Pardon our skepticism.
The proposal by billionaire Stan Kroenke to build a football stadium in Inglewood and make it the home of the St. Louis Rams has much to commend it: He's not asking for public subsidies (yet) and has not indicated that he wants special dispensation to evade California's environmental protection laws (yet). He already has a team — the Rams — so he won't have to lure one here. And he's clearly got the money (not only is Kroenke a multi-billionaire; his wife, the daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder Bud Walton, is one too).
But Kroenke also is looking for leverage to get improvements for his team's existing stadium in St. Louis, and if the National Football League has demonstrated anything over the years, it's that there's value in having a vacancy in Los Angeles.
Back in the 1990s, Mayor Richard Riordan led a phalanx of wealthy friends and city leaders in an attempt to revive the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and make it the home of a team — it hasn't had an NFL franchise since the Raiders left in 1995. NFL owners feigned interest but never closed the deal. Then came the dalliance with Chavez Ravine and Dodgers President Peter O'Malley. Then the Rose Bowl, Carson, City of Industry and downtown Los Angeles. Each time, deals seemed imminent, NFL officials and local leaders gushed with optimism, proclaimed friendships, announced agreements, predicted moves. And nothing happened.
At least one reason for that is that the interests of the league are, in one important respect, different from those of the owners. The league recognizes that it's risky to be absent from the nation's second-largest city and media market. It's bad for television ratings, and it means that lots of boys and girls grow up here without much attachment to a team.
The owners have their own issues, and a big one is their relationships with their home cities. Football stadiums age, and when it's time to improve them, teams often bicker with local governments over who should pay. One thing that gives teams leverage is the credible threat that if they don't get their way, they'll up and move to Los Angeles.
That's precisely the situation facing Kroenke, and he just strengthened his negotiating hand. Indeed, even as talk radio in Los Angeles buzzed Monday with the news of his plans to bring the Rams home, Missouri and St. Louis officials said they were determined to keep the team.
We wish Kroenke well and hope it's different this time, but we'll believe it when we see it.
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