotiations by insisting for years on using the LA Coliseum for the NFL venue, which the NFL expressly rejected as a complete non-starter — and for good reasons, as the facility dates back to the 1932 Olympics. It’s not suited to compete with other NFL venues. In the city’s most craven episode, then-Mayor Richard Riordan ended up double-dealing Peter O’Malley in 1997, who wanted to add an NFL team in a new stadium at his LA Dodgers MLB site, and would have made a great owner for both teams. Instead, Riordan used O’Malley to play up LA’s bid, only to switch back to the Coliseum — a move that apparently convinced O’Malley to get out of sports ownership altogether. Houston ended up with the expansion franchise, while LA spent seventeen more years as a bargaining chip for every other team in the league.
Kroenke might be serious about moving the team this time, though. We’ll see how much that costs Angelenos, both now and every 20 years or so. This time, I’m feeling sorrier for St. Louis.