The Southwestern setting at the Arizona Biltmore was casual, but the billionaires and multimillionaires weren’t — most dressed in coats and ties for three days of closed-door sessions.
The 32 NFL owners were getting serious about an issue the league has largely treated as an afterthought for two decades: The lack of a professional football team in the Los Angeles market.
There was an air of inevitability that a solution was at hand.
The owners heard a detailed, hourlong update on the Inglewood stadium proposal and the competing vision for Carson. Owners who once deflected questions about L.A. with a shrug or smirk gave thoughtful, informed and optimistic answers.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a member of the league’s committee on Los Angeles opportunities, predicted two teams in L.A. by next year.
“We have some real good options,” Kraft said. “And now we’ll see what happens in the end game.”
John Mara of the New York Giants, also on the committee, didn’t commit to the idea of two teams, but indicated that a return is imminent.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who is bullish on the Inglewood stadium, said, “A deal is in the crosshairs.”
The NFL has never been closer to returning to L.A. In the past, venues were pitched by people who didn’t own teams. This time, owners themselves are backing the stadium proposals.
“The developers can do all they want, but until the owner of a team wants to go out there, it’s not going to happen,” said the New York Jets’ Woody Johnson at the owners’ annual March meeting.
St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has released plans for a futuristic stadium on 298 acres at Hollywood Park in Inglewood and he has the required entitlements to start construction this year.
San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis want to build on 168 acres just off the 405 Freeway in Carson, and they are weeks away from obtaining the same entitlements.
The Rams, Chargers and Raiders are unhappy because their current stadiums are outdated and — in the case of the Chargers — crumbling. All three teams are on year-to-year leases, making it easier to move.
“We have a good chance of getting back to Los Angeles soon, but I cannot speculate on exactly who, how or when,” said NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman, appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to oversee the L.A. market. “There are too many variables that we don’t control, so if you guess now, you have a high probability of being wrong.”
The league has said no teams will relocate for this season, but has left open the possibility of one or two teams moving to L.A. for 2016. The two-month window to submit a relocation request is January through February, although the NFL has discussed accepting applications earlier to give teams more time to move.
The three markets in danger of losing their teams have made varying degrees of progress to keep them.
St. Louis has developed plans for a $985-million stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River, and is exploring how to acquire the land and $400 million in public money to subsidize the project.
San Diego has identified a site near the Chargers’ current stadium and a task force appointed by the mayor is expected to present a financing plan by May — although team officials are not optimistic they will get public support to subsidize construction.
The Raiders are still waiting to hear from the developer representing the city of Oakland and Alameda County; indications are that a viable proposal is a long-shot.
With three teams and two stadium concepts in play in the L.A. metropolitan area, there are more than two dozen possible outcomes, although some are implausible, such as both stadiums being built or all three teams playing in one venue.
Here are nine that merit discussion.
Inglewood gets built
Why it can work: Kroenke, the NFL’s second-richest owner, doesn’t need a second team to help him and his partners finance a $1.8-billion stadium at the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack. The development would include a small concert hall, residences, restaurants, and office and retail space, similar to LA Live around Staples Center.
The Rams would have the best chance to be successful in a one-team, one-stadium situation — they have a nostalgic connection to L.A., having played in Southern California from 1946 to 1994, and still have fans here.
Kroenke’s site could host a Super Bowl, and be a potential home for such league assets as NFL Network, the Pro Bowl and a West Coast Hall of Fame.
Why it can’t work: St. Louis has done the most of the three cities to keep its team. If the $400 million in taxpayer money remains in the stadium proposal there, the NFL will be reticent to allow the Rams to leave that cash behind.
Also, Spanos has made it clear that he thinks having a team in L.A. would hurt the Chargers in San Diego. If he can assemble eight other owners to vote with him — three-quarters of the 32 NFL owners must approve any relocation request — he could block Kroenke’s move.
Outlook: Strong likelihood.
Rams, Chargers together
Why it can work: This is an outcome the NFL could live with if both the Rams and Chargers can’t close deals with their cities. Putting a second team in Inglewood gives that stadium greater financial viability.
The Raiders have more options where they can move. The team has discussed relocation with San Antonio officials. They conceivably could share Levi’s Stadium with the San Francisco 49ers. Or the Raiders could go to St. Louis if the Rams were to leave.
Why it can’t work: This would require Kroenke and Spanos to reach agreement to share a stadium, something they have not shown a willingness to do.
