Race to L.A.: Who has edge between Chargers, Raiders and Rams?

HOUSTON – This week in Houston, NFL owners will gather inside a boardroom teeming with billionaires and attempt to marshal irreconcilable egos. They'll negotiate and move to build consensus. And after two days, they'll hope to produce a win the league has been chasing for 20 years: a return to Los Angeles and the revival of a massive revenue market.

But the NFL's resuscitation of Los Angeles won't happen without some league power brokers wielding their ability to influence and negotiate. With 24 votes needed to approve a move and little clarity on which relocation plans have corralled the needed margin, there is plenty of work to do. Despite months of fine-tuning and the league's L.A. committee having met with both the stadium and finance committees in New York last week, it's believed that all the potential relocations remain in a fluid state.

No franchise is believed to have the necessary 24 votes to get approval, but all three – the San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders – are believed to have the nine votes it would take to block each other's proposals. There will have to be compromise. If not, all three ownership groups could fail in their bid to relocate. That's the worst-case scenario for the NFL, of course. And it means one thing is likely going to be made clear by the L.A. committee at the outset: This is the best shot the NFL has ever had at getting at least one franchise back into the market.

Failing to get a move approved now could mean tabling the issue for another year. That's not a scenario that would bode well. One year can easily turn into a decade or more.

What is expected to happen when the meetings kick off? At this point, a rough outline has taken shape, though the order of events is unclear. There will be thorough presentations by the ownership groups, each addressing financial, political and logistical roadblocks that have emerged. There will be Q&A sessions with each group. At some point, the members of the NFL's "Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities" (comprised of owners from the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs) will discuss their analysis of the proposals and recommend what they believe is the best course of action. And, finally, before the voting takes place, the owners are expected to have some manner of "spitball" session where discussion can take place about the proposals, as well as other ancillary options that could leave all parties happy.

Taken as a whole, that's a big slate of steps with ample room for almost anything to happen. With that in mind, here is a look at some of the key points of information, key individuals involved and potential outcomes from these meetings:

The Proposals

Here's an architectural rendering of a proposed NFL stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. (AP)
Here's an architectural rendering of a proposed NFL stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. (AP)

• St. Louis Rams in Inglewood: Rams owner Stan Kroenke is the second-richest owner in the NFL (behind only the Seattle Seahawks' Paul Allen) and is viewed as someone who would throw the full weight of his fortune into a Los Angeles franchise. In a city that might need a front-running NFL team, that's a big positive. He also has a key ally in Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. At least initially, those factors helped this proposal become the early favorite for relocation. However, that vigor amongst other owners may have faded in recent months. There have been some media reports that Kroenke might not have even half of the necessary 24 votes to get his franchise moved.

Kroenke is dreaming big. He is essentially pitching construction of one of the largest sports, entertainment and retail complexes ever created. The plan would be to build on nearly 300 acres and include retail outlets, dining, office space and room for at least one other concert-hall type of venue. Both grandiose and ambitious, the stadium itself would be closed-air and state-of-the-art, with a futuristic design and a dedicated glass roof that covers the field. The projected price? $1.86 billion.

An architectural rendering of a football stadium in  Carson, Calif. (MANICA Architecture)
An architectural rendering of a football stadium in Carson, Calif. (MANICA Architecture)

• San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders in Carson: This is considered the favorite (but there's little to prove it) heading into this week's meetings. The reason for that supposed rise is largely pinned on: the relationships that team president Dean Spanos has built with other owners; a more refined and financially viable proposal that "fixes" the issues of two teams; and the support of Disney president Bob Iger and L.A. committee member Jerry Richardson.

There have been reports that as it currently stands, this plan may have as many as 20 votes in the bag. But that's hard to believe with the NFL's L.A., finance and stadium committees exiting a meeting last week with a host of unknowns. Either way, it's clear that San Diego's generated momentum is carrying this bid.

The Raiders' main attraction may be that other NFL owners want to get the team out of Oakland, where the franchise's revenues have been among the league's worst, despite representing a nationally recognized brand. The proposal is impressive, including an open-air stadium on 168 acres that is situated near two major freeways. It would feature an "airy" seating layout that was meant to pay tribute to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The projected price: $1.7 billion.

• Chargers and Rams share a stadium in Los Angeles: This isn't currently a proposal, but it might become an idea pushed by owners should an impasse occur during the meetings. As it stands, the Chargers have indicated they are not interested in sharing a stadium with the Rams. Meanwhile, Rams ownership has expressed that it would be open to the idea in the Inglewood location. If it appears that both sides have created voting blockades and are shutting each other (and by virtue, the NFL) completely out of Los Angeles, this compromise could be an alternative pressed by other influential owners. It's unknown how it would even work, but it's bound to become a factor if all sides are on the verge of being scuttled.

Roger Goodell (AP)
Roger Goodell (AP)

The Power Brokers

• NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: This has been a 20-year road for the league, and the journey has been brutal. There was a time that reclaiming Los Angeles was Paul Tagliabue's baby, but he never got the pieces into place to make it happen. There is no telling how damaging a stalemate would be at this stage. Other NFL owners want to get this squared away once and for all. If a majority can't be reached and this is pushed back another year, it's possible everything could slide right off the table again. Goodell has to impress upon the owners, including those who have relocation bids, that it's in nobody's interest to leave Houston this week without an approval.

