Several days before Inglewood city officials announced that they had more than enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative to approve a new football stadium in the city, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon stood before a bank of microphones in St. Louis. Nixon made it clear that state and city officials would do whatever it takes to keep the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis.
Nixon held his press conference at the site of the proposed new Rams stadium. It was more than just a press conference to tout a proposed new stadium.
He, and by extension, Missouri and St. Louis officials and business interests there were laying down the gauntlet to Inglewood and Southern California. It is the start of a high stakes turf war that has far-reaching implications for St. Louis, Inglewood, Los Angeles and the NFL.
In years past, various NFL owners have dangled the prospect of moving their teams to Los Angeles if — and this was always the big if — state and city officials didn’t figuratively play ball with them. This meant giving the owners a goodie basket of taxpayer-greased concessions from the construction of a new stadium down to paying for the cup holders in the plush leather seats in the luxury boxes and sections.
In every case, the threat to move to L.A. worked magnificently. The billionaire owners got everything they wanted, and in some cases even stuff they didn’t ask for. The reason was simple.
City and state officials were scared stiff that if an owner actually followed through on his threat to move the team to L.A. it would result in dried-up tax revenues, the loss of thousands of jobs and the collapse of dozens of businesses dependent on the largesse of NFL teams.
L.A. has been the ace in the hole card that NFL owners have held tightly in their hip pocket to get mammoth financial and tax benefits and payoffs if they didn’t get what they wanted. In every case, L.A. has been the willing pawn in this bait and switch game by the NFL.
The big question this time is will things be different? At first glance, it seems so.
Rams owner, Stan Kroenke has repeatedly declared he wants to move to move the Rams to L.A. He’s purchased land for a new stadium. He’s dumped tens of thousands into the campaign coffers of Inglewood officials.
Inglewood officials have collected thousands of signatures for a ballot initiative in support of a new stadium. And, almost certainly, the initiative when placed on the ballot, if city officials first don’t unilaterally declare the proposal good to go, will get overwhelming approval from voters. So what could go wrong? In a word, plenty.
Nixon and Missouri and St. Louis officials and business interests have plopped on the table a basket of concessions that include a state-of-the-art domed riverfront stadium. Though they claim that they want the Rams and the NFL to pony up millions for construction, in crunch time, the odds are that they will back pedal quickly from that demand.
Then there’s the NFL. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sternly reminded the owners that no NFL team can unilaterally move a team without the approval of NFL owners. The NFL hasn’t had to put that to the test because no NFL team has been even remotely in such a disastrous financial bind that they’d have to make a forced move.
The rules say that a move requires multiple approval from NFL ownership, which can only be granted by a yes vote by three-fourths of the clubs. Those decisions include selection of a stadium site; approval of stadium lease and financing arrangements; and debt ceiling and sharing waivers (if needed); relocation consent and terms; and Super Bowl awards.
Now it’s true that the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, made prior owner approval for a team’s move null and void when he sued and the courts upheld his right to do whatever he wanted with his team. But forgotten in this is that Davis moved back to L.A. in large part because he couldn’t get the stadium deal he wanted from Oakland city officials and when he got it, he moved back.
In Davis’s case, and that of every other NFL owner, it still comes down to the bottom line which is always measured by how sweet a stadium construction or renovation deal they can get on the taxpayers’ dime.
That’s the huge red flag about Inglewood. Kroenke bought the land. But a stadium is an entirely different matter. That is where the taxpayers’ dime comes in. NFL officials have had continuous meetings with Ram and Missouri and St. Louis officials, and their Stadium Task Force team to discuss development and building terms for the projected St. Louis stadium.
A good part of the discussions have centered on just how much will be forthcoming from the public purse. If officials make the deal juicy enough, which means stadium construction at little financial cost to the Rams, then the future of an Inglewood stadium becomes even more clouded. Either way, the question still dangles: Will the NFL really come to Inglewood?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author, political analyst and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is also the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson.