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Why the NFL Won't Pick Winners (or a Loser) in Race to Los Angeles

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystJune 23, 2015

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to reporters during the NFL's spring meetings in San Francisco, Wednesday, May 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

For three fan bases, the arrival of the 2015 season will induce as much nervousness as excitement. That's because any of the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers or Oakland Raiders could end up with Los Angeles in their name next season.

Seemingly, it's a race between the Rams and the combined effort of the Chargers and Raiders to bring the NFL back to the Los Angeles market. It's an Inglewood stadium development pitted against one in Carson.

Except the NFL won't pick the winners in the race, which makes you wonder if it's really a race at all. It's more like a game of musical chairs, but the NFL isn't going to stop the music until each of the teams has a place to play.

"At the end of the day, all three clubs should be satisfied with the outcome," an NFL executive said, via Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News.

That's where St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland come in. As soon as one of those cities delivers on a stadium project to the satisfaction of the NFL, the rest of the dominoes will fall into place. The NFL doesn't want a scenario in which one franchise is left out.  

"Owners understand the benefits of a competitive situation but also do not relish the thought of a fellow owner being damaged by the process," an NFL executive said, via Bonsignore. "[So] the outcome or outcomes that solves the three riddles of the three teams would be very much sought."

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This isn't how it's supposed to be, of course. The very real threat of Los Angeles, local municipalities, aging stadiums and Rams owner Stan Kroenke have flipped everything on its head.

The Los Angeles Area Stadium Projects

At this point, both stadium projects in Los Angeles are viable. Construction could start on either stadium this year if the NFL were to approve the relocation of their future tenant(s).

The Carson City Council voted in May to ensure the site there was ready for construction. The vote put the Carson site on a similar timeline as the site in Inglewood, where Kroenke wants to start construction in December.

Two weeks ago, the NFL's Los Angeles committee heard updated presentations from each stadium proposal. In August, owners will meet specifically to go over the stadium issues and Los Angeles in particular.

Former San Francisco 49ers executive Carmen Policy is representing the Chargers and Raiders for the benefit of the Carson site. He is attempting to sell the idea of the Carson site over the Inglewood site on the basis that a shared arrangement is better than having one team be the stadium owner and the other the tenant.

"All the people who have evaluated these scenarios say that if you're going to have two teams in the market, you can't let one have an established base and start over the other," Policy said, via Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. "The league doesn't want a situation where you have an owner and a tenant. You don't want it the way it used to be for the Giants and Jets. Both teams have to have equal status in the building."

One possible way to solve the problem is for the NFL to make Kroenke cut in a second team at an equal share of the stadium as part of his relocation fee. It would also help the Inglewood plan if Kroenke agrees to build the stadium in a neutral way.

The 49ers built a new stadium in Santa Clara that is two-team capable in theory, but red seats and a team museum ensure that it's distinctly 49ers. At MetLife, that's not an issue thanks to the use of light boards and other technology to make it feel like a home game for whatever team is playing there that day.

Inglewood has the distinct advantage if it can legitimately offer a second seat to the Chargers or Raiders. That means the NFL could continue to use Los Angeles as leverage against Oakland and San Diego in order to land the stadium deals they want.  

The Carson site has the distinct disadvantage in that scenario because once the Raiders and Chargers were to move there, it would be harder for the Rams to get an NFL-friendly stadium deal in St. Louis. Kroenke would also likely be unhappy with that arrangement, as he's shown very little interest in staying in St. Louis.

It would be much more economically advantageous for the NFL to parlay Los Angeles into a new stadium for all three of the teams involved before moving two teams to Los Angeles.

Iffy Stadium Proposals

Of the three cities putting together proposals to keep their team, St. Louis appears to be the most advanced, but that's also without any cooperation from the Rams. The city also has to fend off numerous legal challenges regarding the funding of the stadium.

St. Louis is just hoping the NFL won't approve a relocation of the Rams if the city demonstrates it is serious about keeping its football team. 

Even if St. Louis does almost everything the NFL wants, the city could still end up without a football team. It's just hard for one of the league's smaller markets to keep a team whose owner is actively pursuing a stadium project in Inglewood.

What St. Louis fans have going for them is that the Edward Jones Dome is much better than Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego and O.co Coliseum in Oakland. As far as satisfying the NFL's relocation requirements, the Chargers and Raiders are also each better candidates for demonstrating need.

Stadium Proposal Comparison
TeamG4 LoanCity/County/Bonds/Land SalesRentPSLsNaming RightsTotal
St. Louis (Gov. Nixon Task Force)$300M$200M$467M$216.2M$60M$50M$1.4B
San Diego (CSAG)$250M$200M$400M-$100-120M-$950-985M
Oakland (Kephart)?$200M?????
ESPN's Nick Wagoner, "Comparing St. Louis and San Diego stadium financing plans"

Especially since the situation in San Diego has turned ugly this month. After the city's Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG) proposed a financing plan that included roughly $467 million in public funds, the Chargers and city met to try to work through some of the issues without much success.

