ESPN exposé reveals Rams move to L.A. all about “balls”

ESPN: the Magazine ran a super-long insider-baseball (okay, -football) piece yesterday about the NFL’s decision-making process for moving teams to Los Angeles, which I’ve finally finished digesting. (The piece, not Los Angeles. Stupid non-restrictive relative clauses.) Much of it covers ground we already pretty much knew — the whole battle ended up being far more over who had the most friends in the room than over which relocation deal made the most sense financially or anything — but there are several interesting items of note:

  • First off, I guess ESPN: the Magazine doesn’t have any rules about proper sourcing, because the first several paragraphs of the piece are a fly-on-the-wall description of a December NFL owners’ meeting, complete with verbatim quotes, with zero indication of who the fly was. Did reporters Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. actually get access to the meeting in exchange for not reporting on it until the L.A. decision was complete? Was all this second-hand reportage based on what they were told by an owner or owners in the room? You won’t tell from reading this article, which is a problem. I guess we should just be glad it’s not cited to “a story going the rounds.”
  • St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke got his appetite for a bigger stage whetted by his 2011 purchase of Arsenal, after which he reportedly “pined for the larger international presence that other owners envisioned for the NFL’s global future.” (No source on that, either.) But the real push for L.A. started in 2013, when the Hollywood Park racetrack site went up for sale by Wal-Mart, the source of his wife Ann Walton Kroenke’s family fortune.
  • Kroenke paid $90 million for the 60-acre racetrack land, though he later paid more for another 238 acres of adjacent property.
  • The biggest bombshell, hidden deep in the middle of a paragraph halfway down the article: One of the losing bidders in the blind auction for the initial 60 acres was NFL VP Eric Grubman, the league’s point person on stadium development. As the article notes, “Nobody knew whether Grubman had bid on his own or on behalf of the league or some other buyer,” but it seems clear that the league had its own thoughts about the Inglewood land before Kroenke grabbed it.
  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told his fellow owners that whoever moved to Los Angeles needed to have “big balls.” If there is one image you should take with you about NFL decision-making procedures and their relationship to rational economic self-interest, this is probably a good choice.
  • San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos was really not happy with the booby prize of the option to share digs in Inglewood with Kroenke, if he could work out a lease deal: “When [NFL commissioner Roger Goodell] announced that the Rams had won the right to relocate, Spanos closed his eyes and breathed deeply and loudly, as if preparing to speak at a funeral. When Goodell said that the Chargers had the option to join the Rams, Spanos closed his eyes and sighed again.”

It’s a good (if long) read, but with one obvious omission: Nowhere in the article does it mention how Kroenke decided that the cost of moving to Inglewood ($2.7 billion in construction costs, according to this piece, plus $550 million in relocation fees) was worth it, or how the league settled on $550 million as the price for teams to go to L.A. There’s hardly any mention of money at all, in fact — which, if you take this as a peek inside the brains of NFL owners, lends credence to the theory that while obviously an L.A. move was ultimately about profit, by the time it came down to haggling it was about something else entirely: Kroenke having planted his flag on his wife’s old family property, and refusing to back down until he could declare himself the winner, at any cost.

Or, as Jerry Jones would put it, “balls.” Sometimes an impressive edifice is just an impressive edifice.


6 comments on “ESPN exposé reveals Rams move to L.A. all about “balls”

  1. There was a fairly long profile of Kroenke in (I think it was) Forbes. And they had a quote from someone who knew him about how competitive Kroenke was and how he was consumed with winning. He had made it a goal to dunk a basketball on his 50th birthday and he obsessively trained to do that. Sure enough, he dunked on his 50th.

    Thing is, his teams suck. Outside of Arsenal, who even at their level underachieve annually (haven’t won the league in over a decade, go out at the first knock-out hurdle in the CL pretty much every year, etc), all of his teams are bad. The Nuggets might be the best of the lot and they are happy to get an 8-seed and lose to San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs.

    Sports teams are just the medium for things like this. This is the kind of winning he has to be obsessed with—beating out other billionaires to some prize. And while the money is real, the prize is even sort of made up. Kroenke could have taken a shit ton of St. Louis money and gotten a brand new stadium and everything would have been just fine. But nope, he had to win getting to LA. Congrats. It might pay off and that whole development might make you another billion.

    Bet every penny I own that the Rams still suck for another decade though.

  2. Michael, I think the winning that Kroenke is obsessed with is the size of his bank account and not the titles his teams bring home. The Rams will likely remain mediocre and Arsenal will probably claim their fourth place trophy but the value of each continues to go up.

  3. It’s not just the money, though. There was probably a battle for Arsenal between him and Usamnov and we might never know the extent to which he (or others associated with the club through him) lobbied/fought/influenced Bracewell-Smith to sell her shares to Kroenke. And she later said she regretted selling to him. But that was key in his gaining control of AFC.

    Sure the money comes along with it, but business ‘battles’ seem to be what he cares about winning. Too bad his teams suck. Well, too bad for fans of his teams. Although, if Arsenal can get dumped out of the CL at the next hurdle (likely, considering they are playing FCB), I have high hopes for their missing out on the 4th Place Trophy by finishing third.

  4. @Neil deMause
    If you wanna know how deep Kroenke’s pockets are, word came down last week that he’s buying the largest ranch under one fence in the US–the 550,000 acre Waggoner Ranch in Texas. Asking price was $725 million, but actual sale terms were not disclosed. So, in all likelihood, Kroenke is writing over $1 billion in checks on these two transactions in a matter of months. Moving the Rams to LA was worth it because money is no object to him and he’ll forever be known as the man who brought back the NFL to LA.

  5. So this whole L.A. thing is about Stan’s phallic power? I guess we witnessed that first hand when he and his goons took over the TCF Bank press box toilet last fall, snicker.

    Oh well what do I care–I got my share of the 550 mil and really, what else matters?

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