Before Kroenke joined the Hollywood Park project, the developer initially approached the Chargers but they were not interested. The Chargers like the easy freeway access of the Carson site and believe fans care most about their ability to get to and from a game as quickly as possible.
Outlook: Somewhat likely.
Rams, Raiders together
Why it can work: Raiders owner Davis has an affection for the Hollywood Park site, where his father, Al, wanted to build a stadium in the early 1990s. Informal surveys show the Rams are the most popular of the three teams in the L.A. market, followed by the Raiders.
The Oakland team is not in good financial shape and would be more open to make a deal with the Rams.
The TV networks would have an NFC and AFC team in the market, so divisional realignment would not be necessary.
Why it can’t work: Spanos would put up a vigorous fight to block any moves to L.A., other than his own. Two teams would saturate the L.A. market and the Chargers’ threat to move to L.A. would give the team little or no leverage to get a stadium deal in San Diego.
Outlook: Less likely.
Kroenke as landlord
Why it can work: The NFL would get a stadium and location it likes, even if the Rams don’t move. The Chargers and/or Raiders could move to the L.A. market without having to build a venue.
Why it can’t work: If Kroenke were going to build the most expensive NFL stadium in history, he would want to reap the benefits of being in the market. There have been plenty of opportunities for the Chargers and Raiders to be tenants in other proposed L.A. stadiums, and they didn’t jump at those.
Carson gets built
Chargers, Raiders together
Why it can work: This solves two of the league’s biggest stadium problems, and avoids pulling a team out of Missouri to play in Inglewood, making the Rams the fourth NFL franchise in California.
Many owners are sympathetic toward Spanos and if he fails to get agreement soon on a new stadium, they would likely feel he has met the league requirement to exhaust all options.
The Raiders, too, face long odds of getting any significant traction on a new stadium in the Oakland area. They would have a 50/50 stake in a Carson project.
The NFL knows this Carson site and previously considered buying it. The stadium would be conveniently located for fans from both L.A. and Orange County, and would have ample room for tailgating.
Why it can’t work: The site was once a toxic landfill, and although much cleanup work has been done, there remains more to do. The Chargers and Raiders also have different ideas about how a stadium should look. Both teams are in the AFC West and putting rivals in the same stadium would have its own challenges, such as divisional realignment, TV network issues, and two fan bases that don’t like each other.
Outlook: Somewhat likely.
Why it can work: Spanos has said the Chargers would shoulder the Carson project on their own if the Raiders strike a deal in Oakland or decide to pull out.
Why it can’t work: Financing a stadium on 10 games a year, with no surrounding development, plus paying an NFL relocation fee, would be quite a challenge for Spanos. The Rams and Raiders are not going to bow out of the L.A. competition unless their own stadium problems are fixed.
Outlook: Somewhat likely.
Why it can work: The Raiders would get their new home, and St. Louis and San Diego would keep their teams.
Why it can’t work: The NFL believes that the Raiders, among the league’s most polarizing teams, would struggle to generate the necessary revenue to pay for a stadium, especially when it comes to attracting the support of corporations and premium customers.
It’s highly unlikely the league would hand over the L.A. market to Mark Davis — his late father, Al Davis, famously sued the NFL over who owned the rights to L.A. — and the younger Davis has shown no inclination to sell the franchise.
One team, new series
A year ago, when the league was investigating the possibility of financing its own stadium in the market, there were discussions about creating a “Los Angeles Game of the Month” franchise, in which a new L.A. stadium would not only be home to a relocated team but a monthly neutral-site game, akin to the London series.
Why it can work: The league could sell separate personal seat licenses for a Game of the Month series, and possibly a separate TV package. A personal seat license is a one-time payment, lasting a prescribed period such as 10 years, to secure the right to purchase tickets for a specific seat for future events. A game-of-the-month system would be a way to create two-team economics for a one-team stadium.
Why it can’t work: If you call something the Game of the Month, it implies that it’s going to be a compelling matchup. What cities that have elite teams would be willing to give up home games?
There’s a reason why Jacksonville is often the home team for London games. The Jaguars’ ticket revenue for a London game is significantly higher than for a typical regular-season home game, and that’s not the case with top teams.
As it is, teams volunteer to give up home games for neutral-site games; they are not mandated to do so.
No moves in 2016
How is this possible? The league clearly is in no hurry to rush into an unfavorable deal in L.A. Much of what transpires during the next several months will hinge on what the home markets propose. If no team relocates in 2016, it could happen in 2017, however. After 20 years… it’s still early in the game.
Outlook: Strong likelihood.