Two decades after they left the Los Angeles area, the Rams are coming back. On Tuesday night the NFL’s owners voted 30-2 to let Rams owner Stan Kroenke move the team from St. Louis to the nation’s second-largest market – a region that has been without a team since 1994.
In approving Kroenke’s request to transfer the Rams for the 2016 season, the owners also gave the San Diego Chargers a one-year option to join Kroenke at the stadium he wishes to build in Inglewood, near Los Angeles International Airport. This allows Chargers owner Dean Spanos a final chance to get a stadium built in San Diego. If the Chargers do not move to L.A. in that year, the option will go to the Oakland Raiders who will also have 12 months to work a deal with Kroenke.
“Relocation is a painful process,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in announcing the decision at a special owner’s meeting in Houston. “It’s painful for the fans, for the communities, for the league in general. In some ways it’s a bittersweet moment because we were unable to get the kind of facilities done we wanted in their markets.”
Tuesday’s vote resolved a 21-year quandary of figuring out which team would fill the vacant Los Angeles market. The final resolution involved three teams and two stadium proposals: Kroenke’s bid to build a stadium in Inglewood and the Chargers and Oakland Raiders teaming up to build a stadium in Carson a few miles to the south.
While the owners’ committee on Los Angeles recommended the Carson project before voting on Tuesday, momentum had already started to back Kroenke’s proposal and urge the Chargers to join him. By Tuesday evening, Raiders owner Mark Davis had backed out of his partnership with Spanos and agreed to stay in Oakland, foregoing – for now – a return to the city where the team played from 1982-1994. That provided the opening for Kroenke to move.
Kroenke, a Missouri native, has been looking at the Los Angeles market for a few years. Two years ago he bought a plot of land in Inglewood near the former Hollywood Park racetrack and arranged to partner with the Stockbridge Capital Group to build a privately-financed stadium there. In his application to move to Los Angeles, Kroenke said the stadium will be ready for the 2019 season.
“This is the hardest undertaking I’ve faced in my professional career,” Kroenke said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Kroenke, the majority stockholder of English Premier League club Arsenal as well as the owner of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, faced pointed questions from St. Louis radio and television reporters, demanding to know why he is abandoning his onetime home city. Several times he talked about the need to build a “first class” stadium in Los Angeles saying it was what the Rams, their fans and other NFL teams deserved. “The stadia have to be of a certain quality,” he said.
Until the stadium is built, the Rams will play at the Memorial Coliseum in downtown Los Angeles, a stadium that was their home from 1946-1979 when they moved to nearby Anaheim after failing to secure a stadium renovation. Reports said the Coliseum has given the league permission to host a second team for the next three seasons. Both the Raiders and Chargers have played in the Coliseum in their histories. It was the Raiders’ home for 13 seasons in the 1980s and 1990s and the Chargers played there in 1960, the franchise’s first season, before moving to San Diego.
Goodell said the league will give $100 million each to the Raiders and Chargers to go toward the building of a new stadium in their cities if they can arrange for one to be constructed. The one-year window gives Spanos leverage against San Diego politicians and voters. San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer has promised a city-wide vote on a proposed $1.1 billion stadium near the team’s current one in Mission Valley. The vote would be to approve $350m in public financing for the project.
Spanos said he was going to take a day off before assessing his options. He would not commit to campaigning for a new stadium. “This is not a win for the Raiders,” Oakland owner Mark Davis said before adding, “we’ll see where Raider Nation ends up.”
Kroenke, who left behind an offer of $150m of public money from Missouri to be dedicated to a $1.1bn stadium in St. Louis, will presumably build the NFL’s most-expensive stadium in Inglewood – a facility that one owner described as “an NFL campus” – for roughly $2bn. But the lucrative potential of the Los Angeles market could yet make the new stadium and the extreme relocation fee of several million dollars worth it.