NFL looked past St. Louis Rams' stadium plan

By Howard Balzer, The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 13, 2016 at 1:05 AM
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HOUSTON -- At the end of the day, in a year in which the National Football League will celebrate the golden anniversary of its championship game, the Super Bowl, league owners voted to support the man with the most gold, Rams owner Stan Kroenke, approving the relocation of the team from St. Louis to a Los Angeles-area stadium in Inglewood.

It was Kroenke who first helped the Rams move to St. Louis from Anaheim, Calif., in 1995 when he joined then-owner Georgia Frontiere as a 40 percent partner. Now, 21 years later, he and the owners allowed the relocation despite a St. Louis stadium plan that included $400 million of public money and cost local authorities $16 million in outlays.

Tuesday began with the belief that the Carson, Calif., plan, which included the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, would win the day when the NFL's Los Angeles Opportunities Committee recommended it. However, new-money owners led by Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were trying to broker a plan that would place the Chargers with the Rams in Inglewood.

The Raiders were not viewed as being the team most of the owners wanted to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles.

All along, Chargers owner Dean Spanos said he had no interest in partnering with Kroenke or with the Inglewood project. However, when it became apparent early in the day that there weren't enough votes to get the Carson deal approved, everything shifted quickly.

The eventual deal was certainly one no one could have anticipated. The Chargers have an option that expires on Jan. 16, 2017, to be the second team in Inglewood, unless a referendum to approve public financing for a new stadium in San Diego is approved prior to Nov. 15, 2016. If that happens, the option could be extended until Jan. 15, 2018.

The Raiders have a conditional option to be the second team in Inglewood, and that period would begin on the day that the Chargers' option expires.

Said Raiders owner Mark Davis, "This is not a win for the Raiders. We have to work hard to find a home."

In the meantime, both the Chargers and Raiders were granted an extra $100 million from the league in an attempt to continue to pursue a new stadium.

That result raised eyebrows in St. Louis, where an extra $100 million placed in the city's stadium plan at the suggestion of Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was cited as one reason by Goodell that the plan fell short of being acceptable.

Goodell said Tuesday, "We have not been successful in getting stadiums done in the home markets."

Kroenke claimed he looked for an alternative in St. Louis, but that "it didn't succeed."

However, Kroenke began his plans for Inglewood in August 2013, a few months after local authorities opted not to pay $700 million in renovations for the Edward Jones Dome that would have gotten them only another 10 years on their lease.

The Rams were able to go year-to-year on the lease after the 2014 season, and when the local task force put in motion plans for a new stadium in January 2015, Kroenke never engaged in discussions to make the venue work or fix "the holes" he claimed were in the plan. He was fully committed to Los Angeles.

Yet, the owners provided San Diego and Oakland with another chance to get a stadium done, while St. Louis was left without an NFL team for the second time since 1988, when the Cardinals moved to Arizona without a plan for a new stadium in that market.

Jones claimed after Tuesday's vote, "This was not a vote against St. Louis, which is a great city. There can be opportunity there."

When asked what that might be, Jones said, "It can happen."

That remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who appointed the task force for the new St. Louis stadium, said in a statement, "Tonight's decision is disappointing, and a clear deviation from the NFL's guidelines. It is troubling that the league would allow for the relocation of a team when a home market has worked in good faith and presented a strong and viable proposal. This sets a terrible precedent not only for St. Louis, but for all communities that have loyally supported their NFL franchises.

"Regardless of tonight's action, the fact remains that St. Louis is a world-class city deserving of a world-class NFL team. We will review the NFL's decision thoroughly before determining what next steps to take. In particular, we are interested in their justification for departing so significantly from the NFL's guidelines after St. Louis had -- in record time -- presented a proposal for a first-class stadium."

Sounds as if St. Louis still will be heard from. The question is whether the NFL will listen.

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