LOS ANGELES -- It could be the start of something big or yet another chapter in the seemingly never-ending story of nothing at all when it comes to the NFL in Los Angeles.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, by way of an affiliated holding company, purchased a 60-acre tract of land in Inglewood, Calif. within the past month.
The land is located between the recently renovated Forum and the Hollywood Park racetrack, which was shut down in December, and could potentially serve as the home of a future NFL stadium.
Since the Raiders and Rams left Southern California after the 1994 season, Los Angeles has been subjected to enough meaningless artist renderings to fill a museum and more empty promises to encompass two decades worth of failed campaign speeches.
There is, however, a big difference if Kroenke truly does have an interest in moving the Rams out of St. Louis and back to Los Angeles. He owns the Rams and now owns enough land in Los Angeles to build a stadium.
Every vision, dream and blueprint for the NFL's return to Los Angeles has been backed by a millionaire or billionaire who had a plan to build a stadium if they could somehow secure an NFL team. Well, Kroenke has an NFL team, is worth $5.3 billion, according to Forbes, and is certainly capable of building a stadium on the parcel of land he now controls.
Kroenke is also in position to possibly move the Rams after the 2014 season. Last year the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which runs the Edward Jones Dome, announced the facility would not receive the publicly funded, $700 million upgrade the Rams requested to make the stadium a "first-tier facility." The commission's proposal for a $124 million upgrade was rejected by the Rams.
That potentially opens the door for the Rams to break their lease with the Dome after the 2014 season and possibly return to Los Angeles.
The Rams called Southern California home from 1946 to 1994 but bolted before they could celebrate their 50th anniversary in the Southland because then-Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, who died in 2008, got a sweetheart deal in St. Louis by which the city would pay for a new domed stadium and promise that the stadium would be ranked in the top quarter in the league 20 years later or the team could break its lease and move. Well, nearly 20 years later, St. Louis is still paying off the original construction debt of the dome -- now one of the league's older venues -- can't afford the renovations to make it a "top-tier" facility and the Rams could be looking to move again.
Kroenke, who owns a beachfront home in Malibu, Calif., made a failed bid to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago and has failed to commit to St. Louis publicly past the coming season.
Of course, all of this doesn't necessarily mean the Los Angeles Rams will be back in 2015. Kroenke has made much of his fortune by way of land development and owns large amounts of land in California and elsewhere. This could be nothing more than a leverage play to get what he wants in St. Louis. It wouldn't be the first time Los Angeles was used in such a way. Since the Raiders and Rams left town, 22 new stadiums have been built for 23 teams. Many of those teams using the prospect of moving to Los Angeles to receive public financing to build a new stadium in their home market.
Even if Kroenke is determined to move the Rams to Los Angeles, there are still several hurdles to cross before that can happen.
Under the NFL's "Policy and Procedures for Proposed Franchise Relocations" it states the NFL commissioner must receive written notice from the team wishing to relocate and that "the notice must be filed no later than February 15 of the year in which the move is scheduled to occur." That notice would also be published "in newspapers of general circulation within the incumbent community."
Any franchise wishing to relocate must apply between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15 of that year, and prove it has exhausted all attempts to remain in its current location.
The agreement that laid the foundation for the policy was a 1996 "Statement of Principles" between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the NFL. The statement came on the heels of the Raiders' move from Los Angeles to Oakland in July 1995. It was a move finalized so late it wasn't official until days before the Raiders' opening preseason game against the Rams, who had just moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis.
The policy states that "because League policy favors stable team-community relations, clubs are obligated to work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories, and to operate in a manner that maximizes fan support in their current home community."
Of course, if the Rams over the next 12 months get nowhere in negotiations on a new stadium in St. Louis, don't find a suitable alternate site to build a new stadium and their attendance remains in the bottom four of the league as it has for the past six seasons, they could easily make the case that they have exhausted all attempts to remain in St. Louis and would be better off in Los Angeles.
A move would not only return the Rams to their former home and the second-biggest market in the country but would raise the value of a franchise that is currently worth $875 million, according to Forbes, putting it in the bottom four of the NFL. A move to Los Angeles and into a new stadium could push that value past $1 billion and make it one of the most valuable franchises in the league.
Another hurdle would be getting past environmental and legal hurdles that often slow down large projects. Even a fast-tracked environmental impact report of that size would take about 16 months, with construction on a stadium taking about two years.
Coincidentally, last week city officials in Pasadena, Calif., cleared a legal hurdle in the effort to host an NFL team temporarily at the Rose Bowl if a team decided to play in the venerable stadium, which recently underwent a $182 million renovation and hosted the BCS National Championship Game earlier this month.
The stars may seem finally aligned for the NFL and possibly the Rams to return to Los Angeles but anybody who has been following this saga for the past two decades certainly isn't holding their breath until they see moving vans driving down Manchester Boulevard.