Our long municipal nightmare is over. Ignoring a relocation committee’s recommendation, NFL owners today voted 30-2 to let the St. Louis Rams move back to Los Angeles, which has been without a team since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season. The vote also gives the San Diego Chargers an option to move up the 5 Freeway to L.A. anytime in the next year.
Attempts to bring the NFL back to the country’s No. 2 TV market had been ongoing for the better part of the decade. Now the Los Angeles Rams again is a reality.
The move will take effect for the 2016 season, with the Rams likely playing in their former home — the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which hosted the team from 1946-79 — until a new stadium is completed in 2019. Rams owner Stan Kroenke plans an 80,000-seat stadium with a clear retractable roof on the former Hollywood Park site adjacent to the Forum in Inglewood. The stadium will be part of a nearly 300-acre entertainment, retail and housing development. He bought the property two years ago.
“The owners were wowed by the Inglewood proposal,” the NFL Network’s Judy Battista said tonight. “That’s really what put it over the top — all of the bells and whistles and the fact that they could host other events. The NFL Draft could be there, Final Fours, things like that. They felt it was important to go into L.A. with a wow factor.”
Meanwhile, the Chargers — which had proposed moving to LA and sharing a stadium in Carson with the Oakland Raiders — could join the Rams in Inglewood, as the league left open an option for a second team to relocate. The Raiders dropped out of the running late this afternoon and will remain in the East Bay — at least for now. But should the Chargers decide against moving to L.A., the league gave the Raiders a year after that to relocate there.
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Raiders owner Mark Davis, son of team founder Al Davis, said at a news conference that the decision certainly wasn’t a win for his team. And he sounded like the franchise’s status in Oakland is tenuous: “We’ll see where the Raider Nation ends up here,” he said. “We’ll be working really hard to find us a home.” The team moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and won a Super Bowl there but returned to Oakland for the 1995 season.
San Diego has a municipal vote slated for June to approve $350 million in public funding for a new facility to replace the city’s aging Qualcomm Stadium and keep the team in the city it has called home since 1961. The rest of the $1.1 billion to build a new stadium would come from the NFL, the Chargers and sales of personal seat licenses.
But the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the Chargers might have to make a decision more than two months before the city referendum. He said the team needs to decide by the end of the league meetings in late March whether they will play only the 2016 season in San Diego or L.A. because the NFL schedule will be released in April.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said today that the league is keeping its options open for a team to move to St. Louis. So stay tuned.
“Relocation is a painful process,” he said at the news conference. “It’s painful for the fans, the communities, the teams, for the league in general. Stability is something that we’ve taken a great deal of pride in, and in some ways it’s a bittersweet moment because we were unsuccessful in being able to get the kind of facilities that we wanted to get done in their home markets.”
He also said the league would give the Chargers owner Dean Spanos $100 million if he could get a stadium deal worked out in San Diego. Same goes for Davis and his Raiders.
“If Mr. Spanos has a sincere interest in reaching a fair agreement in San Diego, we remain committed to negotiating in good faith,” San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a statement tonight. “We are not interested in a charade by the Chargers if they continue to pursue Los Angeles.”
The Los Angeles Chargers were among the charter franchises when the American Football League launched in 1960. The team moved south the following year.
Today’s vote was anything but a sure thing. Earlier on Tuesday, a six-owner relocation committee said it had recommended the owners approve the Carson proposal from the Chargers and Raiders. “It would have solved the two most intractable stadium situations in the NFL in one fell swoop — Oakland and San Diego — and that was very alluring for owners that they could get those two things out of the way.”
Back in the Midwest, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is not happy. “The NFL ignored the facts, the loyalty of St. Louis fans, who supported the team through far more downs than ups, and the NFL ignored a strong market and viable plan for a new stadium,” he said in a statement. “I am proud of our effort and what St. Louis was able to accomplish in an extraordinarily short period of time. I thank everyone who worked so diligently on this project, especially the Governor’s Task Force.”
This is the first relocation of an NFL franchise since the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997. Coincidentally, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher was coaching the Oilers when the team moved east.
The Los Angeles Rams have seven homes games in 2016, plus one in London. Coming to town for the welcome-home season are the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks. Dates are TBA.
A variety of schemes had been proposed to house a hypothetical relocated team in L.A. One was a 2010 proposal spearheaded by the Anschutz Entertainment Group that would have seen a stadium built adjacent to Staples Center downtown. Farmers Field would have replaced the West Hall of the Convention Center, but that plan was abandoned last year after the Chargers, Raiders and Rams put forth their proposals.
Steve Tisch, the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump producer who’s now a co-owner of the New York Giants, told reporters tonight: “Personally, I’m very happy with the result. I’ve lived in Los Angeles 44 years, and I think the Hollywood Park location is great. I’m very excited.” He added with a laugh, “I can’t go to any games, but I’m still excited.”
So the NFL’s circle of life again is complete. Pressure’s on that restaurant across from Anaheim Stadium — where the Rams played their last 14 seasons in SoCal — to match the joke on its marquee after the team split: “Today’s Special: Lack of Ram.”
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