EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The NFL is expected to render a final verdict on relocation to Los Angeles at this week's special owners meetings in Houston. The St. Louis Rams and their Inglewood stadium project are battling the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders and their proposed stadium in Carson.
There are, of course, plenty of other permutations of how that could work out. But for now, let's focus on the Rams and why they believe they are the best fit and why St. Louis believes otherwise.
The case for: We already know why Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants to move his team to Los Angeles. That's not the point here. The point is to make the case for why the Rams deserve to go. So we'll start with the legal aspects of it. The Rams believe that after winning arbitration against the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission in 2013, that group's failure to pay up for massive improvements to the Edward Jones Dome violated their lease. The Rams had a "first tier" clause in their initial lease with the venue upon moving to St. Louis, which promised to keep the stadium in the top 25 percent of all stadiums as observed by a neutral party. The dome quickly fell out of that category and the Rams sought relief from the CVC, which refused to pay over $700 million to upgrade it even after an arbitrator ruled in the Rams' favor. The St. Louis task force has argued that the Rams are not in compliance with the league's relocation guidelines despite that, but it's believed the league will view that in the Rams' favor, making the team eligible to be considered for a move.
As for why the Rams would work in Los Angeles, well, they might have the most compelling case of all three teams from a brand and money standpoint. The Rams played in Los Angeles from 1946 to 1995, making them the team with the longest history and tradition in the city. They have one of the longest relationships with the city and there remains a strong, loyal fan base eagerly hoping for their return. The Rams could move back to town and not have to worry about rebranding or changing anything, except maybe their uniforms.
Perhaps most important, Kroenke's Inglewood proposal is undeniably impressive and offers the NFL the type of world-class venue in a warm-weather city that could be a focal point of league events for years to come. Kroenke's net worth far exceeds that of Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis combined, and when problems arise with the construction of such a massive project, Kroenke has the financial wherewithal to simply write a check to fix it. Plus, Kroenke has built his empire by buying and developing projects on a small and large scale. He knows what it takes to make Inglewood the glimmering jewel of all NFL stadiums. Also, Kroenke was the one who jump-started this version of a California gold rush when he bought the land in Inglewood, and some believe he should be rewarded for that.
The case against: While Kroenke brings the deepest pockets of the three owners, he also brings the weakest case of the three teams when it comes to time and effort spent trying to resolve his stadium situation. The Chargers and Raiders have been playing in decrepit stadiums and seeking a resolution for more than a decade, while the Rams have been seeking an upgraded stadium for only a few years. Although the Rams claim they have been working for 12 years, there's little validity to that argument since the team waived its first-tier clause in 2005 and only became a true franchise "free agent" playing in a year-to-year lease in 2015. Despite efforts by St. Louis civic leaders to engage in meaningful discussions, the Rams never discussed options beyond the improvements to the Edward Jones Dome, and those conversations were with the CVC, not a group that could provide alternatives. It's the task force's belief that the Rams have failed to negotiate in good faith as stipulated by the NFL's relocation guidelines.
Beyond that, St. Louis is the only one of the three home markets to provide anything resembling an actionable stadium plan for its team. The proposed stadium on the north riverfront includes $400 million in public money (not including what would come from the sale of personal seat licenses), which would be the fifth-highest public contribution toward a stadium in NFL history, according to the task force. San Diego and Oakland have a grand total of zero actionable dollars on the table to keep their teams. Of course, the NFL views the stadium proposal as not viable, but there's no denying that St. Louis at least has something on the table in public money, which neither of the other two home markets has.
While the Inglewood project is appealing, some questions have arisen about its viability because of potential FAA complications. Depending on whom you ask, those concerns are either very real or no big deal. And if the league wants to come up with the simplest solution, it could offer Los Angeles as a California solution for two California teams rather than move a team halfway across the country.
Although Kroenke has the money to make things work, he hasn't exactly endeared himself to fellow owners with his lack of involvement in the St. Louis community or his lack of participation on league matters and committees. If the league wants to send two teams to Los Angeles, Spanos and Davis have showed little willingness to partner with Kroenke, though that could change.