Does the LA City Council unanimous vote to proceed with a new stadium/convention center project spell doom for the NFL in San Diego?
LA Chargers? Don’t count on it. Not yet, anyway. Sure last week’s unanimous LA City Council vote to approve the outline for a mostly privately funded stadium concept in Downtown Los Angeles seems to spell doom for the San Diego Chargers, but I’m not buying it just yet.
AEG (owned by Phil Anschutz, the force behind the Staples Center and several other sports stadiums and arenas around the world, and owner of the Los Angeles Kings) has pledged the private funds necessary for the project, and the LA City Council has decided that it might just be a good idea to expand the LA Convention Center by adding an NFL stadium to it. Farmers Insurance has already signed on as the title sponsor of the stadium to the tune of $700 million. It would seem that the project has entered the realm of the inevitable; that it’s going to get done and in a hurry. But there are still some hurdles to clear.
First, they have to do an environmental impact study that won’t be cheap or quick. Then there’s the certainty of nuisance lawsuits that are sure to challenge the project. And oh yeah, AEG says they won’t even think about breaking ground until they have a tenant all lined up.
The Chargers seem like the most logical candidate to just about everyone. After all, San Diego is only a couple of hours down the freeway; Los Angeles is already considered part of the Chargers’ home territory for television purposes; they have a lease in San Diego that allows them to break it for a price between February 1 and April 30 every year until the lease’s conclusion in 2020; and it’s been well documented that the Chargers are on their own quest to build a shiny new stadium in San Diego, which doesn’t seem to be going all that well. It’s no wonder every major media outlet in LA has all but declared the race over, and that the Chargers will be heading north to Los Angeles.
But there’s a fly in that ointment: Anschutz and Co. wants a piece of the team…….a significant piece of the team, something the Spanos family is unlikely to grant. They may be willing to give up a non-controlling minority share of the Chargers, but that might not be good enough for the AEG group.
Enter another team that formerly called Los Angeles home. And no, it’s not the Raiders. As LA Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke points out, the Raiders are not welcome in LA and thus need not apply. No, I’m talking about the St. Louis Rams—formerly the Los Angeles Rams.
Follow me on this, because admittedly it’s a bit convoluted, but in my view it’s as likely a scenario as any: Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has been having some health issues over the last few years, and there are reports that he has essentially given up control of the team because of it. Bowlen has owned the team since 1984, and has been a fixture in Denver ever since. His heirs, however, have reportedly made it clear that they have no interest in owning and operating the team, bringing the team’s future somewhat into question.
Several hundred miles to the east are the St. Louis Rams. The Rams, as of a year ago, have a new owner in Stan Kroenke, who turned his minority stake in the team into a controlling majority share when Chip Rosenbloom decided to sell after his mother Georgia Frontiere’s death in 2008. Frontiere, by the way, was the owner that moved the Rams from Los Angeles in the first place.
It’s at this point where the scenario gets very interesting: Stan Kroenke is a Denver icon. He was the owner of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the Pepsi Center—the teams’ home arena—and is the founder of the Altitude Network, the local Denver area all-sports cable TV network that carries Avs and Nuggets games, among other events. Due to the NFL’s ban on cross-ownership of major sports teams, Kroenke was forced to divest his interests in both the Avs and Nuggets when he took control of the Rams, passing the teams on to his son. But Kroenke still lives in Denver, and is still very well received by Denverites (and Coloradoans everywhere). He commutes to St. Louis when Rams business requires his presence.
Should the health of Bowlen—the Broncos’ owner—take a downward turn–or worse–he or his estate would be forced to sell the team. Should this happen, look for Kroenke and Bowlen to take the not unprecedented step of swapping teams, moving Kroenke into the Captain’s chair in Denver, and putting the Rams once again up for sale.
The Rams could then be sold free and clear without any interference—Kroenke, as a minority owner with Frontiere, was contractually entitled to the first opportunity to purchase a controlling share of the Rams, which he did. But this time there would be no such impediments, freeing the franchise to be purchased in whole by AEG, the muscle behind the Downtown LA stadium push.
This is not the first time NFL owners have swapped teams. Ironically, the last time it happened also involved the Rams. In 1972, Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom traded franchises with Los Angeles Rams owner Robert Irsay (who later moved the Colts to Indianapolis).
The Rams brass is not happy with their stadium situation. The Edward Jones Dome was built in the mid-90’s to entice a team back to St. Louis. The Rams have a clause in their lease requiring that the Edward Jones Dome be rated in the 25% of NFL facilities by 2015, or the team can walk away.
But the Dome no longer measures up to the newer stadiums across the league that have cropped up over the last 15 years in their estimation, and they want some major renovations done (or a new stadium, but that’s not going to happen). The Rams’ current lease is up in 2014, and the city of St. Louis is amenable to making some improvements. But should the Anschutz group ultimately wind up as the team’s owners, it’s highly doubtful that any renovations or improvements would satisfy them. They would buy the team for the sole purpose of moving it back to Los Angeles.
Besides, Angelinos say their preference would be for the Rams to return to LA. Sucks for St. Louis to lose yet another NFL franchise, but it would be a big win for Los Angeles.
So don’t go looking for those moving vans outside of the Chargers’ Murphy Canyon training facility just yet, San Diego. The Chargers’ ain’t going anywhere…….at least not yet.