Announcements of possible NFL team relocations often cause the same frissons of expectation and trepidation in their target communities as videotaped threats from unknown terrorist groups. In both cases, projections of what might happen do battle with the sheer unlikelihood of anything happening. Hope, or fear, almost always wins out over rational judgment, at least at first.
And so we were treated on Monday to yet another outburst of expectation that the National Football League will finally bring a team back to Los Angeles, which hasn't had one in 20 years. This time, the dangled franchise is the St. Louis Rams, who were the Los Angeles Rams until they fled in 1995. The dangler-in-chief is Rams owner Stan Kroenke. As a real estate billionaire, Kroenke surely appreciates the value of telling one potential buyer that he's on the verge of being outbid, so he best put his money down now. In this case, the big mark isn't L.A. but St. Louis, which is working overtime to come up with a huge public handout to hold on to the team.
Maybe Missourians, for all that they claim to be hard-nosed "show-me" types, are rubes at heart who can be taken in by this. But what's Southern California's excuse? We've been jerked around so often by the NFL with the prospect of a team that it's hard to believe we can still be taken in.
Here's how I summed up the record in 2010:
"Over the years, the NFL has played Anaheim off against Los Angeles, and both off against Carson. It has feigned interest in the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum and Hollywood Park....Everyone in Southern California who has tried to play ball with this league has come away misused and humiliated. Reading the file of sound bites from moguls and political leaders proclaiming that they finally had the thing in the bag is like touring a museum of unalloyed schlemiel-dom."
This noxious record didn't stop Los Angeles politicians from slavering all over the league only a year later, when developer Phil Anschutz proposed building a football stadium downtown, hard by the L.A. Convention Center and his own LA Live entertainment venue. Anschutz was known to be a tough customer at the bargaining table, so the reasoning was that if he had got so far as to order mockups of the projected "Farmers Field" (and to sell naming rights to Farmers Insurance), something might actually occur. Nothing did. My colleagues Nathan Fenno and Sam Farmer have compiled a fully detailed timeline of the last 20 futile years.
Almost exactly a year ago, Kroenke bought a 60-acre parking lot located in Inglewood between Hollywood Park and the Forum, the renovated entertainment arena. Then everyone cannily refused to comment on whether there might be plans to put a stadium on the site. The implications weren't lost on St. Louis. Unless the team and the city reached agreement on refurbishing the downtown Edward Jones Dome, the Rams would be freed of their legal obligation to play there following the 2014 season, which for the Rams ended somewhere around Week 5.
Although the Inglewood proposal has been public for less than 24 hours, it already appears to be following the form book. Its most enthusiastic supporters are the city leaders of Inglewood, who are hopelessly starstruck. The voter initiative to be placed on the ballot by Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. and his administration claims that the stadium project will bring in revenue of $1 billion a year and 40,000 jobs, which is ludicrous.
The initiative will "renew international interest in Inglewood as a world-class, state-of-the-art sports and entertainment destination," the initiative says. That's a model of dreams triumphing over reality, though the aspiration is certainly reasonable for a city known to international travelers chiefly for its proximity to Los Angeles International Airport (if they're aware of it at all), and maybe for its landmark giant doughnut perched atop a fast-food kiosk at the corner of Manchester and La Cienega boulevards.
For the Record
Jan. 6, 4:57 p.m.: This column previously incorrectly described Los Angeles International Airport's location as in Inglewood.
The Inglewood developers are already jockeying for position as Southern California's stadium plan to beat. As my colleague Roger Vincent reports, they say they're prepared to break ground even without an NFL franchise in hand--"We are proposing to build it on spec," one of the development partners said Monday. Brave lad. Anschutz's AEG, meanwhile, indicated that Farmers Field remains in the mix, as "a fully entitled project able to host two NFL franchises without the legal, political and taxpayer risk that other sites face." California sports fans can expect many hours of enjoyment watching behemoth press releases fight each other to eke out inches of territorial gain.