Cheers, jeers and tears. Fans of the Rams, Chargers and Raiders let it all out in cathartic town hall meetings hosted by the NFL as the league considers moving a team to Los Angeles
In late October, the NFL hosted town hall meetings for fans in St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland to speak out about their teams’ possible relocation to Los Angeles. NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman led the hearings, an opportunity for fans to vent frustrations, reminisce about happier times and ask questions to NFL executives. The Raiders’ Mark Davis was the only team owner to attend. The MMQB picked out some highlights of these passionate public forums.
My name is David Collins and I am 81 years old. I am known as ‘Pops’ to the Rams players and coaches and I am the oldest living Rams fan. I qualify this by saying that in 1946 when the Rams moved from Cleveland to L.A., where I was born and raised, I was at the first game. A preseason game against the Washington Redskins. I sold the evening newspaper outside the game. It had the roster in it and you could buy it for seven cents instead of paying 25 cents for the program inside. After the first quarter, they let the newsboys in for free. I was hooked. In my 69 years of Rams football, I have seen over a thousand games. It’s my big passion in life. I’ve seen them go through different owners and coaches... The current team is about to become the best ever. When Georgia Frontiere moved the Rams from L.A. to St. Louis, I bought satellite TV so I could see them on NFL Sunday Ticket. In 1999, my wife was offered a job at Principia College, right across the river from St. Louis. I said, ‘Let’s go, because that’s where my Rams are.’ Now we cannot move back to Los Angeles because prices have gone sky high again. Unless you live right in Inglewood it will take you five hours to get to a game. Please do not take my Rams away from me again, they belong to the fans like me. The owners are just the caretakers.
— David Collins, read by his wife, Mary, because Dave was too overcome with emotion
I would like to ask you to fast forward a few years if you could. What I am envisioning is a January playoff game with Todd Gurley leading the Rams. There are glorious shots of our stadium hugging the Mississippi River; the blimp shots will be amazing. Alternatively, there’s the Inglewood stadium sitting a few miles from LAX, planes buzzing here and there, creating noise and rumble at the stadium. There’s no comparison. You can’t go wrong with St. Louis. Many of our retired players have chosen to live in our city, we are a great football city—past, future and present.
“Are you going to throw out three NFL cities to satisfy one? And if the NFL does not value St. Louis enough to keep the Rams here, what kind of message are you sending to smaller markets?”
I want to refer to one of the factors to be considered in a proposed transfer: the degree to which the owners or managers of the club have contributed to circumstances which might demonstrate the need for relocation. In five years as majority owner of the Rams, Mr. Kroenke is almost never at Rams games. I have pictures right here— easy to Google—of the owners of the other 31 NFL teams out in their communities, accepting awards, donating, signing autographs. There is one owner that you can’t Google search and find an image of doing anything in his community, and that is Stan Kroenke. The last time he communicated with these customers was very briefly the day he hired Jeff Fisher four years ago. That’s the last time. No newspaper ads, no emails, no communication whatsoever. By the way, the other two owners in town, Tom Stillman of the Blues, walks around the concourse meeting with fans. [Cardinals owner] Bill DeWitt, whose team has been to the playoffs in 14 of the last 20 years, walks around the concourse at Busch Stadium and communicates with his fans. There’s also no media availability by Stan Kroenke. His detachment is a big reason that this is becoming—he’s trying to make it a bad football market. This is not a bad football market, it’s a spectacular football town.
I’ve been a season-ticket holder for 50 years with the Cardinals and with the Rams. [Arizona Cardinals owner] Mr. Bidwill was justified in moving, we didn’t do right by him. But make no mistake, Mr. Kroenke is not. It’s almost sad what he’s done. When the Rams moved here, we invested 125 to 150 million dollars in PSLs. We built a stadium. Twenty years later, we are going through the same thing, invest 125 to 150 million dollars for PSLs. And we are going to build another stadium. Don’t ever question our allegiance to our teams. St. Louis loves the Rams. Nobody attends games that has been subjected to 11 years of mediocre football and five years of the worst football in the history of the game… I am really heartbroken. I believe Bidwill was totally justified, but this man is not. Make no mistake about that. It’s pretty well documented that we are going to build a stadium if we get the opportunity.
Twenty years ago I put a lot of faith in the NFL by sending a check to some P.O. box for the right to buy a seat in a stadium that wasn’t built and for a team that wasn’t even here. And the NFL delivered. Today the NFL is considering letting Stan Kroenke move the team back to Los Angeles. I want to know how closely the NFL is going to follow its own guidelines in this process. Are you going to do what is fair? Are you going to do what makes the most sense? Or are you going to let an owner buy his way into what he wants, no matter how it impacts a city full of fans who have supported this team since Day 1, financially and emotionally through many, many bad seasons. And please, do not even insinuate that Stan Kroenke and the Rams worked diligently and in good faith to obtain and maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territory. Please do not even insult me or this city or anybody in this room. My question is this: Are you going to throw out three NFL cities to satisfy one? And if the NFL does not value St. Louis enough to keep the Rams here, what kind of message are you sending to Cleveland and Jacksonville and Detroit and Carolina? Smaller markets, and many without the support the Rams have in St. Louis. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me what my loyalty is worth to the NFL, if you could please do that.
