St. Louis Rams Coach Jeff Fisher talks with the team's owner Stan Kroenke… (Michael Thomas / Getty Images )
NEW YORK — While Seattle and Denver were gearing up for Super Bowl XLVIII last week, the owner of the St. Louis Rams was making some dramatic news on the other side of the country.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke quietly purchased 60 acres of parking lot between the Hollywood Park Racetrack and the Forum, land that could be used for an NFL stadium.
Kroenke, a billionaire, has been unsuccessful so far in hammering out a deal to stay in St. Louis, so it raised a lot of eyebrows when he made this move. There have been a lot of false starts on the L.A. front since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season, but this is the first time a relocation-minded team owner has purchased a piece of L.A. land that could accommodate a stadium.
Although 60 acres probably isn't enough for a stadium and the required parking, there is additional land to be had in that area, and Kroenke has the wherewithal to acquire it if he wants.
So what does this all mean?
Putting some of the puzzle pieces together by answering some pertinent questions:
Does this mean the Rams are moving back to Los Angeles?
Not necessarily, but it's a significant step in that direction — and one that could smoke out other relocation-minded NFL teams and/or site developers.
How might other teams be involved?
If you are looking for a way out of your current market — and L.A. has long been the most logical move — you don't want to be in second place. So, for instance, if you own the San Diego Chargers or Oakland Raiders, this purchase by Kroenke got your attention in a big way. What the NFL hopes is the transaction also got the attention of your current city.
What's notable about this land purchase?
The NFL was thoroughly apprised of it. An owner doesn't have to tell the NFL if, say, he's buying a house in L.A., or even land for a business. But if he has a stadium in mind, he's got to keep the league informed. That's what the Rams owner did when he made the purchase through the Kroenke Organization.
How could this also be a game changer for other teams?
This could cause other clubs to consider more possibilities than they might have considered before. If you're the first team to take a step toward L.A., you're looking for perfection. You want the vision that's in your head. But if someone else is the first mover, and you're just sitting there … well, maybe something you initially thought was absolutely essential maybe isn't so essential after all.
For instance, maybe you thought an L.A. site would have to include land for 22,000 parking spaces. Maybe now you can live with 18,000. Perhaps deals that were close but not quite good enough are starting to look better by the day.
When owners start thinking that way, deals tend to get done.
So who are the most likely candidates to move to the L.A. area, besides the Rams?
The usual suspects: the Chargers and Raiders. The Chargers can get out of their Qualcomm Stadium lease each year, and the city of San Diego can't sue them for leaving. That's a powerful trump card. The Chargers are also highly motivated to not have another team roll into L.A. and leave them in the shadows (with diminished leverage for getting a new stadium in San Diego.).
As for the Raiders, yes, they left a sour taste in everyone's mouth during their last L.A. go-round. But by the league's thinking, there are three ways to effectively rebrand a franchise: 1) new city, 2) new stadium, and/or 3) new owner. A move of the Raiders could have all three, even if it means Mark Davis doesn't sell his piece of the team but brings in a savvy new controlling owner.
Rebranding the Raiders might not have to be as dramatic as changing them from the Hell's Angels to the Pirates of the Caribbean. It might be more like what happened with the Seattle Seahawks when Paul Allen bought them and moved them into a dazzling new stadium. They went from a forgotten, wobbly franchise to the envy of the league, and now Super Bowl champions.
Why wouldn't Kroenke announce his intention to leave St. Louis and return to the L.A. area, then start building a stadium next to Hollywood Park?
It's far more complicated than that. First, he can't get out of his Edward Jones Dome lease until March 2015, so he'd be guaranteed a lame-duck season with maybe 10,000 fans in the seats for home games next season. He doesn't want that, the NFL doesn't want that, and of course loyal fans in St. Louis don't want that. That happened in Houston and Cleveland before those teams left, and it was a disaster.
But there's much more to it. Nobody in the NFL is going to give a fellow owner an open lane to L.A. Nobody gets a free layup. For a team to move, the owner needs approval from a three-quarters majority of fellow NFL owners. That's 24 of 32 votes. Put another way, if nine owners say no, the deal won't be approved.
But can't an owner move on his own, without approval of the league? Al Davis moved the Raiders that way.