Video: St. Louis Rams to return to LA?

The Rams left Los Angeles in 1994, and might be ready to return in time for the 2016 season — or perhaps just want to squeeze St. Louis a little harder for concessions. As of now, the city and owner Stanley Kroenke are almost $600 million apart on commitments to renovate the stadium where they currently play, and a failure to reach a deal allows the Rams to make an early exit. Kroenke raised eyebrows when he bought land in Los Angeles, and now he’s made his intentions for it clear:

Kroenke and the Rams can go to a year to year lease at The Dome later this month since a deal on major improvements hasn’t been reached. The NFL has already confirmed that there won’t be any teams relocating in 2015 so the earliest anyone could move would be 2016.

Governor Jay Nixon appointed former Anheuser-Busch President Dave Peacock and Attorney Bob Blitz to oversee the effort to keep St. Louis an NFL city. A report on that effort will be released soon.

It may not be soon enough:

Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who bought 60 acres adjacent to the Forum a year ago, has joined forces with the owners of the 238-acre Hollywood Park site, Stockbridge Capital Group. They plan to add an 80,000-seat NFL stadium and 6,000-seat performance venue to the already-massive development of retail, office, hotel and residential space, Stockbridge and the Kroenke Group told The Times.

The announcement is the latest in more than a dozen stadium proposals that have come and gone in the meandering, two-decade effort to bring an NFL franchise back to the nation’s second-largest media market. But Kroenke’s move marks the first time an existing team owner has controlled a local site large enough for a stadium and parking.

What’s more, Kroenke, a billionaire who built his fortune in real estate, has the ability to move quickly. The Rams can choose later this month to convert their lease in St. Louis to year-to-year. The Rams declined comment on any plans to move, but it’s no secret that the team is unhappy in the Edward Jones Dome, which is outdated by current NFL standards.

Kroenke’s Inglewood plans ratchet up pressure on St. Louis to either strike a deal for a new stadium or watch the team return to Southern California, where it played from 1946 to 1994.

With this coalition in hand, Kroenke can afford to bypass the city of Los Angeles, which has been its own worst enemy during its 20-year NFL drought. That’s not to say that he won’t demand concessions and cash from LA in exchange for moving the team, but it does mean that the city will no longer have a case for pushing the Colisseum as the prime destination for a transfer or expansion team. Kroenke can now build for himself if he has to do so, and given that the difference between the Rams and the city of St. Louis on renovations is almost the cost of a new stadium, he may be tempted to put his own money to better use in a new facility.

Still, after 20 years of watching different NFL owners tell LA to play Charlie Brown to their Lucy, I’m skeptical that an actual decision has been made to move. Southern California has proved mighty useful for other owners to shake down their communities by holding LA up as their alternative to improved local financing. An NFL-less St. Louis won’t have that kind of cachet. Kroenke might kill the golden goose, and his fellow owners might not appreciate that — especially the San Diego Chargers, who want a new facility and have hinted strongly at moving up the 5 Freeway as an option. The LA Times notes that problem in an update on the Chargers’ facility issues. With the Rams ensconced in LA, the referendum on a new stadium slated for November 2016 looks less likely to pass. Unless, of course, the team owner start licensing products for the St. Louis Chargers.

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