With Rams off to L.A., NFL must focus on reclaiming Oakland and San Diego
Now that it’s done, now that the Rams have been uprooted from St. Louis and moved back to Los Angeles, the ancestral home of the franchise’s glory era, the NFL should have the good sense to declare victory and get out of the relocation business.
No more shell game. No more needless talk of a two-team solution in Los Angeles. No more holding fans and cities hostage to a process that is inherently flawed, transparently money-driven and incredibly damaging to the league’s brand and image. With the NFL’s long and quixotic 21-year quest to replant the league’s flag in the Los Angeles market finally accomplished, now it’s time to dedicate every bit as much energy and effort to re-establishing the ties that bind the Chargers to San Diego and the Raiders to Oakland.
Do that and the league can start to build a record for itself that in time will show more wins than losses coming out of Tuesday’s marathon relocation meeting in Houston, when NFL owners ultimately voted 30–2 to embrace a Rams move that many have seen coming for a while now. The league, at last, has the golden goose it coveted in the form of Stan Kroenke’s multi-billion-dollar stadium project in Inglewood, but all it will be doing is substituting one problem for another if the Chargers and Raiders don’t have long-term viability in their home markets.
While San Diego was given the right to join the Rams in Los Angeles at some point in the next year, the reality is this: For the NFL to get this situation right, all concerned are best served if the Chargers continue their 55-season history in San Diego and the Raiders remain in Oakland, where they have been a civic treasure since their earliest days in the AFL.
Figuring out the league’s new landscape in L.A. wasn’t easy, and nothing about the negotiations to come in San Diego and Oakland will be, either. But the road forward for the NFL is now clear. Use that extra $100 million the league approved for the Chargers' and Raiders’ new stadium funds as prime-the-pump money and get creative on how to finance the rest. As the three-city relocation drama vividly showed us, when the league wants something to happen badly enough, the rules can get redrawn and the seemingly insurmountable obstacles can be overcome.
And now it’s San Diego's and Oakland’s turn to experience the favored status that helped the Rams find their way back to Los Angeles. The all-for-one and one-for-all NFL needs to step up and help the Chargers and Raiders turn Tuesday’s unmistakable loss into a win. The league was wise to start incentivizing San Diego and Oakland to readdress their antiquated stadium situations, but now it needs to be as singularly focused on repairing the damage that has been done to those markets as it was in getting a franchise back to Los Angeles.
Abandoning the misguided notion that L.A. has to be a two-team market is the first logical step the league should take. Two teams back to Los Angeles only became the narrative because the cost of a new stadium was so prohibitive that it was assumed no one owner could swing it alone. But Kroenke emerged ready and willing to do just that and never wanted a partner or tenant in his grandiose stadium project to begin with.
Remember, we’re talking about a market that has lost three professional football teams in the past five-plus decades: The AFL’s Los Angeles Chargers in 1961, and the NFL’s Rams and Raiders in 1995. Let the NFL go all-in making the return of the Rams a success story before anyone even thinks about moving a second team there, at the cost of another jilted and disregarded fan base left behind. For every “Welcome Home, Rams!” victory party this week in L.A., there will be a corresponding wake held by St. Louis football fans. The league can’t merely focus on the happy side of their relocation decision at the exclusion of the other.
Rest assured, even with just one team in Los Angeles, the NFL will maintain the possibility of a second franchise joining the Rams there as a handy leverage point, the kind the league always likes to keep in its pocket to use against cities that might be deemed to have insufficient stadium situations in the future. After two decades of keeping the Los Angeles market as a bargaining chip in its dealings with NFL cities, getting back to L.A. doesn’t even mean the league has to give that up. That’s a win-win that won’t go away unless the NFL allows a second team to relocate and join the Rams.
The Raiders and Chargers lost big time on Tuesday in their bid to get a level-field foothold in Los Angeles, and the league should now do everything in its power to help rebuild the necessary bridges between those teams and their cities. Is getting back to L.A. really such a landmark victory if it comes at the cost of the history, health and significance of the franchises in San Diego and Oakland? Going big back into Los Angeles will be even bigger if ultimately everybody in California wins.
Yay for L.A., but the NFL’s work is far from done. It’s time for the league to roll up its sleeves and figure out how to help San Diego and Oakland find their stadium solutions. No more political gamesmanship or ultimatums are needed. If the league can limit the relocation damage to what has already occurred and stop the cascade of dominoes from going any further, Tuesday’s move might wind up being the NFL’s best one yet.