Almost six months ago, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke announced plans to build an NFL stadium in Inglewood on the site of the old Hollywood Park racetrack.
The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders responded with a competing plan of their own, a proposal for a shared stadium in Carson.
Both stadium visions cleared all the necessary entitlement hurdles with blistering speed.
Suddenly, the Los Angeles market, the NFL's most glaring vacancy for the past 20 years, was flush with options.
Now the hard part: whittling down those options to find an actual solution. In the coming months, the league will navigate a minefield — owners pitted against owners — in an effort to solve one of the biggest riddles in sports.
Times NFL writer Sam Farmer asks and answers some questions about the process and what we can expect:
Question: What's happening behind the scenes now?
Answer: Some if not all of the owners backing one proposal or the other are lobbying fellow owners by sharing the details of their plans. The general ownership will hear the Inglewood and Carson presentations Aug. 11 in a special meeting in Chicago.
Q: Should we expect big news coming out of that meeting?
A: Not in terms of site selection, but the league is likely to announce a revised schedule for accepting relocation applications and making an ultimate decision on a site and team or teams. The L.A. issue is big enough to warrant its own meeting, and this is a rare one-per-club meeting, meaning only principal owners (plus a family member) or one team representative is invited to attend. In general, owners are more comfortable hashing out tough issues when there are fewer people in the room.
Q: When it comes to applying for relocation, what's the process?
A: The current window for relocation applications is mid-January through February. The NFL wants to give more time to teams considering a move, and there's a reasonable chance it could begin accepting applications as soon as October. The league will work on those applications with teams before submission, so the NFL will have a good idea of what's contained in them. Then comes an accelerated review process. The Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities will be first to review the applications, then pass them on to the stadium, finance and labor committees, followed by a vote of the owners.
Q: Which owners are on the L.A. committee?
A: It is chaired by Pittsburgh's Art Rooney II, and includes New England's Robert Kraft, Houston's Bob McNair, Carolina's Jerry Richardson, Kansas City's Clark Hunt, and John Mara of the New York Giants.
Q: How soon could a final vote of all owners happen?
A: Opinions are all over the map on this. Some in the league believe L.A. could know it's getting a team by late December, before the end of the regular season. Others say there should be a vote either during the playoffs or Super Bowl week, although the NFL is mindful of not stealing the spotlight from those events. Still others believe a vote would happen in late March at the annual owners meetings, even though that would cut into the season-ticket selling season for fall 2016, so that could be a little late.
Q: What's a nightmare scenario for the NFL?
A: It would be a major headache if all three teams apply for relocation, even though we appear to be headed that direction now. There aren't going to be three teams moving to L.A., so if three teams were to apply, at least one of them would be sent back to a market it tried to leave. That's not good. It would be much better for the NFL to have a predetermined outcome, as opposed to a wide-open horse race. The coming months will be about orchestrating the outcome so each of the three teams comes away with something positive — a tricky proposition.
Q: What are the selling points of the competing projects?
A: Kroenke controls nearly 300 acres in a location L.A. sports fans know well. His Rams have a long and nostalgic relationship with the market, and he has the deepest pockets by far of the three relocation-minded owners. He would not have a problem financing his futuristic, $2-billion stadium, which features a roof but is open on the sides. There's an argument that he should stay in St. Louis if the deal there is compelling enough, but he can counter that he didn't ask that city to come up with a new stadium plan and that he already satisfied his requirements to leave.
The Chargers and Raiders have a plan for a football-only, open-air facility, one with excellent freeway access and proximity to Orange County. The Raiders have a robust fan base in Southern California, and are financially hurting in their current situation. The Chargers and Raiders play in two of the league's worst stadiums, and a new shared home could be a silver-bullet solution for a pair of clubs that for years have failed to get traction on new homes in their current markets.
Q: A team needs a three-quarters majority of the 32 owners for permission to move. Does this boil down to the Rams looking for 24 votes, and the Chargers and Raiders lobbying for nine votes to block them?
