Stan Kroenke plans NFL stadium in Los Angeles. Will he really move the Rams?

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke has plans to build an 80,000-seat stadium near Los Angeles, fueling speculation that the NFL may be returning to the area after two decades. But could the plans be merely a negotiating tactic to get the Rams a new stadium in St. Louis? 

Tom Gannam/AP/File
St. Louis Rams team owner Stan Kroenke speaks at the press conference in St. Louis. Kroenke has plans to build an NFL stadium in Los Angeles County, boosting the chances that pro football could return to the region.

For sports franchises, Los Angeles is among the nation’s most coveted markets – it’s huge, to start, and all that warm weather and proximity to Hollywood make it an attractive landing spot for superstar athletes. Still, the nation’s second-largest media market has gone two decades without a representative in America's most popular sport, the NFL. But that may change, and soon.

Stan Kroenke, the owner of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams, has plans to build an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. For the project, Mr. Kroenke has partnered with Stockbridge Capital Group, which owns the nearly 300-acre Hollywood Park lot that will be the site of the stadium. The space has already been approved for a large retail, office, and residential complex; with Kroenke’s involvement, the stadium and a 6,000-seat music performance venue would be added on. 

For many, news of the deal, and the stadium plans, were hardly a surprise. Kroenke, bought 60 acres adjacent to the Hollywood Park lot a year ago, and rumblings of the NFL’s move back to Los Angeles have been percolating practically since the Rams and the Raiders (now in Oakland) left town in 1994. According to the LA Times, Kroenke’s plans are just the latest in a series of proposals to bring an NFL stadium back to LA over the years, but Kroenke’s is the first to involve a piece of land big enough for both a stadium and parking.

He also has an NFL team, and one in a small media market (St. Louis) that is unhappy with its outdated stadium. The Rams have 10 years left on the lease in their current home, the Edward Jones Dome, but they can choose this month to convert it to a year-to-year lease, which would seem to clear the way for a move westward.

Still, no one is selling LA Rams t-shirts just yet. The NFL said in a statement Monday that no team had applied for a relocation for 2015, so 2016 would be the earliest a franchise could theoretically kick off in Los Angeles. Other small market teams in aging stadiums, including the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders (both of which played previously in Los Angeles) have also been touted as possibilities for relocation. What’s more, not having an LA franchise has been an effective negotiating tool for the NFL for the last two decades – teams in other cities looking to get public money for a new stadium or renovations can threaten to relocate.

But valuable as Los Angeles has been to the NFL without an NFL team, it would be undeniably valuable with one, too. FiveThirtyEight estimates that 3.7 million NFL fans are up for grabs in the area, and fan interest is comparable to cities that actually have teams. What’s more, an NFL base in the area could be useful (and profitable) to the league beyond the team itself. “Kind of an NFL hub is what they’d like it to be,” Nick Wagoner, an ESPN reporter covering the Rams, said on the network Monday afternoon. “NFL Network would be there, would be there, and they could move all of their developments up from Culver City to Inglewood …Super Bowls could be hosted there…I think that’s what they would envision.”

Still, given the history of false starts for NFL franchises coming back to the city, many are skeptical that a move will actually get done, and that this isn’t part of Kroenke’s plan to get more money from St. Louis and the state of Missouri for a new stadium deal. Indeed, Missouri governor Jay Nixon and St. Louis business leaders are  reportedly readying plans to pitch Kroenke a new stadium for the Rams. “Show us the football. Show us that an existing NFL team will actually jump through all the flaming hoops to move here,” LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote Monday.

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