NEW YORK -- While Seattle and Denver were gearing up for Super Bowl XLVIII last week, the owner of the St. Louis Rams was making some dramatic news on the other side of the country.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke quietly purchased 60 acres of parking lot between the Hollywood Park Racetrack and the Forum, land that could be used for an NFL stadium.
Kroenke, a billionaire, has been unsuccessful so far in hammering out a deal to stay in St. Louis, so it raised a lot of eyebrows when he made this move. There have been a lot of false starts on the L.A. front since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season, but this is the first time a relocation-minded team owner has purchased a piece of L.A. land that could accommodate a stadium.
Although 60 acres probably isn't enough for a stadium and the required parking, there is additional land to be had in that area, and Kroenke has the wherewithal to acquire it if he wants.
So what does this all mean?
Putting some of the puzzle pieces together by answering some pertinent questions:
Question: Does this mean the Rams are moving back to Los Angeles?
Answer: Not necessarily, but it's a significant step in that direction -- and one that could smoke out other relocation-minded NFL teams and/or site developers.
Q: How might other teams be involved?
A: If you are looking for a way out of your current market -- and L.A. has long been the most logical move -- you don't want to be in second place. So, for instance, if you own the San Diego Chargers or Oakland Raiders, this purchase by Kroenke got your attention in a big way. What the NFL hopes is the transaction also got the attention of your current city.
Q: What's notable about this land purchase?
A: The NFL was thoroughly apprised of it. An owner doesn't have to tell the NFL if, say, he's buying a house in L.A., or even land for a business. But if he has a stadium in mind, he's got to keep the league informed. That's what the Rams owner did when he made the purchase through the Kroenke Organization.
Q: How could this also be a game changer for other teams?
A: This could cause other clubs to consider more possibilities than they might have considered before. If you're the first team to take a step toward L.A., you're looking for perfection. You want the vision that's in your head. But if someone else is the first mover, and you're just sitting there ... well, maybe something you initially thought was absolutely essential maybe isn't so essential after all.
For instance, maybe you thought an L.A. site would have to include land for 22,000 parking spaces. Maybe now you can live with 18,000. Perhaps deals that were close but not quite good enough are starting to look better by the day.
When owners start thinking that way, deals tend to get done.
Q: So who are the most likely candidates to move to the L.A. area, besides the Rams?
A:The usual suspects: the Chargers and Raiders. The Chargers can get out of their Qualcomm Stadium lease each year, and the city of San Diego can't sue them for leaving. That's a powerful trump card. The Chargers are also highly motivated to not have another team roll into L.A. and leave them in the shadows (with diminished leverage for getting a new stadium in San Diego.).
As for the Raiders, yes, they left a sour taste in everyone's mouth during their last L.A. go-round. But by the league's thinking, there are three ways to effectively rebrand a franchise: 1) new city, 2) new stadium, and/or 3) new owner. A move of the Raiders could have all three, even if it means Mark Davis doesn't sell his piece of the team but brings in a savvy new controlling owner.
Rebranding the Raiders might not have to be as dramatic as changing them from the Hell's Angels to the Pirates of the Caribbean. It might be more like what happened with the Seattle Seahawks when Paul Allen bought them and moved them into a dazzling new stadium. They went from a forgotten, wobbly franchise to the envy of the league, and now Super Bowl champions.
Q: Why wouldn't Kroenke announce his intention to leave St. Louis and return to the L.A. area, then start building a stadium next to Hollywood Park?
A: It's far more complicated than that. First, he can't get out of his Edward Jones Dome lease until March 2015, so he'd be guaranteed a lame-duck season with maybe 10,000 fans in the seats for home games next season. He doesn't want that, the NFL doesn't want that, and of course loyal fans in St. Louis don't want that. That happened in Houston and Cleveland before those teams left, and it was a disaster.
But there's much more to it. Nobody in the NFL is going to give a fellow owner an open lane to L.A. Nobody gets a free layup. For a team to move, the owner needs approval from a three-quarters majority of fellow NFL owners. That's 24 of 32 votes. Put another way, if nine owners say no, the deal won't be approved.
Q: But can't an owner move on his own, without approval of the league? Al Davis moved the Raiders that way.
A: In theory, an owner could move his team without approval, if he wanted to bankroll the entire stadium and go through what surely would be a years-long court battle. These stadiums cost north of $1 billion, though, and the only logical way to pay for them (and keep your franchise afloat) is by getting help from the NFL by way of loans, Super Bowls in your new city, etc. So, unlike the old days when a stadium was not as much of an economic engine, the NFL now fully controls the market and the process.
Q: So what has the league told teams about L.A.?
A: For those teams kicking the tires on a relocation, the league has said: You can prospect in L.A., but you can't pre-empt. Window-shop all you want. Quietly put together a proposal you want to pitch, if you like. But don't start packing the moving trucks.
Q: Was this just a power play by Kroenke to put the squeeze on St. Louis?
A: Not entirely. Yes, he wants the city and state to make a more competitive offer to keep the Rams. The sides are now $600 million apart on their bid and ask. But Kroenke isn't bluffing, either. He loves L.A., and a stadium in that area was already approved for Davis before he moved the Raiders in 1994. This is no joke.
Kroenke would need a new environmental impact report for putting a stadium on that land, and that probably would take more than a year. It would be a fight too, because Phil Anschutz and Ed Roski, who are also pitching stadium proposals, wouldn't just roll over.
Q: Is there an environmental snag to a stadium at Hollywood Park?
A: There's an argument that in the post-9/11 world, the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't want stadiums built in the flight path of airlines, and a stadium at Hollywood Park would be directly in line with multiple Los Angeles International Airport runways. The way the NFL sees it, though, the issue is more with private flights and private airports, not commercial airports. And, by way of comparison, the Super Bowl was just held at a stadium directly in the flight path of Newark Airport.
Q: Is Hollywood Park the only stadium possibility?
A: Not even close. Anschutz is still interested in the Farmers Field proposal at L.A. Live. But that very expensive project is loaded with challenges -- as they all are -- and so far he has expected too big a share of the action. The NFL doesn't want to share a big chunk of its revenue, nor is it going to allow a franchise to be sold on the cheap.
Roski still has his plan in the City of Industry, but no team has shown enough interest in that site yet. That possibility has been out there for five years and hasn't generated much of a spark.
Dodger Stadium? Too complex and fraught with potential legal, neighborhood and political challenges to take seriously at this point. Plus, Frank McCourt is involved. Further lining his pockets wouldn't be a popular move.
Other potential sites could surface in the coming weeks and months. Maybe Kroenke's move will bring them to the surface.
Q: Isn't L.A. just a leverage point to get deals done in other cities?
A: Well, it's been very effective in that regard for almost two decades. That doesn't mean, however, that the league wants it to stay empty forever. Besides, the NFL sees L.A. as a two-team market, so even if one team were to relocate, that second vacancy still would provide leverage.
The NFL generates $9 billion per year in revenue. Commissioner Roger Goodell sees the potential to boost that to $25 billion. That's ambitious, yes, but the NFL has had astounding, record-breaking growth since the early 1990s. One of the most effective ways to pump up that cash is by moving a "struggling" team out of its current market and into the nation's No. 2 market.
Q: L.A. doesn't deserve a team. It already lost two -- three, if you count the L.A. Chargers -- and fans will lose interest and stop going to games there, right?
That line of thinking might make people in other cities feel better, but that's not what the NFL thinks. By the league's thinking, if it puts a first-class product on the field, it will break the bank in L.A.
And the league is correct.
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