07 January 2015

The NFL is closer than ever to returning to Los Angeles

While the biggest news in the Monday was the referee controversy in the Lions-Cowboys game in Arlington, a story that fell a little under the radar, relatively speaking, is the news broken by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that Stan Kroenke, owner of the St. Louis Rams, plans to build an 80,000-seat NFL stadium at the Hollywood Park site in Inglewood, California. This is big news and while this does not definitively mean that the NFL will be returning to the Southland for the first time since the Rams and Raiders both left following the 1994 NFL season, it does mean that this is the closest we have gotten to that.

Ever since it was reported a year ago that Kroenke bought 60 acres of land between Hollywood Park, the famous race course that closed in December of 2013, and The Forum, the legendary arena that was home to the Lakers and Kings that was recently refurbished as a concert venue, speculation did center on a new NFL stadium. There were questions over whether the site was big enough for an NFL stadium but now since Kroenke has partnered with Stockbridge Capital Group, who owned the 300-acre Hollywood Park site and was already planning a massive redevelopment project, those questions have dissipated (here's a map breakdown).

Now it is certainly easy to be skeptical of this and many can make the argument that we have been down this road before. The Los Angeles market has been valuable to the NFL as leverage to get teams new stadiums or renovations to their current homes as 18 franchises have been connected to L.A. And save for when the Seahawks came pretty close to moving in 1996, with the team even practicing for a week in Anaheim, or when the city almost was granted an expansion team in 1999 that was eventually awarded to Houston because they were never able to get an agreement done, we really have not been all that close to seeing the NFL return to Los Angeles.

And by no means is this news a guarantee to finally bring the NFL back but here is why I think this is different: Kroenke actually owns a team. A team that has its fair share of stadium issues as well as a rich history in Los Angeles. St. Louis has three weeks to put together a final offer for a new stadium and if their proposal is not accepted by the franchise, their lease becomes year-to-year.

Of course, there will not be any move for this upcoming season as confirmed by the NFL and any move would need the approval of three-fourths of the owners (24 of 32). There certainly would be some opposition from the Chargers (whose owner has supposedly prepared to block a move), but can anybody rule out the Chargers, should they fail to get a new stadium deal done in San Diego, trying to share such a stadium with the Rams? And it is certainly possibly that Kroenke could eventually get the votes he would need, or even move without the votes.

There are other stadium proposals that are still alive: AEG's Farmers Field project in downtown Los Angeles and Ed Roski's project in City of Industry, both of which have gotten the clearances needed to build. But now both appear to be on the back-burner while the Inglewood plan, which was one of the last legitimate proposals for the Raiders before they headed back up to Oakland, will now be the top plan. And Kroenke owning the Rams and owning the land in Inglewood is why.

Now it could be possible that Kroenke is still interested in keeping the Rams in St. Louis and is trying to spring another sweetheart deal even more favorable than the original sweetheart deal. The timing is interesting to say the least because the team would be a year away from moving. But announcing a stadium project seems to me to be a little more than just a leverage play and could really give the City of Angels professional football once again.

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