Last night there was a tweet from the NFL and it showed players praying together and it said, “Football is family.” In my family, the thing my dad was most proud to give us was Rams season tickets in 1995. Our family sits in those seats today and we can still picture him doing his little Rams dance when something good happens in the game. The thought of not having our Rams in St. Louis anymore goes beyond sadness. It feels like we would be losing a part of our lives and our history. Even during the worst five-year stretch that some people say has ever been played in football, you never give up on family. It was so bad for awhile that I had to have a jersey made with my own last name on it so I could get more than a season out of it... Without disparaging other sports, I’ve seen a greater diversity of people at Rams games. I believe football brings people together and rather than black or white, we see blue and gold… After the Joplin, Missouri, tornado devastated us in 2011, it made us weep for joy when the boys in blue and gold pulled up in their team bus to help. It made us so proud but it also inspired us. So much so, that in my own family business, we shut it down for two weeks, paid our employees and told them to go serve the community. And they did. If the NFL is about family, then please let’s get this done in St. Louis. Mr. Kroenke, please sit down with us, because your family is willing and waiting.
The Chargers have been here 55 years, they are part of the culture here. And something you guys may or may not know, is that people in San Diego don’t go to Los Angeles. So the misnomer they are pitching the owners that somehow this fan base will go to L.A. is false. They are going to lose all merchandising, they are going to lose the fan base and they are going to alienate a community. If your long-term vision is to have a team here and have Super Bowls, you aren’t looking at the long term, you’re looking at the short term. You’re allowing an owner to grab his cash and alienate a community… The NFL wants to expand. They want to go to Mexico City, London, Toronto. What message does it send to these communities that supposedly you are going to give money to, that you can drag a team that’s been here for 55 years and leave? Are these communities going to want to pay for new franchises and use civic money to build stadiums knowing that in 25 years, that owner could decide to move to a better market? It doesn’t set a good precedent.
I appreciate the NFL’s focus this year of promoting the connection between family and the NFL, and I think you’re on the right track because the family is the base of this whole society. I’m a parent, and I raised my kids right as Chargers fans. We’d sit down and watch the games, but I’ll never forget the day that my son said, “Dad, can I buy one of those tickets?” I realized then that this had become an institution—not just for my family, but for other families. I remember that because that’s how I came to the game. We watched in my grandmother’s house… I also want to speak today as a grandparent. I talked about all my experiences with my children, and the thought that my grandchildren would never be able to experience that is hard to think. What’s even worse is that there is going to be this huge gap before the NFL comes around and puts another team back in San Diego. It will always be the San Diego Super Chargers. There is no such thing as the Los Angeles Super Chargers or the Carson Super Chargers. I love the idea of this team being owned by the citizens; this is the heart and soul of this town.
“Do you realize that no team in the history of the NFL has ever left or uprooted from a city after 55 years? None. This would be a tough thing and a bitter pill to swallow for San Diego.”
Both sets of my parents are San Diego natives. That makes me and my wife second-generation San Diego natives, my daughter is a third-generation native and a freshman at San Diego State. Let me make a preliminary statement and I think a lot of the people in this room will agree with this: if [special counsel to Chargers] Mark Fabiani were to tell me that he had breakfast at Denny’s, I’d want to see a receipt… The Chargers are like the cheating spouse that wants any excuse to leave, and the city of San Diego is the spouse that keeps wanting to go to marriage counseling. I have attended my last Chargers game until the Spanos family sells the team or you bring somebody else in here. But I am done with the Chargers. I’m done. I’ve spent my last dollar on that team.
I would like to give some stats about some of the wonderful NFL cities that the 32 owners represent: Buffalo, Indianapolis, Nashville, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Baltimore, Denver, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Charlotte, New Orleans, Green Bay and St. Louis—these are all smaller markets than San Diego, California. All of them. This is a big market, and if the NFL wants to get in that Mexican market, we are the gateway to Mexico for the NFL. You combine San Diego with a population of 3.1 million with Tijuana at 2 million and there are a lot of transplants that go between the border, and there are bunch of ex-pats who do that, that’s five million people... Do you realize that no team in the history of the NFL has ever left or uprooted from a city after 55 years? None. This would be a tough thing and a bitter pill to swallow for San Diego. Look at the other cities that have had to endure this. Cleveland, Baltimore, Houston—these cities were gutted, emptied, it’s not good. It’s actually morally wrong. There is a social responsibility that I hope the 32 owners look at when they look at uprooting teams. This city does not deserve to be uprooted to L.A., our archrival.
