Column: Greed the motivator as NFL teams rush to LA

The people of St. Louis are in a tizzy, and not just because the team they lifted from Los Angeles could soon be heading back home.

Apparently it wasn't enough for the Rams to pack up their gear and leave behind a useless dome taxpayers built for them. They had to insult the local citizenry on the way out by calling them lousy fans who can't support multiple sports franchises.

If it came as a surprise to loyal Rams fans, well, they should have seen it coming.

It wasn't that long ago, 1995 to be exact, when then-owner Georgia Frontiere strong-armed the NFL into moving the Rams from the Los Angeles area to St. Louis. Frontiere said so few fans were coming to games that the franchise risked bankruptcy by staying in Anaheim.

Now the Rams want to go back, to a new stadium development they want to build near the city's airport. In asking the league to leave, the team said that accepting conditions for a new stadium in St. Louis would leave the team ''well on the road to financial ruin.''

It was, of course, nonsense then. It's even more nonsense now.

However the Los Angeles franchise shell game plays out - the Chargers and Raiders also filed this week to move to LA - the idea that an NFL team might be in financial difficulty is laughable. Massive guaranteed TV contracts shared equally among the 32 teams - last year each got $226.4 million just from TV alone - almost guarantee expenses will be paid before any tickets are sold.

It's also not about fans, or the lack of them, as the Rams suggested in their 29-page application to leave St. Louis. There are more than enough loyal fans to fill the new $1.1 billion stadium that civic leaders are proposing in St. Louis in what looks like a futile effort to keep the team.

No, the move for all three teams is about potential and potential valuation. The LA market is big and vast, and occupying a new stadium in it - whether the proposed development by the Rams in Inglewood or a shared facility for the Chargers and Raiders in nearby Carson - is about as close as it gets to a license to print money.

While Southern California residents haven't exactly been holding demonstrations in the streets demanding a team, there will surely be enough to fill whatever stadium or stadiums eventually get built. But the real value lies in a wide open market in the second largest city in the country that all three teams can't wait to exploit.

According to Forbes, the Rams ranked 29th among the 32 NFL teams last year with a valuation of $1.45 billion. That's not bad considering the team was essentially valued at about half that just six years ago when owner Stan Kroenke scooped up the 60 percent he didn't own from heirs of Frontiere.

It's entirely conceivable - actually almost guaranteed - that the team's value could double again the minute it moves to Los Angeles. And with that much money at stake, there should be some interesting conversations among the very rich when NFL owners meet next week with a decision on the Los Angeles moves on the table.

''There will probably be at least one team moving to LA,'' said Kansas City owner Clark Hunt, a member of the league's relocation committee. ''I can't speculate who that might be.''

Hunt might not, but we can.

The Rams aren't staying in St. Louis, that's increasingly clear. There could even be a case made that they rightfully belong back in LA, and that's where they will go.

The same company that designed Jerry Jones' monument to himself in Dallas has come up with drawings for the old Hollywood Park site Kroenke already controls. Kroenke says it can host two teams, and that he is willing to invest $800 million in equity on his own plus a ''reasonable'' relocation fee.

The Chargers and Raiders have proposed their own joint stadium in Carson, but there won't be two stadiums built. The most likely scenario is that the Rams and Chargers team up in one stadium, and the Raiders are offered some sort of consolation prize to remain in Oakland.

That will make everyone happy except, of course, the fans of San Diego and St. Louis who for generations have supported NFL teams.

No matter, because they've always been the last consideration in a league ruled by greed.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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