Q&A: L.A. Rams owner and Missouri native Stan Kroenke talks relocation
A version of this story appears in the Jan. 25, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
When NFL owners voted 30–2 last week to relocate a team to Los Angeles, it altered the league’s center of gravity. But it also altered the profile of the man behind it, Rams owner Enos Stanley (Stan) Kroenke. A native of Missouri, Kroenke might be worth billions and—as principal owner of the Rams, the NHL’s Avalanche, NBA’s Nuggets, MLS’s Rapids and EPL’s Arsenal—may have more money invested in sports and stadiums than anyone on the planet.
But he’ll be most known as either the figure who, after years of failed negotiations in St. Louis, decided to go big rather than stay home; or the man who, in the spirit of manifest destiny, brought football and a $3 billion stately pleasure dome to L.A.
Jon Wertheim: There had been much speculation about who would win the L.A. sweepstakes, and we keep hearing that you were the “winner.” Do you feel as if you won? Did you view this as a competition?
Stan Kroenke: We never viewed this as a competition. This process is designed to be hard for the best interest of all franchises, their respective cities and the NFL. All of the previous L.A. stadium proposals were real estate development projects without a team. Most of the projects had different issues and never really got off the ground. With us having a team and with our real estate experience, it wasn’t a difficult concept. We believed we could help solve the problem for our 31 partners and bring the NFL back to Los Angeles. This was never personal. Our goal always has been to create an exciting and long-term solution for the NFL, our 31 partners and Los Angeles football fans.
JW: To what extent do you see similarities with the real estate development strategy—shopping centers, warehouse facilities, apartments, vineyards—that put you in this position?
SK: This is a big real estate development project with the stadium as the anchor. The stadium itself is 20–25% of the project. We are building a true entertainment venue and a city within a city. Our 300-acre site, for example, is larger than the footprint of Century City in Los Angeles. This creates an amazing opportunity and IS a developer’s dream.
Commissioner Goodell asked for very specific things in his letter in 2012 to the ownership concerning any team wishing to relocate to Los Angeles. That was the blueprint we used. He wanted an “iconic” stadium and an entertainment district. So an iconic stadium with an entertainment district is exactly what we created.
I don’t think there was an exact moment [when we knew that we wanted to move the team to L.A.]. I have said that I’m not sure a rational person would have done what we’ve done without the perspective of decades of experience in real estate development and sports business. This is a long-term commitment, and we are completely committed to this project, Inglewood and Los Angeles.
JW: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the NFL—the biggest factor in the success of this investment—in the future?
SK: Probably the two biggest things are labor stability and our television contracts. Both of those need to continue to work properly. NFL primetime ratings were higher than ever this season, from playoff games, Sunday Night Football, Thursday Night Football and Monday Night Football. Primetime games on average had about 25 million viewers. The second-most watched regular program, I believe, was a special episode of NCIS with 19 million viewers.
So I’d say [the two most important factors are] stability with television contracts and stability with labor and our players. Those two things must continue to work well in tandem for the long-term stability of the league. This allows for all markets to compete for titles as evidenced by this year’s playoffs contenders.
JW: How do you feel about potentially having another NFL team as a tenant?
SK: That was part of the relocation approval process and we’re happy to welcome a second team. A second team would be viewed as a partner, not our tenant. Each team has a one-year option to partner with us in the new stadium. With the league’s stadium program, two teams make it easier to finance these projects. The stadium has been designed to host two teams from Day 1.
“I understand the emotional side of sports. But when you look at the rational economic side, what was expected of us made no sense.”
JW: As someone who values his privacy, are you concerned that owning what will surely be among the most watched and discussed franchises in sports will, necessarily, make you a vastly more public figure?
SK: That doesn’t concern me. Sports figures are public figures. I’ve owned teams for more than 20 years. Obviously London is a comparable stage to Los Angeles, and Arsenal has one of the most passionate and vocal fan bases in sports. So I don’t see that really impacting us.
JW: You’re a small-town Missouri guy. You were named for St. Louis sports legends [Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial]. You even tried to bring an expansion NFL franchise to St. Louis, you helped lead the effort to bring the Rams to St. Louis. Years after bringing football to your home state, what were the emotions of then taking a franchise out of it?
SK: It’s extremely hard. It’s not something you’d ever want to be faced with. I never dreamed, and I’ll repeat that, I never dreamed I would be put in that position. But we were put in that position.
People forget that when we brought the team to St. Louis, the city had already a built NFL stadium without a tenant. Think about that. It was very important to the Rams, when they moved there, to have the lease in proper form that required the stadium to be kept in a certain way for the long-term stability of the franchise. Stadiums shouldn’t be a competitive disadvantage. That was the situation we were faced with, and an independent panel of judges agreed with us.
We had given stadium officials passes for a number of years to help them out. There was a procedure that called for measuring dates. We told them years in advance that we weren’t going to waive the last measuring date and that they should be prepared for us exploring alternatives. I understand the emotional side of sports. But when you look at the rational economic side, what was expected of us made no sense.
That still didn’t make this an easy decision. It was extremely difficult and very emotional for me to the point that I thought long and hard about buying the rest of the team in 2010 because of the way the Rams had been treated in stadium negotiation the previous eight years prior to me buying the rest of the team. I knew it was something I couldn’t ignore because my 31 partners would not allow us to continue to play in a non-first-class facility.
JW: With all of your other sports interests and real estate investments, how involved do you anticipate being in the Los Angeles Rams?
SK: Jon, you’ve been around us. We try to find the most capable people and put them in place to run the teams on the field and off. We are always involved. We always stay close to the businesses. We want to make sure they remain healthy. An unhealthy franchise is a bad thing. It’s not any fun for the owner, I can tell you. So we will always be involved.
JW: At the next family gathering, how do you anticipate being received by your kinfolk in Missouri and the Ozarks?
SK: My kinfolk from the Ozarks and several friends from Missouri have already spoken with me. There’s an old saying, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” They brought that up. They said they’ve never seen me not act that way. So they know our approach was right and fair. They are fully behind us. Not only that, I think the people of Missouri also get it. There will always be the emotional side, as I mentioned before. Sports fans are passionate. But this decision was not about me or St. Louis. It was about what was in the best long-term interest of the NFL and our 31 partners. Without a viable stadium option, we had to look at alternatives or wind up empty-handed.