NFL owners had to act on LA now, and Kroenke had the goods


Barry Wilner

AP Pro Football Writer

Painted into a corner by their own doing, NFL owners came up with a semi-solution to the hole in their roster that was Los Angeles.

They didn’t have much choice this week but to arrive at some conclusion after openly coveting a return to L.A., virtually creating three lame-duck teams if they didn’t make a decision. In many ways, this answer revealed the sense of urgency.

No, there wasn’t an official deadline for a decision on whether any of the relocation submissions by the Rams, Chargers and Raiders needed to be approved.

But with the Super Bowl looming, and having dragged out the entire relocation process for so long, it came down to this week. Otherwise, the last thing the league wanted, a distraction from its 50th Super Bowl, was on the horizon.

So how did it come down to the Rams getting the OK to abandon St. Louis for a state-of-the-art facility their owner, Stan Kroenke, will build in Inglewood, California? Why were the Chargers left in a sort of limbo — don’t pack up the moving vans yet, guys? And why were the Raiders, who wanted to partner with their long-time rival Chargers on a Carson, California project, basically ignored?

“Stan lived by the old adage ‘no guts, no glory. He demonstrated a serious conviction with his Inglewood project,” said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based consulting firm, and a confidant of many owners.

“Stan did it first by getting control of the land and doing a deal. That he is a major developer and land owner, and the land was owned by Wal-Mart I suspect didn’t hurt.”

Kroenke is married to the daughter of Walmart co-founder Bud Walton.

“Then by partnering with Stockbridge, which owned the Hollywood Park site, and then putting together a project the owners felt had tremendous substance all along. The Carson project started well behind the Inglewood project.

“The combination of the financial resources, development experience and the extraordinary design and scope resulted in a project that was determined to be the best for the reintroduction of the NFL and the Rams to Los Angeles. The project itself and the financial commitment behind it was the difference.”

So much so that not even the recommendation of the Carson proposal by the NFL’s Los Angeles committee by a 5-1 vote wound up mattering.

A key for Kroenke’s plan was getting the more powerful owners on his side. He already had the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones in his corner, and, most significantly, Seattle’s Paul Allen encouraged the owners to choose the best project, then deal with all the other issues later.

The owners saw a few flaws in the Carson project — faults that could be fixed, but over a period of time — and almost none in the Inglewood complex.

“This was not a matter of Stan putting together a coalition,” Ganis said. “Or of Stan having great longevity in the league. It was not a matter of him being a Machiavellian genius.

“This was a matter of Stan putting together the kind of landmark project that many in the NFL feel is necessary for L.A. and for the future of the NFL in L.A., and it being supported with tremendous wealth.”

The backing of Allen for the selection process and Jones’ support of the Inglewood project were critical, but Kroenke needed the necessary 24 votes. That came rather quickly on Tuesday as many owners recognized how iconic his plan was.

For Chargers owner Dean Spanos, the approval of Inglewood was a blow to the gut. He had high hopes after the committee’s recommendation, and looked shell-shocked after the first vote, which was 20-12 for Inglewood — about the opposite of what Spanos expected.

That the NFL provided a one-year out for the Chargers — they can partner with the Rams or be a lessee in the Inglewood stadium — places the team in a sort of limbo.

Does it pursue once more a stadium in San Diego, especially with the extra $100 million the league is offering to help in that mission? Or does it shrug its shoulders and head north, not exactly as a step-child, but certainly not as the favored son in Los Angeles?

It’s a tricky situation because of the emotions involved.

As for the Raiders, they had been viewed by some as an albatross the Chargers needed to carry to have any chance of being the first choice for L.A.

For now, unless the Chargers decline the option to join the Rams in Inglewood and they take up the same option, the Raiders seem destined to remain where they are — which is where they have said they want to be.

“My guess is they try to do a deal in Oakland with the extra $100 million available from the league,” Ganis said.

“The Raiders have repeatedly said their preference was to stay in Oakland, but they need a viable stadium plan to do so. Perhaps the extra $100 million can help make that happen with a smaller, more modest stadium without some of the more expensive features that would be needed in an L.A. stadium.”

What is most certain about the L.A. scenarios is that Kroenke is the big winner, and St. Louis the big loser.

Barry Wilner

AP Pro Football Writer

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