By Bryan Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –
ST. LOUIS — St. Louis, consider this is your wake-up call. While it might have appeared that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell simply sent a private memo to the NFL’s 32 franchise owners Friday, in reality he broadcast a clarion call to every nervous American city that has an NFL franchise playing in an outdated stadium, haggling over a bad lease or fretting over sagging local attendance.
Los Angeles is officially in play as a fabulous alternative to every disgruntled pro football owner.
According to the confidential memo, while he outlined procedures for franchise relocation to Los Angeles, Goodell also for the first time pronounced the nation’s second-largest television market back in play for professional football as soon as the 2013 season.
“Although substantial uncertainties remain, stadium development in Los Angeles has advanced to the point where the prospects for a new facility are better than they have been in many years,” Goodell wrote in the two-page document obtained by The Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press.
If we’ve learned anything from how Goodell conducts business, it’s this: Every public or private utterance is a calculated chess move meant to deliver maximum clout. All you have to do is see if you can foretell what’s coming next.
So, what does this private utterance by Goodell mean to St. Louis and Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who are about to embark on the final stages of the protracted talks on the possible renovation of the Edward Jones Dome?
For one thing, it means that the commissioner has not so subtly informed negotiators with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau that the negotiating terrain has changed just a little bit. After years of considering LA an empty threat because of stadium issues, the Rams landlords now have something to worry about. This is the doomsday scenario I have been worrying about for years. Get the deal done before Los Angeles becomes a legitimate alternative, not a hollow threat for Kroenke. Without a concrete stadium plan in LA, even if there was no deal after the conclusion of the long arbitration process by the end of the year, Kroenke’s best available option would have been to go to yearly lease agreements rather than breaking the lease after the 2014 season, because he didn’t legitimately have anywhere to relocate his franchise.
All that changed Friday with Goodell’s memo. It was a warning to cities such as St. Louis, San Diego, Jacksonville, Oakland and Buffalo that the clock is ticking on negotiations with their prospective teams. In Goodell’s long-term vision for the future, he wants not one, but two teams playing in that new state-of-the-art stadium in LA. He has mentioned the possibility of a Hall of Fame, expanded NFL Network studios and youth football facilities accompanying the new stadium complex.
But something else in the memo bears notice for anxious or calculating owners such as Kroenke, too. Moving to Los Angeles isn’t going to be your independent call. It’s going to be the league’s.
Unlike the wild and contentious days of franchise free agency several decades ago when teams hopscotched around the nation without the commissioner’s consent, Goodell very specifically this time wrote that no single team has any “presumptive right” to play in Los Angeles.
There will be a league vote on every potential move, and it will take the majority vote of 24 owners to get it done. And in case an owner wants to revive the contentious spirit of the late Al Davis, the commissioner is prepared for the fight. We’ve seen how well Goodell fights to protect the league, something he proudly calls “protecting the shield.” He has taken on players, coaches and owners over the past 24 months on issues ranging from collective bargaining to player fines and suspensions to rogue owners overspendingin non-capped years, and in each case the commish won unanimous decisions.
Goodell’s memo was crafted to make sure everyone understands there will be no chaotic land rush to LA, too. It will be on his terms, as a part of his overall vision for what’s best for the collective.
And maybe that remains as the one thin silver lining for St. Louis.
In the past, Goodell has said that he wants to keep a franchise here. He also seems to be willing to flex his political muscles to keep his established franchises where they are, like showing up in Minnesota with his sleeves rolled up to convince lawmakers of the importance of legislation to pay for the Vikings new stadium.
And who knows, maybe his vision for Los Angeles is expansion, not relocation. Whatever his vision is, part of it is guarding against owners striking out on their own. He doesn’t want an owner making a move to the market before the new stadium solution is completed, playing in the LA Coliseum, the Rose Bowl or Dodger Stadium for a few years, then claiming squatter’s rights once the new stadium issues are resolved.
Goodell will allow teams to apply for relocation as early as January 2013. But if no application is submitted by then, Goodell wrote, “We will consider when and under what circumstances clubs may apply for consent to relocate in a future season.”
In the Rams’ case, even if Kroenke chooses to break his lease with the CVC, he must evaluate all stadium opportunities in its existing market and consult with league staff on those.
I keep being told by people that everyone on the city’s side of the table wants to keep the Rams and understands the value in regarding pro and amateur sports as a viable industry. I keep hearing that they understand how to get this deal done. Well, I hope those smart people are the ones who are truly running things and not an agenda-driven politician whose go-to move is sticking his wet finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing before deciding how to proceed.
I keep being told that intelligent people with vision are running the show.
Now is the time to show it.