Less than two weeks removed from the 2015 regular season, National Football League owners have already invested in the idea of change for 2016.
A change that reunites Los Angeles with one of their former football franchises in the Rams organization after being separated by a 21 year-stay in St. Louis. NFL owners demonstrated nearly unanimous support to bring football back to the nation’s second-most populated city during Tuesday’s meetings, voting 30-2 in favor of the Rams’ relocation plans to Inglewood, Calif.
The move symbolizes the turning point of an unstable relationship between professional football and the city of St. Louis; one that has resulted in the loss of two NFL franchises in less than 30 years and now has many believing that professional football may never return to the Gateway City.
“We understand the emotions involved of [St. Louis] fans,” said Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke during a rare press conference on Tuesday. “It’s not easy to do these things. We made a decision and we worked long and hard at the various alternatives. When they didn’t succeed we worked to this point.”
One option that seemed viable was the riverfront proposal on behalf of the St. Louis NFL Stadium Task Force. Such a venue would have involved more than $400 million in public financing to help St. Louis maintain a home beyond a year-to-year basis and make an effort to improve the Rams’ below-average attendance standards.
However, if Kroenke truly believes this stadium’s development as one through which “any NFL club that signs on to this proposal in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin” as he stated in last week’s relocation application, then it’s difficult to predict what improvements would need to be noticed in the event that St. Louis prepares a stadium for a future team.
Futhermore, the process of building a product to earn the attention and revenue from fans did not come easily for a Rams’ team that averaged just around five wins per season over the past decade. Regardless how these inconsistencies may have affected fan output, a few local figures proved upset with the league’s actions against St. Louis, standing up for passionate fans throughout the relocation process.
“At this point I’m so frustrated and disappointed with the NFL,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay during a City Hall press conference on Wednesday. “Why would anybody want to in any way even entertain any suggestions from the NFL after the way they dealt with St. Louis here? They were dishonest.”
Perhaps the most difficult obstacle may involve finding an owner that wants to invest into a three-team market for the Gateway City. For instance, Jaguars’ owner Shahid Khan did not show interest when asked about the possibility of moving to St. Louis despite his former connections with the city. Such interest will only prove harder to gain from owners, especially those without the familiarity of raising a lower-budget franchise.
It also doesn’t help that the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders remain uncertain about their future situations, albeit both franchises could pair up with the Rams in Inglewood with the NFL’s rejection of the Carson Project. These situation allow the NFL to maintain its growing focus in California, even if both make temporary efforts to stay in their hometown.
“We have a facility that is going to be absolutely extraordinary in the Los Angeles market that I think fans are going to absolutely love,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell following the conclusion of Wednesday’s meetings. “I think it’s going to set a new bar for all sports, quite frankly. And, that, we’re very proud of.”
Expansion may also be improbable in the near future, given that the league has a balanced divisional alignment with 32 teams and has not sought expansion since 2002. Nevertheless, St. Louis will likely be challenged by a variety of factors in any case that the city earns the opportunity to handle a third football franchise.
For now, hundreds of jobs, partnerships and community-based organizations will lose the support that the Rams once provided. But only time will tell when or if another franchise seizes the opportunity to create trust, memories and a positive impression of professional football in St. Louis.