The NFL returned to Los Angeles with a preseason game last week between the newly relocated L.A. Rams hosting the Dallas Cowboys in front of almost 90,000 fans at the L.A. Coliseum. The Rams, who had called Southern California home for decades before moving to St. Louis in the mid ‘90s, only to return again to Los Angeles in a landmark decision by the NFL owners committee in February.
The Rams once played at the Coliseum, so the game had a retro feel, almost like a “back to the future” kind of vibe to it, and the team showed that they have some growing to do in order to get themselves back into a contender in the NFC. The top overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Rams quarterback Jared Goff, looked shaky and inconsistent at points. The offense features a future star in the league at running back, Todd Gurley, and the defense is young but talented.
The on-field issues for the Rams are only one piece of the equation, the bigger picture is the importance of Los Angeles to the future of three franchises: the San Diego Chargers, the Oakland Raiders, and the before mentioned Rams. The vote that landed the Rams back in L.A. and approved the plan by Rams ownership to build a gigantic stadium and other development in Inglewood has some important caveats to it.
The Chargers have the right of first refusal, essentially as part of the NFL vote, they have two separate one year options on relocation to L.A. if they cannot come to an agreement with the authorities involved in San Diego to remain in that market. The Chargers exercised their first of the two options by choosing to remain in San Diego for the 2016 football season.
The stadium proposal for the Chargers, which I covered in previous articles, centers on a waterfront facility that will adjoin an expanded convention center space for the city. The voters in San Diego will ultimately decide the fate of the team with a referendum ballot initiative on Election Day in November. The measure will decide if the public funding portion of the project, which will be obtained through tax increases on tourism and hotels, will be approved by the citizens. In the event that the measure fails, I think the Chargers will move to Los Angeles and join the Rams in the Inglewood stadium.
Conversely, an approved vote by the required majority in San Diego would make for an interesting scenario because the Chargers would remain in San Diego. This would open the door for the Raiders to potentially move to Los Angeles under the terms of the agreement in the NFL owners vote regarding the return of the league to that market.
The report I saw from Mike Florio on NBC Sports was very interesting regarding the future of the NFL in L.A. in that the sources he consulted stated that the Rams would be very reluctant to have the Raiders join them in that market. The prevailing theory being that the Raiders (who also once called L.A. their home) would quickly become more popular than the Rams in Los Angeles.
The survey data seems to indicate that the L.A. market would have a more lukewarm reception for the Chargers in that market, and the Rams would be the more popular team in that scenario. The Raiders were enormously popular in L.A. when they played there, particularly in the ‘90s when the Silver & Black represented a greater societal symbolism with the movement towards the hip hop cultural revolution at that time which fostered an ESPN films production.
The Raiders have been working on several different fronts to find a new long term stadium solution to improve their revenue streams in order to stay competitive in the modern NFL landscape. The team has been working with Oakland on a new stadium for years, it has considered a relocation to San Antonio (that could be leverage for Oakland to make a deal), and the most recent scenario involves a potential deal with Las Vegas to relocate to the desert.
The other potential option for the future of the Raiders could be a move to L.A., but that would be put on the table as an option only after the Chargers exhaust their two optional years, which would mean 2018 at the earliest for a relocation to their former home in Southern California. That could still potentially happen if they do not reach an agreement with Oakland on a stadium deal in the interim.
In my view, as I have covered this topic and the NFL and their race to return to L.A. for years now, the Raiders situation is a mess and it will remain complicated for a while until it gains eventual resolution. The team ownership, notably principal owner Mark Davis, spins the line that the Raiders have many options as far as where they will eventually call home.
Back to Reality
However, in reality, he still has to get that relocation approved by the NFL and the full body of owners. Some pundits who like to “stir the pot” will say that Davis does not need NFL approval to move the team, that if he has a break in the lease in Oakland, he can move the team anywhere. While this may be true in theory, the fact is that if Davis wants to tap into the money that the NFL would provide toward the construction of a new stadium in a different market (usually in the area of $100 million) then he would need the approval of the NFL to relocate the franchise.
Some fans may recall that when the NFL announced that the Rams were going to be moving into Los Angeles, the league provided an incentive, which amounts to a consolation prize to the Raiders and Chargers. That incentive is to provide an additional $100 million (for a total of $200 million) to both teams if they could get a new stadium deal done in their current home markets of Oakland and San Diego respectively.
It is this incentive where I feel that both teams will eventually make something work in their home markets. In the San Diego scenario, the waterfront proposal has to pass in the November referendum. In the case of the Raiders and Oakland, I do not believe that they are going to Las Vegas especially now that the powers that be in that scenario have already changed the agreement.
The original Las Vegas proposal was for a 65,000 seat domed stadium to be built near The Strip to be shared between the NFL team (in this case the Raiders) and the UNLV football team. The proposed site development plan totaled $1 billion for the stadium and the city was willing to pay close to half of that amount. Mark Davis and the Raiders were going to get $100 million from the NFL to offset his end of the financing.
