The St. Louis Rams are no more. The L.A. Rams are back.
In a 30-2 vote, the league owners approved Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium plans, voting against the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders joint Carson stadium. The Chargers will also be allowed to move to L.A. in the next 12 months, but only as a partner in, or tenant of the Inglewood site, something Chargers owner Dean Spanos had previously ruled out. If the Chargers do not exercise this option in 2016, the Raiders will have the option to do so in 2017, assuming they have not found a new home sooner.
Both the Chargers and Raiders also have the option of a $100 million “aid package” to help sweeten the pot, if they remain in their current markets. Cost sharing for stadium upgrades in both Oakland and San Diego were a major sticking point for both teams, but a $100 million injection from the league may be enough to kick-start the upgrade process once more.
Many British fans had hoped that the joint Chargers-Raiders plan would be the preferred option as Rams owner Stan Kroenke is also the largest single shareholder in Arsenal F.C., and knows the London sports market well. Kroenke was also the most resolute of all the owners that remaining in their current market was not an option. The Rams has also previously expressed an interest in playing in London—the Rams were initially slated to play one regular game per season, as the Jacksonville Jaguars currently do, after playing in 2012, and had signed an agreement to play home games in London in 2016 and 2017, which many considered a sign that London was Kroenke’s “fallback” plan should the L.A. move fall through.
Neither the Chargers or Raiders had previously expressed an interest in relocating to the UK, and with the Jacksonville Jaguars recent run of form, many in northern Florida are getting behind the team, making their relocation that much more difficult too.
Following the announcement of the Rams move, Spanos seemed resigned to the fact that his team would either join the Rams in Inglewood or remain in San Diego. He stated that he would “explore these options” and determine what is best for the team. A move outside of these markets was not given any consideration.
The Raiders owner Mark Davis, however, was far less pragmatic, refusing to close any doors. He made no commitment to Oakland and explicitly stated that “we’ll be working really hard to find us a home”, reiterating that their current location isn’t viewed by the Raiders owners as a permanent solution. He later told NFL Network that “America, the world, is an option for the Raider Nation”. He was specifically asked about remaining in Oakland, moving to San Diego, or San Antonio, but made the comments about “the world” unprompted, clearly indicating that he had at least considered a London move in the past.
The Raiders have always had a strong identity, and large draw outside of their home market, especially in the UK, where many fans were first weaned on football during one of the Raiders most periods during the early-to-mid-1980’s.
It is well known that the Raiders currently do not have a lease on the stadium in Oakland and that there is a roughly $500 million funding gap to get the stadium up to standard. The O.co coliseum, the last remaining dual-purpose football and baseball stadium in the NFL, is also widely considered the worst in the league, especially during baseball season, when the ground crew does not have time to fill in the dirt between Oakland Athletics games, and Raiders games. It also means fans are rarely as close to the sideline as they would like.
A recently inked 10-year deal between the NFL and Tottenham Hotspur to help co-fund their new stadium development is seen by many as paving the way for a permanent team in London. The new Spurs stadium will feature a removable grass playing surface—similar to the system used in Arizona—with NFL approved astroturf underneath. The NFL will also have permanent training and administration facilities at the ground, and are co-funding the development, which few consider to be the sort of investment that is made for just two games per season—the minimum the agreement covers. The new stadium will be opening in time for the 2018 season, meaning that any NFL team could be eligible to relocate to London after the 2017 season.
If Oakland considers the $100 million investment from the NFL insufficient to fill their funding hole, they could sign a short-term lease with either the O.co Colosseum or another nearby location until 2018, and then relocate to London. Some insiders also suggest that the Raiders could accept the $100 million aid package to cover the interim period and would still be given priority to relocate to London, or another market, in the future.
L.A. was considered by most to be the final US market the NFL wanted to fill before beginning international expansion in earnest. With the Rams, and possibly Chargers now filling that hole, it seems only a matter of time before London finally gets its long expected franchise.