HOUSTON — The NFL made its long-awaited return to Los Angeles Tuesday after an absence of more than two decades. Owners of the teams voted to allow the Rams to move from St. Louis to Inglewood, Calif., and gave the Chargers the option to join them there by relocating from San Diego.
“I said this morning that we’ve been at this for over 20 years,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at an owners’ meeting at a Houston hotel that originally was scheduled to last into Wednesday. “We felt that we needed to have the kind of stadium, the kind of project, that had vision, that had the facilities that would really bring a new kind of fan experience to the NFL and to Los Angeles.”
The Rams are expected to play their home games next season at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum while the Inglewood stadium, estimated to cost around $2 billion and scheduled to open in 2019, is under construction.
The Chargers were given a one-year option to join the Rams in Inglewood if they choose. The Raiders, who also had applied to relocate to Los Angeles, remain in Oakland. They would inherit the one-year option to move to Inglewood if the Chargers decline theirs.
“We’re excited that we got something done,” Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II said. “It was time to get a franchise back to Los Angeles. And it was time we got this situation resolved and get a program in place for the other communities to continue to work to keep their franchise. It’s been a long, difficult process.”
Owners and league leaders were eager to return to the nation’s entertainment capital and are convinced the time is right for the NFL to be back in Los Angeles, which had been without a franchise since the Rams and Raiders left town following the 1994 season. The owners approved the measures by a 30-2 vote. At least 24 votes were needed for ratification.
“I think it’s a very important day,” New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said.
It took some maneuvering for the league to craft a final solution that was a compromise between competing stadium proposals. The Chargers had teamed with the Raiders to propose a stadium project in Carson, Calif., that had the backing of some owners and included a role for Robert Iger, the chairman and chief executive officer of Disney. The owners’ L.A. committee recommended the Carson proposal to the entire ownership group earlier Tuesday.
There was sentiment among some owners, however, that the Inglewood stadium project proposed by Rams owner Stan Kroenke was superior, with a palatial stadium included in a nearly 300 acre development with shopping, entertainment and housing components.
That led to a push to work out issues between Kroenke and Dean Spanos, the chairman of the Chargers, for the two franchises to partner on the Inglewood project. The Chargers were said by people within the sport to have the strongest support from the owners among the three teams that applied for relocation.
The Inglewood project received 20 votes on the owners’ initial ballot. That led the Raiders eventually to step aside while the league focused on a Rams-Chargers pairing in Inglewood.
“This is not a win for the Raiders. … At the same time I’m really happy for Stan Kroenke and the Rams going to Inglewood. … We’ll see where the Raider Nation ends up here,” Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “We’ll be working really hard to find us a home. That’s what we’re looking for, for our fans and everything else. Don’t feel bad. We’ll get it right.”
The Raiders previously have explored the possibility of moving to San Antonio and possibly could have the now-vacant St. Louis market as an additional suitor.
“In some ways [it’s] a bittersweet moment because we were unsuccessful at being able to get the kind of facilities we wanted to get done in their home markets,” Goodell said. “So the excitement that we feel about being able to return the Rams to Los Angeles is balanced with the disappointment that we weren’t able to get it done in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland. But we’ll continue to try in those markets and we’ll continue to try to address those issues.”
The move to Inglewood is to cost the Rams a reported $550 million relocation fee. The Chargers or Raiders would have to pay the same fee if they end up moving to Los Angeles.
The Raiders are to receive $100 million toward a new stadium, and the Chargers would receive an identical amount if they stay in San Diego and get a new stadium there.
“I’m going to take a day off tomorrow, I think,” Spanos said. “This has really been excruciating for everyone. But I’m going to look at all our options. I want to take a little bit of time here. We do have some options. It’s very difficult to say right now I’m going to do this or do that.”
Kroenke said he is offering any team that would share the Inglewood facility the choice to have a partnership in the stadium or opt for a lease agreement.
“This is the hardest undertaking that I’ve faced in my professional career. … You do not want to come into Los Angeles without something that’s really first-class because that’s what’s expected,” Kroenke said.
There have been reports that the personal relationship between Spanos and Kroenke is not close. And when the Rams previously left open the possibility of adding another team as a partner in the Inglewood project, the proposed terms were not for an equal partnership. According to reports, the Rams’ previous proposal was for a second team to share construction costs and stadium revenues without having a say in the stadium design or sharing revenues generated by the project’s surrounding retail, entertainment and housing elements.
Kroenke faced sharp questioning during the news conference that followed Tuesday’s meeting about his decision to leave St. Louis.
“It is a difficult process and, as Roger said, it is bittersweet,” Kroenke said. “We understand the emotions involved for fans. And it’s not easy to do these things. They are purposefully made hard. But we’re here today. We made a decision and we looked long and hard at the various alternatives. When they didn’t succeed, we worked this one to this point. We’re excited.”