Return of the L.A. Rams?


Talk of Fame Network

by Ron Borges

America's No. 1 sport may be close to returning to America's No. 2 city but not without a Battle of the Billionaires twist. Isn't that L.A. special?

St. Louis Rams' owner Stan Kroenke has joined forces with the owners of the 238 acres that once constituted Hollywood Park Race Track, with the intention of building an 80,000-seat football stadium ready for business in 2018. Kroenke added a 60-acre parcel he owns adjacent to Hollywood Park to create a footprint big enough to add a stadium to already approved development plans.

What gives this legs -- where so many other L.A. stadium proposals have failed since the Rams and Raiders left southern California following the 1994 season -- is that it's the first time in 20 years an existing NFL owner controlled enough acreage to build a stadium near LA, while also having the ability to get out of his present lease at any time.

Kroenke is expected to convert the Rams' lease at Edward Jones Dome to a year-to-year agreement later this month, and if the team and the city fail to come to an agreement to build a new stadium, he would be free to return the Rams to the city that was their home from 1946 to 1994. While St. Louis mayor Francis Slay said his goal would be to keep the team, he also insisted the city will not engage in a bidding war. If true, the Rams' theme song will not be "See you in St. Looie, Louie.''

Jeff Rainford, Slay's spokesman, said Monday the mayor believes, "A National Football League franchise does have value, and we should want one, but let's use some common sense. The parameters are not a blank check."

If Slay is counting on common sense to prevail, he doesn't know much about professional sports or the history of franchise transfers.

The governor of the state, Jay Nixon, said he would do all he could to convince Kroenke to keep the team in St. Louis, relying on the NFL's relocation rules that stipulate a team must bargain "in good faith" and "exhaust all options'' with its current city before a move would be considered for approval. Good luck with that, bro.

"St. Louis is an NFL city, and I am committed to keeping it that way," Nixon said in a written statement.

It may be, but so was L.A., and it hasn't had a team in 20 years. So let's get real. If any league is picking between a team in St. Louis and one in Los Angeles ... what's to pick?

Nixon has created a two-man committee to come up with a new stadium plan by the end of the week, but what plan would top owning your own stadium in the entertainment capital of the country if it doesn't involve municipal blackmail? Isn't that how St. Louis got the team in the first place?

Meanwhile, the developers of Hollywood Park claim they will build the stadium "on spec,'' which means without a committed NFL tenant. If you believe that, you're more naive than the Governor. If the hole gets dug, you can bet the developers will have a team or two on the hook.

What makes this chapter in the L.A. story particularly compelling is that not only are three teams - the Rams, Raiders and Chargers - all in the hunt for new stadiums and free to walk away from their present leases, but only two can end up in L.A. Unless, of course, L.A. ends up with two new stadiums.

Say, what?

How could L.A. go from no stadium solution to two? The old fashioned way: dueling billionaires.

Stan Kroenke is allegedly the second richest owner in the NFL. If he's really third, who's counting? Either way he's got the deep pockets to do this, but so does an old rival of his who also lives in Denver, where Kroenke owns the NHL's Avalanche, NBA's Nuggets, MLS' Rapids and the NLL's Mammoth, as well as the Rams. That guy is Phil Aushutz, who controls one of the biggest sports and entertainment companies in the world, AEG; has himself been trying to build a stadium in downtown LA called Farmers Field; and has the LA Convention Center folks behind him.

So not only do we have a good chance the NFL returns to LA in 2016; we also have a case of BBSB. What's a better twist in this than Battling Billionaire Stadium Builders fighting to control the nation's second-largest city's pro football future?

Which rich guy ends up building a stadium big enough to land a team remains to be seen, but don't bet against the guy who already has a team...and a get-out-of-St. Louis-free card in his pocket.