13 January 2016

The NFL is returning to Los Angeles

(Robert Hanashiro/USATSI)
It has been over two decades since the last NFL game has been played in Greater Los Angeles (December 21, 1994 to be exact) but for football fans in Southland, that wait is over. The NFL owners on Tuesday night in Houston voted 30-2 to approve the relocation of the St. Louis Rams to LA, ultimately to a stadium project in Inglewood that's set to open in 2019, while also giving the San Diego Chargers a one-year option to join them. This will be the first NFL relocation since the Houston Oilers moved to Nashville (technically Memphis) in 1997 and a second go-around potentially for both (Rams left in 1994, Chargers left after their inaugural season in 1960).

This is the culmination of a messy process in which three clubs applied to relocation to Los Angeles in the Chargers, Rams and the Oakland Raiders. Originally, the Chargers and Raiders were aligned in a stadium project in Carson and the Chargers appeared to show little interest in joining the Rams at the Inglewood project but ultimately, the Raiders were seen as a weak link to their proposal and they backed out in order to allow this plan to pass.

As the option indicates, the Chargers are not a lock to join the Rams in Los Angeles. There will be a public vote in June regarding public funding (to the tune of $350 million) for a stadium project in San Diego and perhaps the Chargers could use the owners' vote as a way to sway the people to vote yes if seem as a last chance to keep the team in town. The team has a deadline of late March to decide whether they will play in San Diego or in Los Angeles and a deadline of January 15, 2017 to decide whether they will join the Rams, although this could be extended (and possibly allow the Raiders to take their spot).

The Raiders are left out in the cold, but they won't come away empty-handed. League commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed tonight that the Raiders would receive $100 million in aid to build a stadium in Oakland or in the area. The team's lease at the O.co has expired and owner Mark Davis doesn't seem too sure as to what is next:
Therefore, the uncertain future of the Raiders makes the team's decision to not join the 49ers in Santa Clara when they had the chance look even worse.
We know that the Los Angeles Coliseum will likely be a temporary solution for one team until the Inglewood stadium is open, but could it potentially host both teams should the Chargers get in the mix? USC would have to re-negotiate their lease to allow two NFL teams to play there but it seems that they may be open to the idea. The Rose Bowl has outright said that they won't allow an NFL team to play there, leaving other potential options to include Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Dodgers Stadium in Chavez Ravine, and StubHub Center in Carson (the home of the LA Galaxy).

I do legitimately feel for those fans in St. Louis and in San Diego that feel spurned by this news, it isn't fun for any sports fan to have his or her team leave town for greener pastures. That said, the NFL should have never left Los Angeles to begin with, not for St. Louis and not for Oakland 21 years ago (and people never felt bad for the spurned Rams & Raiders fans in Los Angeles). The Rams left the first time because they got greedy in trying to get a new stadium not long after pushing through an expansion to Anaheim Stadium and because they got a sweetheart deal from St. Louis. Oakland left because Al Davis was, well, Al Davis and refused to listen to any stadium deals other than his own and was under the impression that he was getting a sweetheart deal from Oakland (which ultimately never happened). Besides, the folks in St. Louis will forget they even had a football team once Cardinals spring training starts (just like every other year).

I have heard a number of folks say that an NFL team won't be able to draw in Los Angeles, which is something that I totally don't agree with. First off, Greater LA has almost 20 million people so it's not like there's a shortage of people to draw from. Second, both the Rams and Raiders drew well and only had blackouts because they couldn't fill the 90,000-plus seats in the Coliseum (before the Rams moved to Anaheim).

All in all, it was inevitable that the NFL was going to return to Los Angeles at some point. After all, it was bizarre that the league went over 20 years without a team in the nation's second market. The Rams should make out well considering that they do have an established history in Los Angeles and never were really able to build much of a fanbase at all in St. Louis. The Chargers, should they choose to join the Rams, will get a sorely needed stadium upgrade and a much-stronger access point to the lucrative LA market. Oakland really isn't a winner at all but that $100 million for a potential stadium isn't all that bad.

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