Since 1995, the only professional football activity in the city of Los Angeles has been the spring owners’ meetings and the posing of first-year NFL players for their rookie cards. When the Rams and the Raiders packed up from Hollywood and moved to Saint Louis and Oakland respectively, it was easily expected another team (expansion or otherwise) would pop up in LA. Twenty years later and still no one has yet to post up in America’s second largest television market. But it looks like we could be getting close.
The three suitors are the San Diego Chargers, Rams and Raiders. Yes, you’re reading that correctly, the two teams that created the void in the first place. Apparently the City of Angels has too seductive a siren call for owners who want to
hold their fanbase hostage build new stadiums in cities that don’t want to use taxpayer money to cover it.
For disgruntled owners (and teams of those who happen to die), Los Angeles has been the Boogie Man for NFL cities who face economic hardships. The NFL and its owners frequently use moving the team as a threat to small-market teams the league would like to see build new stadiums on the taxpayer’s dime. No mind the crippling effects that burden a city that creates tax incentives for the team to stay, while also raising the taxes of it’s citizens. Dave Zirin of The Nation has been watching the recent stadium talks between the city of Milwaukee and the NBA’s Bucks, and his reporting of its detriment is pretty scary.
But what are the odds that all three, or even one, of these teams winds up changing area codes?
San Diego Chargers
Alex Spanos is the majority owner of the Bolts and wants a new stadium. A slight move to the bigger market of Los Angeles would open up the Chargers for more revenue and LA does seem pretty thirsty to get their hands on an additional sports commodity since the Lakers have become so bad. It seems the city and Spanos are at odds over funding for the stadium, and it is becoming pretty public and very ugly. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconor proposed a public vote for funding by December if the Chargers agreed to stay in early June.
The mercurial Raiders, perpetually of the “Well, I’ll just take my ball and leave” temper tantrums, were thought to have ended the LA-discussion when Al Davis passed away in 2011. But his son Mark “Yes, this is my real haircut” Davis is pulling a page out of his dad’s playbook and threatening to move the team back to Los Angeles.
Although the secret deal for the stadium in Carson seems to have some traction, you’ll be hard-pressed to believe the Raiders are moving simply because of the bluster. This was the same owner last year that said he would move the team to San Antonio. And they’ve been linked to moving almost every year because hey, at least it puts the team name in the newspapers, right?
Saint Louis Rams
Losing a professional sports team from a city is traumatizing, but for mental health reasons, it’s good to take a look around at the relationship between the city and the team and admit when it’s to walk away. Rams owner Stan Kroenke hasn’t spoken to St. Louis media since 2012(!), bought a plot of land for a new stadium in Inglewood, has already moved a portion of the Rams’ training camp to Oxnard and even has the Mayor of Inglewood, James Butts, confirming it (then retracting it, but still).
The Rams were the first NFL team in California and in some scenarios the move back to LA makes sense. Kroenke has had an ownership stake in the Rams since 2005, and took over majority ownership in 2010, but all of his previous sports franchises have been out west. Kroenke had ownership stakes in the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids of the MLS and Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League. Former majority owner Georgia Frontiere signed a lease with the Edward Jones Dome when the team moved that stipulated the stadium be ranked in the top tier of NFL stadiums through 2015. However, it’s frequently been ranked in the lower side of the stadiums (though not as low or old as San Diego’s Qualcom Stadium or Oakland’s Coliseum), and after a while the team outright rejected bids for improvement, seemingly bent on getting out of Saint Louis. It could be another indication of the myriad of ways the football team, the arena and the city are tied up in red tape, as the corporation for Edward Jones Dome pulled out a victory late yesterday after a court ruling in their favor that would bypass the company having to hold a vote to approve use of public funds for the construction of a stadium, taking away the rights of the citizens of Saint Louis to vote against higher taxes for the construction. So maybe Kroenke is playing the rope-a-dope after all? And even if he isn’t, having the Edward Jones Dome play such a large part in this whole game makes him look like the cities red tape is what was holding everyone back and he can go pull a full on Manifest Destiny and head west like the story goes.
The last NFL franchise that moved was in 1996 when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens. The fanbase and city of Cleveland were so distraught that they were awarded an expansion franchise to make up for the loss, retaining the name Browns. Obviously the NFL does not want to go through losing a substantial fanbase and the loss of revenue, so they have the approval over all moves, but what does it take to stop a moving train?