Rams' L.A. power play allows NFL to maintain its top leveraging weapon

The NFL franchise that has proven most valuable to the league and its owners over the past two decades is the one that hasn't existed in Los Angeles.

It was after the 1994 season when the Rams and Raiders moved to St. Louis and Oakland respectively, leaving the nation's second biggest media market without a team of its own. Since then franchises have leveraged that gaping hole in California to get their local governments to subsidize construction of new stadiums, renovation of existing ones or innumerable other concessions on taxes and services provided.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke (AP)
Rams owner Stan Kroenke (AP)

Nothing scared the tax money out of some poor Rust Belt mayor or image-obsessed Sun Belt city council than an NFL owner trotting out a few awe-inspiring renderings of a proposed stadium in some obscure L.A. suburb.

The Rams and the Raiders, in fact, are even back, talking about a return to their old stomping grounds. The San Diego Chargers are talking big also.

At the NFL owners' meetings this week in Phoenix, the Rams will, according to the Los Angeles Times, show designs on their proposed stadium to be built at the old Hollywood Park site in Inglewood. This one is serious and not just because Rams owner Stan Kroenke has already purchased the land and is willing to privately-fund stadium construction. There are plenty of rubes that own pro sports franchises in America. Kroenke, the league's second richest owner, isn't one of them. It's believed construction could begin as soon as 2016. He's more than capable of getting it done.

That's why the Rams going to Inglewood has always been exponentially more likely than the Chargers and the Raiders getting a shared stadium, funding source still unknown, down Interstate 405 in Carson.

And now a couple of key details in Kroenke's stadium proposal make the entire move seem even more likely, so likely that the Rams have to be the heavy favorite to win the long-running L.A. relocation derby and actually relocate.

The two big ones: $1.86 billion stadium is designed to house a second NFL franchise … it's just a second franchise won't be put in there right away, according to the Times.

"The Inglewood plan is two-team compliant, which means it has two home locker rooms, identical sets of office space, and two owners' suites," Sam Farmer's article states.

The city of Carson is in play for landing the Raiders and Chargers. (AP)
The city of Carson is in play for landing the Raiders and Chargers. (AP)

The two-team concept is an old one, mind you, because why use the fear of L.A. relocation to scare one city when you can scare two? The NFL has long claimed that a market that never supported one team very well is capable of supporting two. Whatever.

The twist here is Kroenke is putting up the money for the stadium and not relying on direct public funds or skimming off future possible tax revenue. A deal like that – essentially the Chargers/Raiders proposal – requires government support and approval, which is a lot easier if there are two clubs as tenants that can double revenue, taxes and ancillary neighborhood income.

Since this is all Kroenke, he reportedly will want exclusivity in his own stadium, and thus the market, for some undetermined stretch.

That seems fair. It's his money. Why would any owner in any business want to share the region? Why not lock out the competition and control it all for yourself?

At the very least, Kroenke's team wants time to ride the attention and excitement, draw in the most football-starved fans who are likely to become the most loyal customers, lock up the best corporate sponsors, and be the hot spot in town for all the celebrities to see and be seen. You always want to be first and sports are no different. More than half a century later, the New York Jets and Mets still, in various ways, play second fiddle to the Giants and Yankees.

The entire idea of splitting the L.A. market is actually a cause of concern for an owner. Is this market really that eager for football? It hasn't been in the past. While the sport is more popular than ever, there are also far more entertainment options out there. And the beach hasn't moved.

No one doubts one team could certainly work. So here's one team … Kroenke's; not two, the Chargers and Raiders. If, at some point in the future, Kroenke believes his team can handle the competition, he welcomes a tenant that will pay hefty rent that helps offset losses competition would bring. In the meantime, all the other NFL owners, three-fourths of whom would need to approve the move, don't lose the valuable bargaining chip they've always carried in their back pocket – the threat of packing up for L.A.

In fact, with Kroenke doing all the dirty work of building an actual stadium in a region that for decades has shown little eagerness to do such a thing, the ability to pressure governments and fans back home is greater.

This isn't some pipe dream plan anymore. There would be a modern stadium in place with an extra home locker room, extra identical office space, and an extra owner's suite just waiting. There's no funding to secure. No building permits to attain. No governments or unions to court. No transitional seasons at the Rose Bowl or L.A. Coliseum.

The NFL gets to trade smaller St. Louis for the larger L.A. and keep its relocation threat for all the owners who never actually want to move but are more than happy to bluff that they do.

So by at last putting an actual team in Los Angeles, Kroenke not only manages to continue the league-wide value of a team that doesn't exist in Los Angeles, he may have figured out how to make the new non-existent team in Los Angeles even more valuable than the old non-existent team in Los Angeles.

Does that last sentence make sense to you?

It will to NFL owners.