clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Behind the Scenes, the NFL's Return to Los Angeles Was Basically a High School Movie

The return of the NFL to Los Angeles after two decades is partially complete, with the Rams definitely headed to Inglewood for their 2016 season, and the possibility of the Chargers arriving within the year. Sounds like a great time to draw back the curtain on the crazy push and pull within the NFL that was required to get a team back to LA after so many years of false starts. A piece in ESPN the Magazine (via Deadspin) does just that, and it is brutal, "bitter," and "bloody." The fight was in many ways a high-school-style showdown, with "personal loyalties" and "the appeal of the two stadium proposals" both huge factors in the decision-making process.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke is portrayed as a shrewd but cold owner, a businessman who doesn't come to meetings all the time and who isn't the most popular guy at the owners meetings. Not like Chargers owner Dean Spanos. Such a nice boy. He's very well-liked and "loyal to a fault," as one owner described him. It doesn't end up doing him a lot of good. Here's a rundown of the best dirt you didn't know about the NFL's return to LA:

— Way back in August 2013, Rams owner Kroenke and Chargers owner Spanos met at a fancy Beverly Hills steakhouse to discuss a location both had been eyeing: Los Angeles. Kroenke was already familiar with the Inglewood site he'd later buy (it was owned at the time by Walmart, and Kroenke's wife is the daughter of late Walmart founder Sam Walton). Kroenke talked up Inglewood, but Spanos wasn't in love with the location, "citing concerns about parking and traffic."

— Even though they didn't exactly see eye to eye, both guys thought the meeting was a "promising first step" in what could be a partnership, says ESPN. After their dinner date, Spanos attempted multiple times to call Kroenke. He didn't respond. (I THOUGHT WE HAD A NICE TIME, STAN.)

— Despite their friendly chat over steak, Kroenke didn't give Spanos any heads up when he made a $90-million offer on the Inglewood land. His offer was successful. When Spanos found out, he "reacted to Kroenke's Inglewood purchase by proposing to buy a 168-acre landfill lot in Carson."

— Even though he was a little behind, Spanos should have had a leg up on Kroenke because he had "a creative development method" in mind, something that would allow the stadium to sidestep the slow and painful California environmental review process by getting it qualified for a city ballot initiative; if it did, then it could be approved very quickly, by a simple city council vote (and obviously a city council in a place like Carson wants an NFL stadium). Genius! Around the middle of November 2014, Spanos and his team shared this proposal with Eric Grubman, an NFL executive.

— It's possible Grubman wasn't the best choice to show that plan to, as "some owners and executives suspected [he] favored Kroenke and Inglewood."

— Around late 2014/early 2015, the word coming down from the NFL was that both proposals should pump the breaks, but Texas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones convinced (peer-pressured?) Kroenke to move forward with the stadium anyway. Kroenke revealed plans for an Inglewood football stadium in January, and plans to sidestep those California environmental reviews. Spanos and his crew were "deeply suspicious of Kroenke's plan to fast-track the entitlement process. It was the exact process they'd presented to Grubman."

— Not to be outdone, Spanos heeded advice from other owners and looked for a partner. Two teams moving is even better than one, right? The Oakland Raiders, who played in a stadium as old as the Chargers', seemed like a good fit. A little over a month after the Inglewood scheme was announced, the Raiders and Chargers officially proposed a joint stadium in Carson.

— Now there were two stadiums in play for LA and that got as crazy as it sounds. Owners were trying to figure out which side to support. There were lots of questions. When Kroenke was asked if he'd be willing to share his stadium, he offered to draw up a lease right there. The gesture "offended" some of the owners on the Los Angeles Opportunities committee because it would mean that the "loyal" Spanos would "be relegated to a tenant, junior-partner status."

— Why are we suddenly talking just about the Chargers and Rams like the Raiders don't exist? Because they basically didn't, in this case: "Most owners wanted to avoid a Raiders return to Los Angeles, owing to Al Davis' burned bridges and the co-opting of the team apparel by gangs, concerns so deep that some wouldn't even consider Carson."

— The owners were scheduled to vote in early January 2016, and by late fall 2015, executive and owner madness was at a fever pitch. "They called and texted each other daily with sales pitches, demands and gossip." At the time, it seemed like Carson might get the most relocation votes (24 would be required), but "The silent majority preferred the Inglewood site but liked Spanos better than Kroenke." Vote for the likable guy or the one who's going to make the most money for them? Tough call.

— Willing to do whatever was necessary to get those relocation votes, Kroenke penned a letter saying he'd be up for sharing the stadium half and half. He did so at the urging of Texas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a guy who, as things got really heated, seemed to be negotiating hard and effectively for the Rams to make the trip to LA.

— Another Jerry, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, was gunning hard for Carson. He got into his private plane and flew to visit other owners, trying to persuade them to side with the Chargers/Raiders stadium. "Everyone around the league called it the Jerry Tour." But his methods were pushy and brusque, and didn't quite have the desired effect. "He bullied people," one team executive said.

— In the middle of total chaos among the owners, it came to light that Kroenke was planning to build the stadium regardless of how the owners voted to relocate. "'There it is,' said one executive of a pro-Inglewood team. 'A big middle finger to the league.'"

— In Houston, on the night before the owners were scheduled to hear presentations and take a vote on relocation, NFL officials sent the Chargers and Raiders leadership a proposal that would have one of them sharing Inglewood with the Rams. (Basically a tweaked version of one that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had previously proposed.) "Spanos and his associates were offended." These are some delicate dudes.

— At the first session the next day, Carson and Inglewood presented their plans. Inglewood showed what sharing with another team would look like. Then Disney CEO Robert Iger, repping Carson, came on. The owners were not having it. His jokes were met with stares and silence. Why was Iger iced out? "NFL owners listen only to each other."

— When the final votes were counted (it took two tries), it was decided the Rams were definitely moving and that the Chargers could join them. If the Chargers didn't want to move, the Raiders could go to Inglewood. In other words, no one got what they had really wanted. At a press conference to announce the results, "Kroenke and Spanos stood apart from each other. Nobody looked happy."
· The Wow Factor [ESPN the Magazine]
· The Raiders and Chargers Just Proposed a Joint NFL Stadium in the Los Angeles Suburbs [Curbed LA]
· Rams Owner Planning to Build an NFL Stadium in Inglewood [Curbed LA]
· A 21-Year History of the Battle to Bring the NFL Back to LA [Curbed LA]