Over the last few years I’ve donated countless hours to keep the team here in San Diego, I’ve been to owners meetings in Arizona and Chicago just to show how much we love our team. Along my journey one thing I can say for certain is I’ve never seen one person with a sign that says, “Bring the Chargers to L.A.” That hasn’t happened! So is it really worth it? Is it really worth not having a sold-out stadium in L.A.? Because you aren’t going to get the support there that you have here. Is it worth sitting in a waste dump of traffic? Is it worth playing second fiddle to our rivalry with the Raiders? Or even to somebody like the L.A. Rams that truly want their team and their history back and we don’t want to lose ours? Is it worth turning your back and losing fans like me and my family that have been through thick and thin? Is it worth it? I was in the military and a disabled veteran. I never quit on the people who loved me and stood by my side, and battled day in and out. You as the NFL should adopt the same honor, duty and respect to the fan base in San Diego and vote to keep them here in San Diego.
I’d like to shed a little light on what it means to us to have the team stay here. This fan base does not go on family vacations, we purchase season-ticket packages. This a blue-collar town and we choose to invest our hard-earned money on our team and buying season-ticket packages. We are not the California Raiders, we are the Oakland Raiders. There is a game coming on December 24, which people like to refer to as Christmas Eve. While a lot of families will be at home by their Christmas tree, we will be at the Oakland Coliseum. We will be dragging our silver and black Christmas tree to our tailgate party and teaching our family for future generations what it means to be a die-hard Raiders fan. I was a season-ticket holder when the Raiders moved to SoCal, because I refused to say L.A., and I still do. I remember how disappointed I was when the team left and how elated I was when the team returned, even with the added PSL fee on my season-ticket package. There are many choices of things to do in SoCal, which there aren’t here. We watched in horror as the fans got up and left at halftime to go over to the Forum to watch the Lakers play. That would never happen here in Oakland. It didn’t work then, and I’m pretty certain it’s not going to work again. So [Raiders owner Mark Davis], with all due respect, if you think the grass is greener in SoCal and you choose to take the team there and then try to come back again, you’re probably going to come back to a No Trespassing sign. This is a culture and a way of life. Oakland is home. Just stay, baby.
“Every time a team moves, they lose a little bit of themselves. Santa Clara was a great idea. Last year [the 49ers] were selling out, this year you see them on TV, there are empty seats all over the place. They lost their heart.”
Mr. Grubman, you had said at the St. Louis meeting that the NFL didn’t fail in L.A., it was the teams that failed in L.A. The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting a different result. We’ve done this before, it didn’t work. Right now you have three teams that are looking to move. You only have one team that is selling out their stadium. St. Louis: 9,000 under every game. San Diego: if you add the visiting fans that show up to their stadium, 7,000 under every game. Raider games: 54,000, we’re there every weekend. Every time a team moves, they lose a little bit of themselves. Santa Clara was a great idea. Last year [the 49ers] were selling out, this year you see them on TV, there are empty seats all over the place. They lost their heart. My question is, how is it going to be any different this time around? Two years ago, during the draft, a group of us went down to Alameda, sat out there and screamed for you, Mr. Davis, yelled your name, you came out and I give you major props, because not many owners would come out to a bunch of crazy Raider fans. You told us you wanted to stay in Oakland and you needed us to have your back. For the last two years, we’ve been selling out. We’re still doing it, we are buying the season tickets, we had your back for two years. Do you have ours now? We want our team here, and we are willing to support you. Don’t put it on Facebook or Twitter or any of that stuff, show us.
It’s just not a Sunday thing. It’s an everyday thing for us. We do this 24/7. We live and we breathe Raiders. I have already traveled to 16 stadiums, including Wembley Stadium in London. I traveled across the pond with hundreds of Raiders fans. Did you see how many of us were there? Can you honestly tell me that any other team has had that many people attend a game in London with the record we had before? Keep the Raiders in Oakland. The Raiders are Oakland. When we travel to other cities, we make long-lasting relationships with other fans and we invite them to our home and they come and tailgate with us. Don’t take that from us. Our stadium is fine the way it is, we don’t want to go.
In 1960, when I was eight years old, my uncle gave me my early birthday present: tickets to see a new football team at Kezar Stadium, the very first Raider game. That was the birth of the Oakland Raiders. After that game, I was hooked. That’s my family. I always looked at them as my big brothers when I was growing up… I had season tickets for my son and I until they moved to L.A. After they moved to L.A., I went to games down there, but it was nothing like the experience of coming to a game in Oakland. People would come to the game and then say, “Oh it’s time for Johnny Carson” and they would leave. When the Raiders moved to L.A. it was like a divorce, one parent moved off to L.A. and was charmed and told they were going to be a star, while the other parent stayed here with the kids and waited for the other parent to come to their senses. When the team came home I was one of the many that rushed out to get season tickets… The Golden State Warriors are doing such a fantastic job, they had a championship season and they’ve raised revenue for the city, for the team. With the Raiders selling out for the last two seasons, what Oakland will bring to the NFL is what they need: revenue. It may seem that moving the Raiders to L.A. will be an easy thing, but it won’t be anything like it is here. I want my children to be able to bring my grandchildren to Oakland Raiders games. This is our family, please help us keep the Raiders in Oakland.