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.

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