In the months that followed, Las Vegas got awarded an expansion NHL hockey franchise. Some feel that this recognition of finally getting a seat at the table at one of The Big Four sports leagues led the politicians there to change their tune about the NFL stadium proposal. The public financing end of that proposal went down sharply from the initial $500 million they were willing to absorb. The site that was identified has some other issues with it (which I will not detail further) and so now the proposal has expanded to nine different sites for a potential football stadium. These developments, on balance, make it seem that Las Vegas is less serious about spending public money to get the NFL to come to them, and that was the entire reason why Mark Davis was even entertaining the notion in the first place.
Gambling on the Desert
I thought that the Vegas option was waning but today I read two different reports: one that has the Raiders applying for trademarks around the name “Las Vegas Raiders”, and another that stated that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is looking to block the Raiders progress in Vegas because he prefers the team to remain in Oakland. This could get very sticky, very quickly. It is no secret that Goodell prefers that most teams stay in their current markets and the Bay Area is an important strategic region for the league. The issue of Las Vegas and gambling brings a whole other level of concern I think that the NFL is not willing to publicly recognize, but it is palpable internally within the league office at this point.
The San Antonio option for the Raiders, in my view and it is shared by others with knowledge of this situation, is that it is a ploy for leverage for Davis to get a stadium done in Oakland. I understand that Davis owns quite a bit of land there but the other issue to consider is the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans would vote against that relocation. The owners of those two teams, Jerry Jones and Bob McNair, are both very powerful NFL owners that would get their other friends on the ownership panel to reject this potential move. Those two teams would be reluctant to have another competitor move into their region. The San Antonio option seems unlikely as well.
That leaves the Raiders probably staying in Oakland because they have the most incentive to do so ($200 million from the NFL towards stadium development) and the history of the franchise is tied to that market. The NFL would like to keep two teams in the Bay Area if possible, so I think every effort will be exhausted toward getting a stadium deal done. The issues with Oakland are that the public appetite toward funding a stadium with tax dollars is very unpopular.
The secondary issue is the land for a stadium is limited as far as the number of suitable sites that could be developed in a reasonable amount of time. Mark Davis has floated a proposal in the past for a very intimate new stadium around 50,000 seats but he prefers the current site where the team plays at Oakland Coliseum.
The problem with the Coliseum site development is that the A’s play baseball there from April through October, so it leaves very little time to do construction at the site without conflicting with the A’s and their 82 games played on that site each season. The A’s, for their part, have signed a lease extension to stay in Oakland, but have been trying to move to San Jose for years. The San Francisco Giants have the territorial rights to San Jose and have blocked the A’s from moving there.
The Raiders were hopeful that the A’s would move across the Bay to San Jose because it would clear the path for them to build a stadium on land adjacent to the Coliseum on a faster timetable. The presence of the A’s on that site provides another hurdle to the project, but in the end, I think the Raiders will get a deal done to stay in Oakland.
The fate of the Rams is also tied to these other two teams, even though the Rams got the coveted first shot at the NFL reboot in Los Angeles. The Rams will have the inside track on all of the top corporate sponsorships and marketing opportunities. However, if they have to eventually share the market with another team that will impact them over the long term. The difference comes with which team they could potentially have to share the market with in Los Angeles.
The infamous “polls” that Rams owner Stan Kroenke cited from Twitter that allegedly displayed that the residents in the L.A. area favored the Rams over the Chargers in terms of popularity were part of the pitch that landed his team in Los Angeles. The Chargers would not be nearly as popular, according to other industry studies, as the Raiders would be in L.A. which was part of NBC Sports and Mike Florio’s excellent reporting on this situation.
A relocation of the Raiders to Los Angeles in the future would have a significant impact on the Rams and their presence in the market from a marketing and fan base development perspective. The obvious best case scenario for the Rams would be if the Raiders and Chargers both stayed out of the L.A. market for the long term. In the interim they will look to reap the benefits of being the first entry for the NFL into that huge untapped area which is the second largest media market in the US. They will also open their new stadium in Inglewood in a few years which will provide the NFL with a glitzy destination for the NFL Draft Combine, the Super Bowl, and other large scale league wide meetings.
The Olympic fever that just gripped the whole country will also benefit the future bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics where the US Olympic Committee is looking for the Rams Inglewood stadium to be the landmark centerpiece to a bid to get the Olympic Games back on US soil.
In the end, the Rams may be just beginning their new quest to rebrand themselves as “the team” in Los Angeles, but the team and the NFL still has unsettled business with the Chargers and Raiders. The fate of all three of these franchises are tied to L.A. and it remains to be seen how the political and financial forces at play will decide the chain of events regarding the future of the sport that America loves in San Diego and Oakland respectively. The next few months will provide some clarity, but for now, it is still anyone’s guess how it will be decided, and the fans of the three teams hang in the balance.