NFL Returns to LA: The Rams Come Home

January 12, 2016


Finally, the National Football League is back in Los Angeles.

After a twenty-one year departure to St. Louis, the Rams will return to the nation's second largest market next season, where they will eventually play in a new state-of-the-art facility in Inglewood on the grounds of the old Hollywood Park Racetrack.  In the interim, the team will play its games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The many years of speculation, proposed stadiums, and false hopes thankfully have ended with one quick announcement from the NFL Commissioner.  

"The NFL owners tonight approved the return of the Los Angeles Rams to the market starting with the 2016 season," said Roger Goodell.

The Rams' relocation needed to be approved by at least 24 of the league's 32 owners at a meeting held today.  Other outlets have reported that the Rams received 30 out of 32 votes.  Among the Rams' chief backers was influential Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

As for the other two teams seeking relocation, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers, the NFL gave each franchise a fixed period of time to negotiate with the Rams for the shared use of the Inglewood site.

"This agreement also allows the Chargers to relocate to Los Angeles as well," said Goodell. "If they do not exercise that option, the Raiders would have the option also to move to Los Angeles – or to move to Los Angeles with the Rams. The agreement provides that we would give $100 million to both the Chargers and to the Raiders to use to help build a facility. If a new stadium could get built, we would contribute that $100 million to the project in both of those markets, which would be our hope."

The Chargers will have roughly one year to become either a partner or a tenant in the Inglewood project.  If no agreement is reached, then the Raiders will have one year to do the same.

According to NFL's official resolution, should either the Chargers or Raiders strike a deal with the Rams, then they would "operate on an equal basis with respect to scheduling, access to facilities, and agreed-upon and approved financial terms."

Ultimately, for a league that lately seems to have had one public relations blunder after another, Tuesday's resolution seemed to be a sensible solution to some very complicated circumstances.

In other words, the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers, all simultaneously sought formal league approval to relocate their respective franchises to Los Angeles, with the Rams proposing the stadium project in Inglewood, and the Raiders and Chargers offering a joint stadium in nearby Carson.

The two projects had their own various strengths and weaknesses, and all three teams could claim some previous history in Los Angeles, with the Raiders and the Rams, in particular, having the more significant ties to the area.

The Raiders-Chargers' joint proposal had several advantages going for it Tuesday at the owners' meeting, including the provision of two teams to Los Angeles, and the popularity of Chargers' owner Dean Spanos.  In the case of the Raiders, the lack of commitment from the City of Oakland demonstrated an even greater need for a remedy for the Silver and Black.

What the Carson project lacked however, was the deep pockets of Rams owner Stan Kroenke.  The fact that the Rams' had the longest prior history in Los Angeles did not hurt either.

More importantly, the Rams' Inglewood stadium, set to open in 2019, not only was considered to be "shovel ready" and further along in development, but also was more vast in scope than the Carson facility, as it contemplated a massive endeavor with retail, housing, and office space, in addition to the stadium itself. The project also would be adjacent to the Forum and the Hollywood Park Casino.

"It's more than just a stadium," said Goodell.  "It's a project and an entertainment complex that we believe will be responsive to the kind of things we need to be successful with our fans in the Los Angeles market."

Ultimately, the NFL owners came to an intelligent and reasonable compromise solution that selected the more sophisticated of teh two projects, while giving the other two teams a chance to join the party as well.

Although the Raiders, Chargers, and the various interests in St. Louis obviously were opposed to the league's decision, there otherwise were few naysayers against the Inglewood project.

One of those few was clueless Republican politician Tom Ridge, who after receiving his political plum Homeland Security gig during the Bush years, suddenly has fancied himself as something of a security expert these days.

In a report commissioned by AEG -- a company which had a rival stadium proposal of its own at the Convention Center -- Ridge insulted everyone's intelligence with a ridiculous assessment that the Inglewood project posed a danger to the community because its location near LAX essentially would make it a terrorist target and vulnerable to plane crashes.

Apparently Ridge's brilliant hypothesis failed to factor in how we in Los Angeles have somehow miraculously survived all these decades with other similar venues such as the Forum, Hollywood Park, and the StubHub Center in similar proximity to the airport.  Under Ridge's astonishingly warped logic, we perhaps would be better served if we placed the stadium in the Mojave Desert, far from the nearest runway.

Thankfully, the owners had the common sense to disregard Ridge's absurd conclusions.

For the last 21 years, the question has been raised about when the NFL would return to Southern California, and as time passed, it became more of a pipe dream.

At one point, some speculated that the Jaguars or the Vikings might relocate to LA, but neither of those teams had any serious thoughts of moving, nor any prior history with Los Angeles. If the NFL was going to get back in Los Angeles, it needed to do it the right way.

In the end, the owners' decision to approve the Rams was precisely the right call for multiple reasons.

First, the Rams have the longest history in the area, as they are the franchise that brought us Eric Dickerson, Kenny Washington, a 1951 championship, Crazy Legs Hirsch, the Fearsome Foursome, a 1979 Super Bowl appearance, and countless other highlights over nearly fifty years in Los Angeles.

