Los Angeles (AFP) - NFL team owners approved the return of the Los Angeles Rams from St. Louis, relocating the club to end a 21-year NFL drought for the Southern California metropolis.
The NFL announced Tuesday that owners voted 30-2 to support Rams owner Stan Kroenke's move for the 2016 season and proposal for a 70,000-seat stadium in suburban Inglewood, a $1.86 billion complex that could crack $2 billion before its 2019 completion.
"This is the hardest undertaking I've ever faced," Kroenke said. "It is a difficult process and it is bittersweet. We understand the emotions of our fans. It's not easy to do these things. It's purposefully made hard."
Three teams were looking to relocate to Los Angeles as early as next season, but while the Rams will move for the 2016 campaign, another team could join them later.
- Heartbroken fans -
While LA fans were overjoyed, St. Louis NFL supporters were heartbroken, stung again after luring the Rams from LA in 1994 after having lost the Cardinals to Arizona in 1988.
"The NFL ignored the facts, the loyalty of St. Louis fans who supported the team through far more downs than ups and a strong market and viable plan for a new stadium," St. Louis mayor Francis Slay said.
But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has long warned cities that modern venues mean more than loyal ticketbuyer support when it comes to providing proper support for teams.
"Relocation is a painful process," Goodell said. "It was a difficult decision for the ownership but we also recognized this was our opportunity."
All three hopefuls had previously been based in LA, the Rams and Raiders leaving in 1994 to begin the city's NFL drought.
"Welcome home," tweeted former Los Angeles Rams star rusher Eric Dickerson mere minutes after the news was made public.
The Chargers and Oakland Raiders had a rival plan for a stadium in suburban Carson that was backed by an owners committee earlier but failed to obtain the 24 votes needed from owners.
After a preliminary vote favored the Rams option by a 20-12 margin, the Raiders backed out of the relocation process and will remain in Oakland.
The move back to Los Angeles for the Rams came exactly 70 years to the day after NFL owners approved the team's move from Cleveland to Los Angeles. The Rams are expected to return to the Los Angeles Coliseum as a temporary home until the new stadium is complete.
Goodell said the Chargers could possibly play in Los Angeles as soon as next season, as could the Raiders if the Chargers pass on their chance quickly enough within the 12-month time frame they have to decide.
- 'Excruciating' saga -
The Chargers, should they decide to relocate to the new stadium, would have to negotiate lease terms with Kroenke that could include being a tenant at the stadium or a partner in the project that derailed their own plan.
"This has really been excruciating," Chargers chairman Dean Spanos said. "I'm going to look at all our options. We do have options. It's very difficult to say now I'm going to do this or do that."
Spanos said the NFL has granted $100 million in assistance in the event a new stadium solution can be placed before San Diego voters.
"I will be working over the next several weeks to explore the options that we have now created for ourselves to determine the best path forward," Spanos said.
Raiders owner Mark Davis, whose team has no lease anywhere for next season, said the outcome did not ensure the Raiders would stay in Oakland, where the stadium is the last to be shared by NFL and baseball teams.
"We'll see where the Raider Nation ends up," Davis said. "For our fans, don't feel bad. We'll get it right."
Since the NFL last relocated a franchise, when the former Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997, the NBA has seen three clubs change home cities and baseball and the National Hockey League have each had one club relocation.