Let’s just get this out of the way, Los Angeles Rams has a nice familiar ring to it. The reality is that the NFL doesn’t need Los Angeles and LA definitely doesn’t need the NFL, but it’s going to happen, one way or another, and soon. The most notable thing that ends, should a team relocate to the City of Angels (or nearby), is leverage for NFL owers to get public funding to stay in their current locale. It’s fair to say the Rams are the frontrunner for Southern California, but it isn’t necessarily about leveraging the good people of St. Louis and they aren’t alone in their conquest to plant a flag in or around Los Angeles.
For years, almost since they left town in the first place, we’ve been hearing rumors about the Rams and/or Raiders returning to LA, but there’s never been any sense of urgency to actually make it happen. The Rams have called the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis home since arriving in 1995 and the organization isn’t thrilled with the minimal improvements to the venue over the last 21 years. The Raiders have played at O.co Coliseum since their return to the East Bay, and I’m guessing sewage back-up is just the tip of the iceberg the football team and their co-tenant, Major League Baseball’s Athletics, would cite in reasons for escaping Oakland. The leverage issue comes into play when you consider the Rams and Raiders found Los Angeles is a big enough market to share, so a single team landing there doesn’t necessarily eliminate another owner’s leverage.
Bring the Rams back to the west coast and watch the Raiders abandon the bay for the second time in under 35 years, and we can stop talking about teams like the Jaguars and Vikings heading west, right? If only it were that simple. The Rams do appear to have the best laid plans and pieces are already in place, with their owner Stan Kroenke buying the land of the old Hollywood Park in Inglewood. Speaking of being up to no good, there are other suitors looking to move to and co-occupy a new stadium in Carson, south of LA Proper. While no one would dismiss the idea of multiple teams in a gigantic market like the Los Angeles area, many would doubt even the Los Angelinos could support three team in a single market, squeezing Kroenke back to the Gateway City, or perhaps somwhere a little rockier.
The Chargers aren’t happy with Qualcomm Stadium and haven’t been for a long time. Even if as a dark horse, the Chargers, along with the 49ers have long been considered a candidate to head up I-5, but to cooperate with a division rival for a better venue is questionable. If I’m Chargers owner Alex Spanos, I’m not sure I want to partner up with the Davis family, even if it is Mark and not the late Al. Honestly, this could be a 20-year mistake in the making, but the Carson plan seems to have some legs. For football in the LA area, the Carson plan seems to eliminate wiggle room; it’s either the Rams and only the Rams, or no Rams at all, if the Chargers and Raiders can make Carson work.
Of course, money talks and the Kroenkes have plenty of it. Forbes values Stan’s net worth at over $6 billion and his wife Ann, of the Wal-Mart Walton family is worth over 5 billion herself. What does that mean? First, it means the $250 million they’ve put into the Inglewood NFL project, which was approved by the city on Wednesday isn’t the devastating loss that it is for someone like Cleveland’s Jimmy Haslam, who is worth less than half than either Kroenke. They would likely find a way to recoup the investment, maybe from the NFL, if they needed to jump ship. They also haven’t burnt the bridges in St. Louis and there is a new proposed open-air stadium that would be contingent on the Rams remaining in Missouri, so don’t rule anything out.
Behind Door #3, they could identify the weaker partner, and there always is one, between the Spanos and Davis families, and try to push them out of the Carson partnership. In my opinion, it makes more sense to have an AFC/NFC split between co-occupants in a stadium, and as bad as the accomodations are at Qualcomm, the Raiders are more desperate for a new home, since they will have a hard time getting a new facility in a shared market with the 49ers in the Bay Area. It’s a lot more likely that the Chargers can get something done in San Diego, though the prospects have died down in recent years. Should the Rams be able to force one or both of those AFC West franchises out of the LA picture, there’s sure to be more drama in the division because of it. Speaking of the AFC West…
Kronke has controlling interest in the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, so we may not want to permanent attach ourselves to Kroenke and the Rams. If Pat Bowlen, who is currently suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, looks to sell the Broncos, expect Kroenke to deepen his footprint in the Denver market and sell the Rams to a local buyer in St. Louis. Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch speculates on the Broncos situation, as it relates to Kroenke:
If Kroenke owned the Broncos — one of the league’s best and most financially valuable franchises — he would no longer have to worry about being in violation of the NFL’s cross ownership rules. And he would be in control of every franchise in the lucrative Denver market including the town’s MLS soccer franchise.
If Kroenke agreed to keep the Rams in St. Louis, perhaps the NFL would make sure that he had the first right of refusal to purchase the Broncos. (And then sell the Rams to local, St. Louis-based ownership.) Some will insist that the Broncos aren’t for sale, even with team owner Pat Bowlen in decline as he deals with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
All of that is just speculation though (Bowlen is trying to keep the team ownership in his family), and the most likely scenario, given that he already owns the land and Inglewood has approved this, the Rams will likely move to California before the 2016 season and play in the Rose Bowl until the venue is built at the old Hollywood Park. For St. Louis, this likely means the end of the NFL forever, and it has remnants of the Cardinals heading west in the 80s, in that few will miss the team this time around as well. At this point, it may just be a matter of whether they’ll have the market to themselves or have to compete for market share. Truth be told, their current reach is limited to the outskirts of Bears and Chiefs country, but in Southern California, there may be a village of Rams fans ready to dust off their Eric Dickerson and Jackie Slater apparel.
Of course, as the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer has stated, the people of Los Angeles come from all over, with their own allegiances from elsewhere and there’s this mutual lack of need, even if there’s some level of desire to get the NFL back. There’s no longer time to contemplate the if and the why, but now it’s the when. The time is now, and the Rams are the most perfect fit. Expect it to happen.