The NFL suits up to rip off L.A. -- again

St. Louis Rams' backup quarterback got crushed by the Seahawks last season. Next year in L.A.?
(Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)

If there’s one great truth about the National Football League, it’s that its hunger for schemes to manipulate politicians and fans into filling its owners’ pockets is limitless.

Now there’s a new entree on its plate: The owner of the St. Louis Rams has acquired a parking lot in Inglewood that might, just might, be a good place for a pro football stadium.

You remember the St. Louis Rams, don’t you?

They were the Los Angeles Rams until after the 1994 season, when they were drawn from L.A. (metro area population 11.2 million then) to St. Louis (metro population 2.6 million) by the promise of a new domed stadium and a pledge that the stadium would remain in the top echelon of league venues 20 years hence, or the team could skip.

The 20 years are almost up. The Rams are demanding a $700-million renovation of what is now known as the Edward Jones Dome. That’s money the locals simply don’t have, or at least don’t plan to spend. Without a deal, the Rams can leave town after next season.

So as my colleague Sam Farmer reports, Rams owner Stan Kroenke has cannily purchased a 60-acre parking lot located between the Forum and Hollywood Park, which can be dangled--if you can dangle a 60-acre parking lot--before the eyes of the St. Louis city fathers. Farmer points out that “this is the first time an NFL owner"--that is, not a would-be owner--"has bought a piece of land in the L.A. area capable of accommodating a stadium.”


Since the NFL has always dealt with Los Angeles and Southern California with the utmost transparency and honesty, the league won’t mind my giving you a rundown of this history. Here’s how I summed it up in 2010:

“Over the years, the NFL has played Anaheim off against Los Angeles, and both off against Carson. It has feigned — excuse me, ‘expressed’ — interest in the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum and Hollywood Park. It has toyed with moguls such as Eli Broad and Michael Ovitz like a defensive tackle toys with a fumbled football. It has sent countless delegations of team owners to study proposed sites....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.”
So step up to the plate, Stan Kroenke.

Underlying these shenanigans is the league’s desire to keep Los Angeles open as a permanent threat to force incumbent NFL cities to pony up hundreds of millions in taxpayer funds to make life easier for its billionaire owners, like Kroenke. L.A., the league knows, simply isn’t as willing to spend public funds as places like Jacksonville, Fla., and Nashville and Indianapolis. So the NFL talks endlessly about its heartfelt desire to have a team in L.A., which it doesn’t, really.

Over the last couple of years, the chief bidders for ritual NFL humiliation in L.A. have been Ed Roski, who’s trying to get a stadium built in the City of Industry, and Phil Anschutz, whose brainchild is a stadium downtown. Neither has gotten anywhere and Anschutz, for one, has been sounding like he’s fed up with the whole idea.

What these business owners did achieve, however, was the wholesale evisceration of the state’s environmental protection laws to favor their construction plans, which isn’t nothing. But the legislature’s willingness to kiss up to them and the NFL still hasn’t gotten them a team.

Kroenke has been circumspect about his plans in Inglewood, but if St. Louis continues to hold back, it’s a good bet that we’ll begin to hear terms. First will come a demand for the same environmental giveaway Roski and Anschutz got. Then there will be talk of infrastructure upgrades--widened ramps on the 405, for instance. That will just be the start. Game time is almost here.