St. Louis Rams Ready To Move To LA. London Franchise To Follow Soon?

The St. Louis Rams could be ready to move to LA, as owner Stan Kroenke prepares to break ground on a new stadium in the city. The development would enable a franchise in Los Angeles as early as 2016, leaving London as the sole remaining NFL target city without a franchise.

City of Champions Rendedering, from developers HKS Inc.

City of Champions Rendering from developers HKS Inc.

Los Angeles has moved one step closer to having an NFL franchise, as Arsenal’s primary shareholder Stan Kroenke announced plans to begin work on the parcel of land he acquired in Inglewood, California, just outside LA. Kroenke, who owns the St. Louis Rams acquired the land, which is adjacent to the former Hollywood Park Racetrack, and nearby to The Forum, former home of the LA Lakers in the NBA and LA Kings of the NHL in 2013, and has been looking for a way to use it ever since.

The development, christened City of Champions, will include an 80,000 seat NFL ready football stadium, as well as an entertainment district, retail areas, hotels and business office space and an additional new high-capacity performance venue.

Kroenke aquired a 60 acre parcel of land, adjacent to the former racetrack, but this was initially considered too small for an NFL stadium, given the parking and infrastructure requirements such a project usually requires. However, The Kroenke Group (TKG) has entered into a partnership with Stockbridge Capital—which owns the former 238 acre Hollywood Park Racetrack—to jointly develop the nearly 300 acre combined plot, which will give them more than enough space to meet the parking and other needs. The plans for both parcels have been reconfigured to utilise the new larger  plot, and to meet both groups needs, and previous plans and commitments.

The stadium development is likely set to go ahead whether the Rams are the ultimate tenant or not—TKG are real estate developers, and property is how Kroenke made his fortune. Both the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers are reportedly interested in a move back to LA as well, so TKG could conceivably lease the stadium to any one of these interested parties, or indeed, an expansion franchise.

However, the Rams are by far the most likely tenants.

Kroenke has been involved in a protracted battle with the city of St. Louis over the redevelopment of the Edward Jones Dome. The 30 year lease that The Rams signed with the city require that the stadium be ranked as one of the top 8 in the league by 2015. If not, the Rams are free to unilaterally break their lease with the city early and relocate, or else move to a short term, year-by-year lease—which they are currently expected to do.

The stadium is currently ranked as the 7th worst in the league, and the $124 million redevelopment plan proposed by the city—of which the Rams would be required to fund $64 million—remains a long way from the $700 million investment that Kroenke believes will be required to bring the stadium up to scratch.

St. Louis have expressed their strong desire to keep the Rams in the city, and still believe a modest improvement budget is all that would be required to meet their commitments. They are hopeful that they can agree to a working plan within the coming weeks.

NFL Rules require a team to negotiate with their current home city “in good faith”, and exhaust all options before the league will authorise a move. The city of St. Louis, and state of Missouri do not believe that all options have been exhausted yet, and are working with former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock and attorney Bob Blitz to draw up a final plan to keep the team there. There is also speculation that TKG’s development of the Inglewood site could be a sign of bad faith negotiation, though Kroenke does not appear particularly concerned by this.

However, the city are also insistent that they will not be drawn into a bidding war, and is not willing to keep the team in the city at any cost. They still have no interest at all in helping fund Kroenke’s $700 million rebuilding plan.

The NFL have confirmed that no move will be authorised for the 2015 season, likely because they do not feel that any team has exhausted all options with their current cities yet. This means the Rams will be required to play at least one more season at the Edward Jones Dome before applying to move in January 2016. However Kroenke has previously indicated that he may move the team with, or without, league approval.

The team could conceivably relocate to LA for the 2016 season, playing at the Rose Bowl or LA Memorial Colosseum in the short-term while the new stadium is completed—which would likely not be until the 2018 season.

With LA likely to have an NFL franchise in the city within a few short years, only London remains a high-profile target without a permanent franchise.

The league have made no secret about their desire to have a permanent team in England’s capital, and the FA have expressed their wish to have a permanent tenant at the stadium, following recent low attendance for International games. Wembely is designed as a “neutral” stadium for league cup and title games, making it impossible to be the permanent home of any English soccer team. It is also designated as the home of the English national squad.

But the redevelopment costs are a long way from being recouped, and without regular events at the stadium, and until that happens, the English national squad are unable to tour the country for profitable and high-profile international matches at other stadiums. An NFL team playing 8 games a year would go a long way to recouping these costs much more quickly—some estimates suggest that a franchise would be a £100 million boon to the British economy, with a huge portion of that being ticket revenues—without compromising being “neutral” for soccer matches.

Any of the teams currently considering a move to LA—the Rams, Raiders, or Chargers— could find their home in London, once LA is off the table, as well as the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have committed to making London their home for one game per season until at least 2016. Indeed, Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn, who also owns Championship side Fulham FC, has admitted that the partnership could extend beyond this, if there is not a permanent team in London by then.

Internally, the NFL seem to have set 2021 as the cut-off date for getting a team to London, though the right set of circumstances could see a team in the capital much sooner, especially once LA is off the table for any other team looking for a move.

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