"We haven't seen any evidence so far in our dealings with Mayor [Kevin] Faulconer that he is capable of managing such a complex project,” said Michael Fabiani, the Chargers' special counsel and stadium czar, via Faris Tanyos of 10News.com.

The Chargers contend that the city is trying to rush an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in time for a public vote in January, but the EIR won't stand up to legal challenges. To do it right, the Chargers believe it will take 12-18 months for the EIR and that the city wasted five months with the CSAG proposal.

The city is of the belief that the Chargers have been disingenuous the whole time. They believe the Chargers initiated a process that had to gain traction before the NFL made a decision on Los Angeles, knowing that it would take longer if done correctly. When the city tried to cut corners, the Chargers had an easy out.

"The truth is they were never at the table," said Jason Roe, Faulconer's political consultant, in a statement to Scott M. Reid of the Orange County Register. "They've misled the fans and our elected and civic leaders by saying they wanted to remain in San Diego when in fact they initiated the process of relocating to Los Angeles a year ago."

While the stadium efforts in St. Louis and San Diego near conclusion prior to the meeting of owners in August on the subject, Oakland is just now reviewing their first financial proposal courtesy of Floyd Kephart of The Renaissance Companies.

Kephart had until June 21 to provide a proposal to Oakland that includes no public money and closes a funding gap around $400 million. Per W. Scott Bailey of the San Antonio Business Journal, he's submitted his proposal, and the city, followed by the Raiders, will get a chance to review it.

This is where things will predictably fall apart. Back in April, things were going "backwards" in Oakland per Eric Grubman, the NFL's stadium point man, via Mike Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News. The odds that the Raiders are going to like this proposal are slim.  

The plan also should include something for the Oakland Athletics, but owner Lew Wolff told John Hickey of the San Jose Mercury News that he does not intend to coexist with the Raiders in Oakland:

There is no good way to put two brand-new venues at the Coliseum site. ... If the Raiders are going to be there, then I don't know what will happen. ... I don't want this fellow [Kephart] telling the A's what to do. ... We have no desire to compete with the Raiders for PSLs [personal seat licenses] and sponsors.

Raiders owner Mark Davis doesn't mind the idea of having both teams play at the site, but he doesn't want to play amid construction. Davis would rather the Raiders and A's vacate the site for a few years while two new stadiums are constructed concurrently.

Not only is Oakland behind, but the plan is massively more complicated because of the A's. Two teams, two stadiums, differing opinions and, most importantly, not enough public money to go around.

What’s Next?

Until the NFL decides what to do with Los Angeles in 2016, don't count on any stadium movement in St. Louis, San Diego or Oakland. The Chargers and Raiders are too invested in Carson to consider staying to pay more for lesser stadiums in lesser markets.

Without a stadium deal in any of the three markets soon, the NFL can't make all three teams happy. One or two teams will have to crawl back to their home markets or consider alternatives.

If the NFL chooses Carson, the Rams are stuck in St. Louis. Kroenke, who is one of the NFL's richest owners, would likely be unhappy. Not only that, but Los Angeles will also no longer be a threat in stadium negotiations with two teams in place.

Stan Kroenke (left) wants to build a stadium like Jerry Jones (right) did in Arlington.
Stan Kroenke (left) wants to build a stadium like Jerry Jones (right) did in Arlington.Scott Kane/Associated Press

If the NFL chooses Inglewood, the Rams get what they want—Los Angeles all to themselves for a year or two. The benefit to the NFL is that they still have Los Angeles as a threat against the cities of San Diego and Oakland.

This scenario buys San Diego enough time to do a proper EIR, repair relationships and have a public vote. If that doesn't work, they'd likely be first in line to join the Rams in Inglewood.

The Raiders are in a bit more precarious spot. They couldn't be the second team in Inglewood unless the Chargers get a new stadium in San Diego. Even then, the NFL might balk at having three teams in Southern California again, although it may be their only option at that point.

Jerry Jones (right) is one of Mark Davis' (left) biggest allies.
Jerry Jones (right) is one of Mark Davis' (left) biggest allies.Tony Avelar/Associated Press

They'd have to try again with the city of Oakland, the A's would still be standing in their way and the funding gap wouldn't get any smaller. Unless the NFL caves and helps the Raiders close the gap, the resolution could drag out.

Whatever the NFL does, don't expect the race to be over until each of the teams gets an acceptable solution. The NFL will keep pushing out the finish line until the teams get what they want, while making the situation seem more and more dire.