If this is about improving the revenues of franchises and making the NFL stronger from a business standpoint, letting this opportunity fall apart would be monumentally embarrassing and frustrating for the league. It's time for Goodell to rally his bosses, and keep them in the room until a solution can be reached.

• The Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities: This group was formed by

Robert Kraft (AP)
Robert Kraft (AP)

Goodell. It will have the firmest grasp on the pitfalls and roadblocks for each presenting group. It is chaired by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II. It also includes Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers), Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), Bob McNair (Houston Texans), John Mara (New York Giants) and Clark Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs).

Rooney, Kraft and Mara are particularly influential among NFL owners. Few garner more respect. Richardson was on the front lines in negotiating the last collective-bargaining agreement, one of the most resounding victories in sports history. McNair is known for having a respected and fair voice in the room. If this committee puts forth a recommendation to the other NFL owners (and it is expected to do that), it would be a massive thrust of momentum for whichever proposal receives it.

There is a chance, however, that the committee merely offers an analysis of each potential move but doesn't promote one over the other.

Either way, what this committee says will carry a lot of weight.

• Team owners Jeffrey Lurie, Jerry Jones, Steve Bisciotti, Stephen Ross and Shad Khan: These guys aren't on the L.A. committee but they still carry plenty of weight for various reasons. Lurie (Eagles) has been around the block and has a lot of relationships and respect in the NFL. He can play a role in bringing groups together. Jones (Cowboys) and the Ravens' Bisciotti have highly regarded deal-making acumens. Jones also has a good relationship with committee member Bob Kraft, which could be another form of influence. Ross (Dolphins) and the Jaguars' Khan may not have the long NFL tenure of others, but both are among the league's richest and garner great respect for their business insight.

All owners can be influential in some way, but these guys can play key roles in shaping conversations and building consensus.

Bob Iger (AP)
Bob Iger (AP)

• Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger: No NFL team has ever boasted the ability to get the head of a $164 billion corporation to throw his full backing behind a relocation. But that's what Iger will be doing when he attends this week's meetings to lobby for the Chargers and Raiders. Money talks in the NFL, but Walt Disney money sings a tune that puts owners into a trance.

Lest anyone forget, Disney owns a little ol' subsidiary known as ESPN, which pays the NFL roughly $2 billion per season for the rights to broadcast "Monday Night Football." Iger is easily one of the most influential people in corporate America, and his presence this week might be akin to having a 33rd NFL owner in the room.

• Rams owner Stan Kroenke: The Rams' top boss could hold all the cards this week, even if his proposal is trailing significantly. Ranking as the second-richest owner in the NFL, he could become a juggernaut in the Los Angeles market. In a decade, we could be placing his deal-making abilities on the same level as Kraft and Jones.

He has the money and ambition to shake up the league, and placing him in L.A. would feed into that. And that's a good thing for the other owners since part of this move is about maximizing revenues.

Beyond his wallet, Kroenke may have an even stronger hand to play this week. He supposedly has the votes to block the Chargers-Raiders proposal. And if that's the case, Kroenke could issue an ultimatum. If his relocation isn't pushed through, he could blow up the L.A. track altogether by creating a stalemate. That provides him with a massive amount of leverage over the Raiders, who are by far the trailing team in the relocation sweepstakes. If Kroenke plays his hand and blocks the Carson relocation, it would likely force the other owners to look at scenarios that put both the Chargers and Rams into Los Angeles, but send Oakland home with a bouquet of financial sweeteners that could help build a new stadium in the Bay Area.

How it will work out

One thing is certain this week: Whatever happens won't simply be a matter of finances. With these relocations looking as much like a chess match as anything else, there is bound to be a mixture of politics, sentiment, favors and self-interest that comes into play. But something has to happen. All three teams involved can't walk away empty-handed. Particularly in the cases of the Chargers and Rams, whose cities have advanced stadium deals that the NFL seems to find dubious at best.

The NFL sees risk in counting on either San Diego or St. Louis to advance the public funding (roughly $350 million to $400 million apiece) that it would take to complete a new stadium in those cities. That gives NFL owners plenty of initiative to open a door for both the Chargers and Rams. This has to make the Raiders nervous about their standing in this whole thing. If Kroenke blocks the Carson proposal and it looks like this is all about to go down in flames, it's almost certain some owners in the room will attempt to force the Rams and Chargers together. Neither wants to play in the other team's building in Los Angeles, but if the alternative is to return to the cities that they abruptly torched in recent weeks, a joint Chargers-Rams proposal might start looking better.

Such a scenario would put the Raiders into an awkward second place. Perhaps the NFL's consolation prize would be more funding to get a new stadium in Oakland. Maybe it would be opening up a different market to the Raiders and significantly cutting the $550 million relocation fee. Or maybe the NFL will tell owner Mark Davis to go back to Oakland and wait for another opportunity at Los Angeles further down the road.

It's a tangled mess of scenarios. Coming into this week, it was expected that NFL owners would have some significant clarity – and the necessary votes – to make certain that at least one of the teams attempting to seize Los Angeles could actually do so. But that doesn't appear to have happened.

So the league meets this week with a return to Los Angeles as close as ever. But with two days of intense analysis and deal-making ahead, the tiny little bit of road left in this mission may take the most effort of all.

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