HOUSTON — The NFL is coming back to the Los Angeles market for the first time in more than two decades, as league owners on Tuesday approved a plan to allow the Rams to relocate from St. Louis to the city they previously played in before picking up stakes in 1995.
While calling relocation of any franchise “a painful process,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hailed the decision as a major development for the country’s second largest television market and said the new stadium to be built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke that will cost more than $2 billion will become “one of the greatest sports complexes around the world.”
The Rams are expected to play at the Los Angeles Coliseum for the 2016 season with 2019 the projected date for completion of the new stadium in Inglewood.
As part of the agreement, the Chargers have a one-year option to join the Rams in Los Angeles. That means the team also can strike a deal to remain in San Diego, provided a new stadium can be built, but Chargers president Dean Spanos was non-committal about whether he would remain in the city. If the Chargers decline an opportunity to move to Los Angeles, the Raiders would then have one year to reach an agreement with Kroenke about moving to Los Angeles.
The relocation leaves St. Louis without an NFL team for the first time since 1994, The e Rams first played there in 1995 after moving from Anaheim, California. Kroenke has been the subject of intense criticism from St. Louis fans who believe he left the city despite assurances of a new stadium.
“It is a difficult process and it is bittersweet,” Kroenke said at a news conference after the deal was announced. “We understand the emotions involved with our fans. It’s not easy to do these things. But we’re here today, we made a decision and worked long and hard at the various alternatives. When they didn’t succeed, we worked this one to this point. We’re excited. I’ve had a home in Los Angeles for 20 years, and it will be a lot of fun to move forward and build a great stadium for our league and for Los Angeles.”
Goodell, who worked on filling the Los Angeles vacancy for several years, even before becoming commissioner in 2006, said the timing was right for the move because of the combination of a bold new stadium initiative by Kroenke in Inglewood, California. and because of the uncertain stadium situations of the Raiders and Chargers created unique leverage.
“I’ve said often over those 21 years [of no team in Los Angeles] that we need a great facility,” Goodell said. “The reason the Rams and Raiders left in the ’90s is because they didn’t have adequate stadiums. We were unsuccessful in trying to get something done to meet the standards we expect and what we want to deliver to our fans in Los Angeles. This was an opportunity to re-enter the Los Angeles market, returning the Rams to their home market.”
NFL owners hailed the agreement that not only creates a first-class complex in Los Angeles, but allows Oakland and San Diego to continue efforts toward keeping the Raiders and Chargers through stadium construction initiatives. As part of Tuesday’s agreement, the Raiders and Chargers will receive an additional $100 million each from the NFL if they decide to remain in their respective cities and play in new stadiums.
“It’s a very important day for the NFL and for Los Angeles,” Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said. “As someone who has lived there 44 years, I’m not only excited as an NFL owner, but as a resident of Los Angeles.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is on the Los Angeles relocation committee, said the deal is “a great solution.”
And Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who pushed the idea of a Rams-Chargers alliance in Los Angeles, said “this is as significant a day as we have had in the NFL relative to the options.”
Jones also pointed to the possibility of San Diego and Oakland retaining their teams, and also said St. Louis remains an NFL caliber city that could one day see a team there again.
“Our great friends in San Diego have every opportunity to have the Chargers in San Diego,” Jones said. “The Raiders have every opportunity to be in Oakland.” Jones added that St. Louis remains a viable option to have a team down the road.
“[Tuesday’s decision] is a statement that says, ‘Let’s do it better and let’s have an NFL team in St. Louis, which is certainly an NFL town, without question,” he said “And it can happen. I’ll just tell you right now, it can happen.”