For the older generation at least, the Rams clearly are the preferred franchise of the three.  Although the team's later move to Anaheim caused them to lose much of their foothold in the area to the Raiders -- similar to the second-fiddle status of the Ducks and Angels --  the new Inglewood stadium should bring back a lot of those fans by wisely staying out of remote Orange County.

Second, Kroenke's deep pockets guarantee a first class, long term LA home for the NFL.

The worst case scenario for the NFL would be to relocate a team to Los Angeles, and then once again have that low-budget franchise looking to leave for the next greener pasture elsewhere.

With Kroenke, he has the assets required to create from scratch a permanent sporting jewel worthy of the world's entertainment capital.  Moreover, he appears fully committed to doing so, having purchased 60 acres of land on the project grounds himself.

The fact that the project is greater in scope than the Carson stadium -- and also not literally built atop a dump --  means that the NFL and Los Angeles will have a showcase venue, capable of hosting Super Bowls, the Olympics, NFL Draft Combines, and NFL Network offices.

"I've often said over those 21 years what we need is a great facility," said Goodell. "I think the reason why the two teams left for the large part in the 90's – the Rams and the Raiders – was because they didn't have an adequate stadium. We were unsuccessful for many years in trying to get something done that would meet the standards of what we expect for LA, what the entertainment capital of the world expects and what we want to deliver to our fans in Los Angeles. I think what happened over the last year is we had two outstanding opportunities."

Third, the league gave flexible options to the Chargers and Raiders to wisely provide them with a financial incentive to stay in their home markets by avoiding massive relocation fees, and also by receiving a $100 million payout towards a new stadium.

Alternatively, the franchises can opt to join the Inglewood facility, and were given ample time to negotiate an agreement.

As for the fans, the NFL's decision clearly will leave many elated, while producing bitterness in others.

St. Louis has now lost two NFL franchises since 1987, despite the fact that its quality fans have a reputation, in baseball at least, for their class and knowledge. They deserve a franchise at some point, but one could easily argue that this is a case of the chickens coming home to roost, since they took the Rams away from California -- without the initial approval of the league's owners -- 21 years ago.

Considering that the Dodgers and Clippers both were sold for roughly two billion dollars, there is also a simple monetary reality to the Los Angeles relocation. Stated plainly, the Rams' relocation is just a smart business move for which St. Louis has no answer.  Unquestionably, the franchise's value will increase merely by its Southern California location alone.

In San Diego and Oakland, it's possible that the attempts to move might burn bridges with the fans, but should those teams eventually stay in their home market and build new venues, many most likely would forgive and remain loyal.  After all, these relocation threats have been ongoing for several years.

As for the fans in Los Angeles, respect should be given to an unfairly-maligned fan base that has successfully brought home the NFL after a lengthy absence.

Amid a sea of entertainment options, this city demands a winner and first class facilities.  But make no mistake, it is also informed, sports-crazed, and loyal, supporting numerous professional and collegiate teams throughout the area.

The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988, yet year after year they continue to hit the 3-million fan attendance benchmark.

Likewise, LA fans enthusiastically flock each night to see a woeful lottery-bound Lakers squad just to get another glimpse of an aged Kobe Bryant jacking up a few more bricks for old times sake.

Such loyalty, coupled with young Rams' stars Todd Gurley, Tavon Austin, and Aaron Donald, should more than fill the seats in the coming years.

But what also should be recognized are the high-minded principles of the Southern California fans.

When Frank McCourt's miserly and greedy practices were discovered, the City went into revolt, refusing on a mass scale to attend Dodger games over an entire season until the franchise was sold.

Likewise, Angelenos also were intelligent enough to realize that they held the leverage in this equation with the NFL.

Sitting in the nation's second largest market, the area is a gold mine for the NFL and any franchise willing to relocate.  As such, public tax dollars were out of the question and the message was simple: You want to enjoy the prosperity of LA, then you pay for it with your own private dollars.

The Inglewood project requires no public money in advance, with limited reimbursement later only after the City has received $25 million annually.

As for what happens next, popular local opinion undoubtedly would prefer the Raiders to the Chargers.  The Raiders won a Super Bowl here, and their outlaw image resonated with many Angelenos.

In contrast, the Bolts have always been San Diego's team, and have failed to take over the Los Angeles market even during the two decades-long NFL void.

Still, without the Raiders-Chargers partnership in place, there is also a chance that both teams decide to stay at home and take the $100 million payout.

"My goal from the start of this process was to create the options necessary to safeguard the future of the Chargers franchise while respecting the will of my fellow NFL owners," said Spanos. "Today we achieved this goal with the compromise reached by NFL ownership. The Chargers have been approved to relocate to Los Angeles, at the Inglewood location, at any time in the next year. In addition, the NFL has granted an additional $100 million in assistance in the event there is a potential solution that can be placed before voters in San Diego."

Paying the hefty relocation fees and becoming an equal partner in Kroenke's expensive stadium might be an outcome well beyond the financial resources of either the Chargers or Raiders.

Similarly, becoming a mere tenant in Inglewood also might not be as appealing as getting a new stadium in one's current market.

Regardless of what eventually happens, the NFL made the right the move today.

Welcome home, Los Angeles Rams.

By Mike Elliott
Editor for TheDailySportsHerald.com 

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