Now that the ’13-’14 NFL season is over (congrats, Seattle Seahawks!), it’s time to look ahead to the future of the NFL. And I’m not talking about this year’s upcoming NFL Draft or adding more safety rules to the game for ’14-’15… I’m talking about expansion. Geographical expansion.
In Part One of GuysGirl’s NFL Expansion articles, we’ll first discuss the NFL’s potential domestic expansion: Could Los Angeles (finally) be getting an NFL team?
Last Friday a news report emerged from the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch that billionaire developer Stan Kroenke bought a football stadium-sized piece of land in Inglewood (Los Angeles) in January. The 60-acre site, originally planned to be a Walmart, was never built on due to low voter approval for the project. Now, the land is seen as the potential home for a would-be Los Angeles NFL team – and how convenient, since the land is owned by man who owns an NFL team.
That’s right. Kroenke, a well-known sports mogul, is the owner of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which includes the St. Louis Rams (among several other sports teams across the NHL, NBA, etc.) But as every media outlet is reporting, it sounds like he doesn’t know what he’s doing with the land yet. Soon after the Post-Dispatch article was released, Kevin Demoff, the Executive VP of Rams Operations, sent this statement to the publication:
“While we can confirm media reports that we recently purchased land in Inglewood, as a private company we don’t typically discuss our plans for commercial or residential investments… We have yet to decide what we are going to do with the property, but we will look at all options, as we do with all of our properties.”
But there’s no denying that the land – located between Hollywood Park and the newly-renovated Forum – is in a prime LA area. And there’s more than enough acreage to build an NFL stadium. To put the size in perspective, you know the San Francisco 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara? It was built on 40 acres. Kroenke would have an extra 20 to throw around in Inglewood.
At the end of the day, at least this news adds a little pressure to both state and local officials in St. Louis who are working to keep Kroenke’s Rams in St. Louis. A clause in the Ram’s contract with the Edwards Jones Dome requires it be a “first-tier” stadium by 2015 – meaning, in the top eight of 32 NFL stadiums. And if it’s not, the franchise would be free to go on a year-to-year lease or, worse, leave St. Louis by early next year.
Last February, the Rams won an arbitration case against the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission concerning upgrades to the stadium. The commission proposed spending $124 million to update the Dome, but the Rams said the necessary renovations would cost about $700 million.
On top of being the Rams’ former home, LA is the nation’s second-largest metro area. Having no current NFL team, efforts to bring one to LA have been touch and go for years… despite that experts say a successful franchise could be hugely profitable (um, duh).
But all of this doesn’t mean the Rams will be moving out of St. Louis. Because even if Kroenke wanted to move the team to LA, a lot of hurdles would stand in his way. Just one of those hurdles (but a big one) would be filing a transfer application with the NFL and having 24 owners (three-fourths of all owners) to approve the move. All it takes is nine NFL owners to derail the entire thing.
Critics also argue there’d also be a bunch of environmental challenges to building a stadium in that area, including traffic and parking issues. And don’t forget that there’s already two competing NFL stadium proposals in the LA area: one next to Staples Center (led by AEG) and one in the City of Industry. I even read a critic say that a team filling the LA market would be a “detriment to getting stadium deals done in San Diego and Oakland because it would deprive those teams of leverage in their home cities.”
Talk about barriers.
Before last Sunday’s Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league knew about Kroenke’s land purchase and cautioned against “overreacting” to it, saying “we should make sure we do what’s necessary to continue to support the team locally, which the fans have done in St. Louis. And make sure we can do whatever we can to make sure that team is successful in the St. Louis market.”
Yusef Robb, a spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, said Kroenke’s purchase was “a commercial property deal that we aren’t going to speculate on.” And in an interview earlier this month, Mayor Garcetti did say he was eager for an NFL team to return to LA but that his main priority is improving LA’s Convention Center. “A football team, unless we add a whole bunch of Super Bowls, really doesn’t add a lot to the local economy,” he said. At this point “the work really is between owners and within the NFL to see whether there’s somebody who wants to bring a team here.”
On the other hand, Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he thinks “it’s unfortunate that a generation of fans have grown up without” a team in LA. “We definitely want a team in L.A. … We need to make sure we have the right owner and the right facility, and until at least 24 owners feel that, we won’t have it,” Kraft said in New York. “Just personally, I would like to see a team in L.A. as soon as possible.”
So maybe Kroenke’s plan is just to sell the land for the right price, or maybe he plans to do just what most St. Louis Rams fans fear. But if Kroenke’s past actions are any indication, we probably won’t know what’s happening until it happens.
And while his purchase doesn’t completely signal an intention to move, it does put pressure on St. Louis to be more compliant in future stadium talks. And for Rams fans, after months of not hearing anything about the stadium renovation process, I’m guessing this is a good place to start.