Rams ownership has one goal: relocate to Los Angeles. That goal has made the team’s application a center of news coverage that could have a secondary impact on the St. Louis market as a whole.
In the battle for L.A. relocation, each team’s ownership needs to prove that their franchise value would be irreparably harmed by not being named a new team in Southern California. That means pointing out how much value their team would bring to the NFL by moving to L.A., but it also means pointing out that the current situation is untenable. The Oakland Raiders have that in spades as they’ve tried to work with the City of Oakland on a new venue, and there hasn’t been much help from local government. The San Diego Chargers even have a nice negotiating piece, pointing out that any NFL relocation to L.A. would cannibalize the Chargers’ current fan base in Orange County.
The Rams on the other hand were running out of options. St. Louis had the best public funding of the three teams, wouldn’t have any market share stolen, and was probably the most logical option for keeping a team until Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s relocation application became public.
Kroenke basically trashed St. Louis. The strategy is smart, because it not only explains why the Rams should move to L.A., but also why the team can’t stay in St. Louis. Now even if St. Louis’ publicly funded option is the best choice for the NFL, the PR disaster of keeping the Rams in the Midwest made the situation very difficult. Kroenke and the Rams can’t stay in St. Louis without huge fan backlash and probably some horrible attendance numbers. Kroenke is doing his best to back the NFL into a corner.
What team could rightly move to St. Louis now with the numbers in the Rams’ application public knowledge? There was always a chance that some sort of trade could be worked out where whoever is left standing after the game of L.A. musical chairs moved to St. Louis if the Rams’ Inglewood project was chosen. Could NFL owners push a team there now after one of its brethren attacked the city’s economics? This issue could present itself 5-10 years down the line if the NFL looks at expansion or another team says it could relocate for leverage in a new stadium situation. Take St. Louis off the list of potential cities in the future because Kroenke pointed out the city isn’t equipped to host three major league franchises. That can obviously be argued, but it still hurts the city’s future chances.
The funny thing is that the bid doesn’t seem to recognize that Detroit isn’t moving any time soon and the Motor City’s economic situation still isn’t great. Green Bay supports a franchise despite a much smaller population. There are other markets less viable than St. Louis, and they thrive because NFL franchises get most of their money from the massive TV rights deal. This doesn’t mean the Rams shouldn’t or can’t move to L.A., but it does mean the St. Louis market has had some harm done because of one owner’s goal of relocation.
Michael Colangelo is Managing Editor of The Fields of Green and Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute.