After months of speculation, intrigue and public policy contortions, the St. Louis Rams have officially filed to move to the Los Angeles area.
It’s been nearly a year since St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke revealed plans to build a new stadium in Inglewood, Calif., primarily with private dollars. And even though St. Louis and Missouri policymakers put forth a plan to build a new stadium on St. Louis’ riverfront, the Rams were one of three NFL teams that filed the paperwork on Monday to relocate to LA.
In a brief unsigned statement on the team’s website, the Rams declared: “The St. Louis Rams informed the National Football League today that the Rams propose to relocate to the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. The relocation would be effective for the 2016 NFL League Year.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed that the Rams, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers had applied for relocation.
“Three teams – the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, and San Diego Chargers – each submitted applications to our office today to relocate their franchises to the Los Angeles area beginning with the 2016 season,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy in a statement. “Each team submitted the appropriate documentation in support of its application as required by the NFL Policy and Procedures for Proposed Franchise Relocations.”
McCarthy’s statement went onto say that the three teams’ applications will be reviewed this week by league staff and three league committees that will meet in New York on Wednesday and Thursday. The applications will be presented for consideration at next week’s league meeting in Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday.
A two-person task force that’s been pursuing the roughly $1 billion stadium on St. Louis riverfront expressed little surprise about the Rams’ relocation request. They released a statement about how “we’ve anticipated this filing from the Rams for more than a year.”
“It’s why we started working in November 2014 to produce a viable St. Louis stadium proposal for consideration by the Rams and the National Football League,” the statement. “That proposal was delivered last week to the NFL and team owners, and we feel extremely confident that it will be well received as the league weighs its options in the weeks ahead.”
For his team to move, Kroenke will need support from three-fourths of the NFL’s owners. That may be difficult threshold for Kroenke to reach, especially if enough owners favor a competing proposal to have the Chargers and the Raiders play in Carson, Calif.
And while some have speculated that the Chargers and the Rams could eventually share a stadium, that seems unlikely at the moment – especially since Chargers owner Dean Spanos cited Kroenke’s interest in Los Angeles for his team’s relocation attempt. Kroenke, who has said basically nothing about his intentions over the last year, did not follow Spanos' lead of explaining why his team is trying to relocate.
State roadblocks ahead for new stadium?
Even if Kroenke’s relocation attempt is thwarted next week, there's no guarantee that the riverfront stadium gets built. That’s because the financing plan requires $250 million from a team’s owner – and Kroenke may not want to spend money on a stadium in a city he wants to leave.
And that could ultimately complicate the stadium’s financing. Even though St. Louis has committed to paying for part of the stadium, the state’s portion of the funding is primarily predicated on issuing bonds without a statewide or legislative vote. If Kroenke doesn’t sign onto the stadium right away, there could be plenty of time for the legislature to block Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration from issuing the bonds by fiat.
“I think our position in the House has been very clear,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, last week. “And that position is: We don’t support the issuance of state bonds or state financing without legislative approval or without a vote of the people. And that’s not a reflection on whether I’d like to see the NFL stay in St. Louis. I believe St. Louis is and should remain a NFL-caliber city. But that’s a different question than the one that exists about whether the governor should have the power to able to obligate the people of this state to 30 years' worth of debt without the legislature having any say in that process.
“I don’t know what the next few weeks are going to bring in that process,” he added. “But I think you’re going to see a robust legislative effort to clarify what the governor is in this area when we get back.”
Dozens of Republican and Democratic lawmakers have signed onto letters opposing issuing bonds without some sort of vote. One of the lawmakers that declined to sign was House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat who contends Nixon has the authority to issue bonds on the project.
“I think there’s going to be some ways to try to stop the governor from supporting financing for the Rams stadium,” Hummel said. “I think when you look at that, that’s a hot-button issue. Everybody’s on one side or the other. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground between the two sides. I think the people have to take an approach of realizing that St. Louis cannot afford to lose a major sports team.”
Hummel said that he fears the loss of the Rams will result in decreased revenue, which isn't a good mentality to take when the state is set to start cutting its income tax in 2017.
"I understand that the legislature feels like they were slighted. However, the governor has the responsibility to keep this state moving forward economically," Hummel said. "We were not in session. This is a deal that as you know is extremely complicated, has happened on a very rapid scale. The governor has the ability to do this and I’m glad he’s done it. [He can] now go back to the legislature and say ‘OK, let’s make the case. We had to do what we had to do to make sure we had a plan on the table by the NFL’s deadline.’ He did what he had to do. Yes, we can go back now and try to make that case.
"And I’m willing to do that. I’m willing to stand up and say ‘we can try to work this out,’" he added. "I think we should."