Well, that was quite an evening. After a day of meetings—relentlessly tweeted and retweeted despite being held behind closed doors—to debate which NFL teams, if any, would be allowed to move to Los Angeles, the league's 32 owners decided that the St. Louis Rams have a green light to—well, let me just step back and quote myself from Monday for a minute here:
This is total speculation and tea-leaf reading, but I'm more and more leaning toward putting my money on what I suggested yesterday, an agreement that's contingent on a deal being worked out either "We approve the Rams and Chargers moving if they can work out a shared stadium deal" or "We approve the Rams moving, and the Chargers can too if they agree to share the Rams stadium."
I'm not patting myself on the back as much as it sounds, because the writing pretty much has been on the wall. With 24 owner votes out of 32 needed to approve any relocation, and neither the Rams' proposed $2.66 billion stadium in Inglewood nor the Chargers and Raiders' proposed $1.7 billion stadium in Carson having enough support on its own to hit that threshold, any solution was going to have to be a compromise that both camps could live with. With the two factions pretty much coming down to "friends of Rams owner Stan Kroenke" and "friends of Chargers owner Dean Spanos"—Raiders owner Mark Davis is apparently constitutionally incapable of making friends—that meant a deal placating both Kroenke and Spanos, or at least not angering either man too much.
Getting there, though, was a bit of a roller coaster. By mid-afternoon on Monday, West Coast time, it was being reported that the league's Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities—last time you're going to hear about them, so get your final chuckles at the name in now—had voted 5-1 to recommend that the Chargers and the Raiders be approved to move to Carson. That news item was still being retweeted hours later, even after the first ballot of the full owners' group came in with 20-12 in favor of "Rams/TBD"—Kroenke's stadium in Inglewood with another unnamed team sharing the digs. After some more closed-door arm-twisting, a second ballot resulted in a 30-2 landslide: the Rams would be granted permission to move from St. Louis to a new stadium that Kroenke would build on the old Hollywood Park racetrack, with the Chargers having an option to depart San Diego and join them if Spanos so chooses.
What the hell happens now?
First off, Kroenke and Spanos have a lot to talk about. Until Monday, Spanos was refusing even to consider the Inglewood site, so how exactly the two owners will share stadium costs, stadium revenues, stadium ownership, decision-making power over what color to make the seats, etc., is right now a very blank ream of paper. Under the terms of the final deal, Spanos has until next January to work out a lease with the Rams, or else must stay in San Diego; if that happens, Davis then has another year to do the same with the Raiders.
So: LA Rams in 2016, possibly LA Chargers in 2017, or else possibly LA Raiders in 2018. This is going to make programming the next few seasons of Madden NFL very hair-raising.
Sports fans are going to be debating this deal for at least that long, I'm sure, but for the moment we can attempt a quick rundown of the winners and losers here. Unfortunately, a lot of that depends on what you mean by "winning."
• Stan Kroenke, by any measure, is a winner. He got the other NFL owners to support his dream stadium, and now has the Chargers over a barrel in any lease talks, since if they don't agree to his terms they face having the Rams and maybe the Raiders on their doorstep. On the other hand, Kroenke is now looking at a potential bill of more than $3 billion—$2.66 billion for the stadium itself, and another $550 million for a relocation fee, less whatever he can get his renter team to chip in—something that he's almost certainly not going to recoup via the increased value of moving his team from St. Louis to LA.
• Dean Spanos didn't totally get hosed—he at least has the option to submit to Kroenke's terms for a share of the LA market, and also has 12 months in which to shake down San Diego for a more lucrative stadium subsidy, or else be faced with an NFL-issued "Get Out of San Diego Free" card. But I doubt he's popping champagne tonight.
• Mark Davis is totally hosed. He'll get an extra $100 million from the NFL for a new stadium in Oakland if he wants it (the Chargers get the same deal if they stay in San Diego), but with around a $500 million budget hole right now, that's not going to go a long way. Expect talks to begin ASAP between Davis and St. Louis over the $477 million subsidy deal that Kroenke just turned down there.
• Football fans are also pretty much hosed. If you're a lifelong St. Louis Rams fan, well, you're pretty young, but still, losing your team just because the billionaire who owns it thinks he can get even richer somewhere else is a cruel blow. Chargers and Raiders fans can't even start mourning now but rather have to suffer through lame-duck seasons without knowing for sure to prepare for their hearts to be broken. (LA football fans wanting a team of their own can rejoice, though they should probably temper that with the realization that they're going to have to root for the Rams.)
• Taxpayers come out surprisingly well. Not only is that $477 million St. Louis stadium subsidy off the table (for now) but the Inglewood stadium plan is fairly taxpayer-friendly: the city will kick back about $180 million worth of future sales taxes to pay for "infrastructure"—the scare quotes are because said infrastructure includes such non-infrastructure-y items as shuttle buses—but that's pretty cheap as stadiums go. Thanks to Los Angeles–area officials (and voters) steadfastly refusing to throw money at a team to induce them to relocate, plus the example of the successful team-funded 49ers stadium in Santa Clara—successful in terms of making money, at least, even if the problematic sod may be an embarrassing disaster at the upcoming Super Bowl—Kroenke is agreeing to foot most of his stadium bill. On the other hand, Spanos and Davis could try to use the next year to shake down San Diego and Oakland for more stadium cash, so public coffers aren't free and clear just yet.
All in all, it was a weird moment in sports history. With three team owners competing to enter a city—rather than an owner playing two cities off each other to extract subsidies, as is more usual—this ended up a buyer's market for franchises, something that almost never happens in the monopolistic sports world. It's extraordinarily unlikely that we'll see the likes of this again, so probably best to hold off on any declarations of taxpayer victory over the subsidy-fueled NFL business model just yet. For now, enjoy that for once the elephants fought without the grass suffering—unless you're a Rams, Chargers, or Raiders fan, in which case we feel your pain.