A: The league is looking to avoid that type of vote. Owners will get the chance to hear the specific details of each plan and make a decision about which one is better for the NFL as a whole. The challenge for Commissioner Roger Goodell, and for Eric Grubman, the executive vice president overseeing this process, is untangling this knot in a way that allows each of the three owners to walk away at least somewhat satisfied.
Q: What would speed up or simplify this process?
A: If one of the three teams were to agree to stay in its home market, an L.A. deal could come together quickly. Neither the Chargers nor the Raiders are optimistic about what they've seen in their home markets so far, and — although St. Louis is off to the most promising start on a new stadium — the Rams have given no indication they want to stay there.
Q: Is it likely this decision will be delayed a year, so that a team doesn't come to L.A. until 2017?
A: There are two ways of looking at this. First, the meandering return to the L.A. market has been defined by 20 years of false starts and dashed dreams. Nothing is a sure thing until it actually happens. In that sense, yes, this could get pushed back a year or more.
But this is a different situation than we've seen before. There are two viable proposals with all the necessary entitlements and financing plans to begin construction — and, most important, they are sites backed by existing team owners, as opposed to local developers and business leaders pushing their own stadium dreams. The stars are in alignment for the NFL to return, and the league knows that delays, postponements and loss of momentum are the death knell of these types of projects. So there would be strong resistance by owners and NFL executives to pushing the pause button here.
That said, if one or more of the home markets were close to proposing a deal, or taking a public vote, and the situation looked especially promising from the NFL's perspective, the league might be swayed to pump the brakes. After all, it's more important to do L.A. the right way than it is to do it right now.
Q: Will those home markets get a chance to make their case before all the owners?
A: Yes. Any of the three cities who are making what the league considers a serious proposal will be invited to present it at the annual October meetings in New York. Representatives from St. Louis and San Diego almost certainly will be there. The way the league sees it, Oakland has yet to put forth a serious proposal, so at this point that market probably has yet to make the list.
Q: The NFL reached out to potential temporary venues this week, asking them to submit their proposals to host a relocated team or teams for at least two seasons, starting in 2016. Why is the league taking over those duties?
A: There are a few reasons why the NFL is handling negotiations with potential temporary homes. First, it's against league rules for any team to sign a lease outside of its home market. (Those can be negotiated, but not signed.) Next, it's best for temporary stadiums to have as much lead time as possible to work through any scheduling constraints, and those are considerable in the case of the Coliseum and Rose Bowl. Imagine how it would blow up potential negotiations with a home market if word got out that Team X had secured a deal to play the 2016 and '17 seasons at the Coliseum. But if the NFL strikes such a deal, without identifying a team, that news is not as disruptive. And finally, there are persistent rumors that some stadiums have blackballed the Raiders. If so, the league can better deal with that issue if it is handling negotiations.
Q: Is it possible that one temporary stadium could host two teams? And is the 27,000-seat StubHub Center in the mix?
A: Having one stadium host two NFL teams is theoretically possible but highly unlikely. In the case of the Coliseum or Rose Bowl, home to USC and UCLA, respectively, scheduling would be next to impossible and the natural-grass fields would look like the day after Woodstock.
As for using StubHub Center, the league has entertained the idea of creating an intimate, high-end game experience, so it hasn't ruled out that venue. Still, given there are more traditional options, the NFL isn't likely to stack experiment upon experiment in returning to a market that already has lost three teams.
Q: What's most likely to happen when the dust settles on this entire process?
A: Don't be surprised if there's some type of grand bargain, one that none of these three owners would be willing to accept now. That could be the Rams and Chargers sharing a stadium at Hollywood Park; or the league telling the Rams the deal in St. Louis is too enticing to leave on the table, thereby paving the way for the Chargers and Raiders in Carson; or a host of other scenarios.
Even the league doesn't know how this is going to end. For now, it's less football and more crystal ball.
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