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Volume 23 No. 28
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Chargers official: Rams don’t deserve first crack at L.A.

The San Diego Chargers plan to actively oppose the potential relocation to the Los Angeles area of the St. Louis Rams, whose owner last week unveiled plans for an 80,000-seat NFL stadium in the suburb of Inglewood. That opposition could take several forms, from internally mounting resistance within the NFL to funding groups opposed to the stadium.

The NFL, which for 20 years has tried to control the process of a team returning to Los Angeles, now confronts a full-blown, adversarial battle between at least two of its clubs.


SBJ Podcast:
NFL writer Daniel Kaplan and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss the sticky situation with the Rams and Los Angeles as well as last week's release of the Mueller investigation in the latest NFL Behind the Headlines podcast.

The Chargers declined to comment on their intentions, but a team official, who requested anonymity, criticized the Rams’ effort and said a team that had already relocated out of Los Angeles, which the Rams did after the 1994 season, did not deserve first crack at the market.

“The Rams voluntarily left the Los Angeles and Orange County markets, and some owner may question whether they deserve to return — especially if it means that the stadium situations of the two California teams remain unresolved,” this team official said, referring to the Oakland Raiders and Chargers.

The Chargers contend that between one-quarter and one-third of their business is now derived from the Los Angeles market.

The official also questioned whether the NFL, jolted this season by player-conduct controversies and its management of them, could afford a heated relocation battle.

“A move by the Rams would generate significant political and legal controversy for an NFL commissioner [Roger Goodell] who is already bedraggled and besieged on various fronts,” this official said.

The NFL has ruled out relocation for 2015, so the earliest a franchise could begin play in Los Angeles would be 2016.

Stan Kroenke announced plans last week to build a stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
Photo by: HKS
“We are committed to working towards having franchises that are strong and successful in their existing markets,” said the NFL in a statement. “Any decision on relocation in 2016 or later is subject to approval by the 32 clubs. An affirmative vote by 24 of 32 clubs (three-fourths) is required.”

That does not mean the Rams might not try to act unilaterally, or set in motion soon the process of having a final, lame-duck season in St. Louis this fall. Two business executives were scheduled last Friday to deliver to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon a report on a new stadium in St. Louis for the Rams. But the amount of public money pledged toward that effort, and the other economics of the package, might make it difficult for the Rams to move. That is because the NFL’s relocation bylaw requires a good-faith effort be made on behalf of teams to stay in their current markets before relocation is approved.

Whichever way Rams owner Stan Kroenke moves, the narrative of the NFL seeking to return to Los Angeles, a seemingly never-ending tale since the Raiders and Rams departed after the 1994 season, has now changed. No longer does the NFL fully control the process, as it has professed and reminded teams in periodic memos. There were whispers last week that Kroenke had not even apprised the league of his planned announcement, though one source close to the league said the owner had reached out to the league.

Sources within the league have long said that owners are free to seek their own Los Angeles solution but that the league has final say.

The Chargers official contrasted the Rams’ situation with that of the club in San Diego, where the team has worked for 13 years for a new stadium and the city has gone through seven mayors in that time. And though the team has publicly said it wants to stay in San Diego — and recently pledged to stay there in 2015 — the official hinted that the Chargers’ patience might soon wear out.

“The Chargers are continuing to work hard to find a solution in San Diego, but the team also has a close eye on developments in L.A.,” the official said. “It would be irresponsible for the Chargers not to be taking every possible step to protect the future of the franchise.”

The Rams for their part are saying little. Kroenke has not even said the Inglewood stadium project at the shuttered Hollywood Park racetrack site is necessarily intended for his team. A lot has to happen for the stadium to occur, as well, including local political sign-off. If that comes, it is unclear whether a ballot initiative would be necessary, or if an environmental review would even be called for given recent California court rulings.

Were Kroenke to ignore the NFL’s rules and move without consent, the league would have several options at its disposal. The most obvious would be to sue to stop him, resuscitating the days of lawsuits with the late Al Davis over his moves to and from Los Angeles with the Raiders.

The league has other leverage, though. It could deny league stadium funds for the Inglewood project; decline to increase the Rams’ debt ceiling; shut the stadium out of the Super Bowl rotation; or decline to provide the Rams with other financial measures teams typically seek from the league to make new stadiums economic.

On his end, Kroenke would need a temporary venue to play in, likely the Rose Bowl or the Los Angeles Coliseum, before the desired new stadium is built and operational. But beyond that, Kroenke would want to assess whether he would want to take on pariah status within the league and spend the foreseeable future in litigation. It’s been done — with Davis and with Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990s, when he sued the league over rights to sign sponsors not aligned with the NFL. Both owners continued to partake in league functions, though, and Jones long ago put his lawsuits behind him to become one of the more respected owners in the NFL among his peers.

So as the league approaches the Super Bowl and looks to put the troublesome issues of 2014 behind it, the complicated Los Angeles issue is now in the spotlight again.