Don't look now, but the Los Angeles Rams are back in the news. That's not a typo. I realize that they're still the St. Louis Rams, but St. Louis Magazine is reviving the specter of an L.A. relocation based on existing business partnerships between Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Philip Anschutz, founder of L.A. stadium developer AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group). While the possibility of the Rams moving to L.A. is something nobody should sleep on, the author of this post misses some key recent developments related to the L.A. stadium talk...ironically enough, while taking the Post-Dispatch and other St. Louis media outlets to task for missing the Kroenke-AEG connection.
Ray Hartman, the author of the post, does indeed mention the L.A. City Council's 12-0 vote that approved AEG's framework for building Farmers Field, the downtown L.A. stadium. However, he overlooks a key point for making Farmers Field grow in downtown L.A.: AEG's timeline.
As Sam Farmer from the L.A. Times explained earlier this month, in the wake of the L.A. Council's vote, AEG's deal with the city depends on securing a long-term commitment from a team. AEG is seeking to purchase a team, or at least a controlling interest. AEG wants that team to relocate this spring, using existing facilities until Farmers Field could be finished in 2016.
The problem with that timeline and the Rams' situation is their lease on the Edward Jones Dome. As you well know, they cannot wiggle out of that lease until after the 2014 season, thanks to a clause that says it has to be among the best facilities in the league by that date. That's unlikely to happen thanks to the emergence of billion dollar amusement parks like Jerry World.
Right now the favorite team for a move to L.A. is the San Diego Chargers. Farmer lays out the case for why and how the Chargers could make the move in his piece, and by all accounts, he's the go-to guy for all things L.A. football right now. I'm not going to reiterate why the Chargers are the favorites, but it's an essential detail in any discussion about the possibility of the Rams moving to L.A.
AEG reached out to five NFL teams in June, including the Rams, making a pitch to buy them and buy their way out of leases in necessary. Kroenke has stated before that he has no intention of selling the Rams. Selling after just one year of ownership, before he really has a chance to make any money off of such a sale, doesn't make much sense. Kroenke has also maintained a public line that he's committed to keeping the team in St. Louis. He may well be, but Hartman is right that it would be foolish to assume he won't entertain other offers, especially since having an open spot in L.A. gives him real leverage to get a favorable deal, i.e. a public partnership/funding, in getting a new stadium when the time comes.
Hartman offers some speculation as to why a Kroenke-Anschutz marriage might be attractive. Here's scenario number one:
Why would Kroenke want to sell the Rams to Anschutz? Well, let's see. They're trusted old friends and partners, and together they would bring staggering economic power to an NFL franchise. Last year, Forbes ranked Anschutz as the 34th wealthiest American, with an estimated net worth of $7 billion (three spots ahead of St. Louis' wealthiest citizen, Jack Taylor). On the same list, Kroenke and wife Ann Walton Kroenke were scraping along with her $3.2 billion (98th place) and his $2.7 billion (130th place).
Together, the two would share (in some fashion) ownership of a revived team in the nation's second-largest media market playing in a state-of-the-art $1.2 billion stadium. They would be the toast of the NFL for returning football to Los Angeles and might even be forgiven for abandoning the stagnant city that was formerly best known in league circles for having sued the NFL.
Owning a stadium is the key to NFL riches, and it would be particularly naive to think that Kroenke didn't know that when making his late bid for complete control of the Rams, especially since the team is in a situation favorable to getting a new stadium in the near future. The new NFL labor agreement also includes provisions for using league money to get a stadium built.
It's not that the above is impossible. It actually makes sense because even in a shared ownership situation, Kroenke could still make oodles of money and get a nice return on his investment. The biggest problem with Hartman's speculation, however, is that it ignores AEG's preferred timeline for nailing down an NFL team.
Given AEG's timeline and a favorable situation developing with the Chargers, the second L.A. stadium deal is the one you should be keeping an eye on, the one being developed by Ed Roski in the City of Industry. That one lines up more favorably with the Rams' lease situation.
L.A. might look like a more lucrative location for an NFL team. Even if it hasn't proven to be in the past, things change. The NFL, now with a new commitment to a full decade of economic peace, can be profitable anywhere. Of course, the economic situation in St. Louis and throughout the Midwest isn't exactly rosy right now, something that Hartman points out in his post. Between now and the end of the 2014 season, things could change dramatically. An economic rebound (surely it'll come back by then, right?) will soften some of the resistance to a public/private partnership, tax breaks, etc. required to get a new stadium in the St. Louis area.
A winning Rams team also plays a role, bringing back a fan base and deepening roots within the community. Selling the team now, right when they're poised to start selling tickets again, just doesn't make much sense, even selling part of it. Friend of TST Bernie Miklasz covered this topic in the Post-Dispatch in June; that piece was the subject of some derision by Hartman, who insinuated that Miklasz was naive in his urging readers not to jump to conclusions.
Hartman throws in some really wild speculation about an AEG-Kroenke deal, followed quickly by a move to purchase the Denver Broncos when current owner Pat Bowlen passes away (he's in poor health).
Like Hartman and Miklasz both remind readers: don't be naive. Anything is possible, and until AEG gets a commitment from an NFL team or the Rams work out a stadium deal of some kind, the Rams are a candidate for relocation to sunny Southern California. As such, speculation about the move is fair game...just make sure you have all the facts before engaging in any speculation, to do so otherwise is naive and slightly irresponsible.