St. Louis Rams' owner Kroenke owned the dirt; now he owns L.A.

The Rams are back in L.A. after 21-year hiatus because owner Stan Kroenke owns their new stadium grounds


(Photo courtesy of St. Louis Rams)

By Ron Borges

Talk of Fame Network

The legendary Ben Hogan used to say, “The secret is in the dirt,’’ when asked how to become a great golfer. Same is true for moving an NFL franchise to Los Angeles: The secret is in the dirt.

No one understood this better than St. Louis Rams' owner Stan Kroenke, who won the L.A. sweepstakes Tuesday when NFL owners voted 30-2 to allow him to move the Rams back to Los Angeles after a 21-year hiatus in the Midwest. It would cost him a $550 million moving fee to be paid to his fellow socialists. But for a guy with an $11 billion net worth that comes out of the petty cash draw.

Kroenke could pay that fee in 10 equal parts over the next decade but, instead, informed the league the check was in the mail. Literally.

That’s because Kroenke and his wife are part of the Walton family ... and I don’t mean John-Boy and Emily. His wife is a Walton, as in the Wal-Mart Waltons, and Kroenke has long been a successful land developer and professional sports franchise owner among other things.

In the case of the L.A. lottery, the latter was the key. Kroenke understood far better than San Diego Chargers’ owner Dean Spanos and Oakland Raiders' owner Mark Davis where the secret to such a move truly lay: In the dirt.

Two years ago, Kroenke bought a significant amount of that dirt in Inglewood, Cal., a 60-acre parcel next to 238 acres of the Hollywood Park site that will become his team’s new home. Those 238 acres were owned by a San Francisco developer named Stockbridge Capitol.

While the Chargers and Raiders were working on a less desirable stadium location in Carson on property they did not own or control, Kroenke was cutting a development deal with Stockbridge Capitol to combine the two plots of dirt, giving him control of enough land to place his proposed $2 billion (or will it be $3 billion?) stadium complex with minimal problems from environmentalists and elected officials.

That stadium will seat 70,240 but can be expanded by 30,000 in standing-room only areas for something like a Super Bowl or World Cup finals. In other words, it’s going to make money all year long, not 10 weekends a season.

Nearly 150 architects have been working on the plan ever since -- and a key ingredient to closing the deal was Kroenke had them include identical locker rooms, offices and owner’s suite for two teams, meaning he could either partner with the Chargers or Raiders or simply bring one on as a tenant.

This solved two problems for his socialist-minded partners around the league, as well as avoiding another of having to build on city or state owned lands. That’s why it was always going to be Kroenke who took over what is likely to become the most lucrative stadium in the NFL. Why? Because he owned the dirt.

This returns pro football to the country’s second largest city after a 21-year absence and brings the Rams back to the city they were a part of for 49 years. None of that matters to the 30 owners who voted to approve the deal however.

All that mattered was that Kroenke’s proposal, both short term with the franchise fee and long term with the development prospects that would generate year-round revenue for a multi-use facility, guaranteed not only him but also them the one thing these ruthless socialists care about: M-O-N-E-Y.

These guys are not Bernie Sanders socialists. They’re not advocating spreading the wealth around more evenly except in one context. They want to spread the most wealth they can among themselves. They may be capitalists when laying off employees or signing players to one-way contracts, but when it comes to stadium and league finances they go Karl Marx on you.

So the Rams are now in L.A., as the NFL’s website wasted no time in proving by erasing all mention of St. Louis as if Stalinist-era historians had re-written their website. They will likely play at the L.A. Coliseum for the next three years until their new digs open in 2019. Where the Chargers and Raiders play remains to be seen.

For the moment, Spanos has first option to make a deal with Kroenke or become his tenant. If he can’t decide by Jan. 15, 2017, the Raiders get a year to work something out. If neither does that, each is guaranteed $100 million from the league to come up with stadium solutions in their respective cities, which is highly unlikely in San Diego because of the contentiousness of the situation and equally unlikely in Oakland because the city is broke and the voters know it.

My guess is ultimately, the Chargers also return to their L.A. roots (it’s where they began when the American Football League was formed in 1960), and the Raiders are sold to interests in San Antonio or head south to San Diego or east to St. Louis.

A dour-looking Davis said at a post-vote press conference that “This was not a win for the Raiders.’’ Not much gets past that guy.

What he didn’t say was that he’d already asked his fellow socialists in the owners’ boxes to wave a moving fee if he eventually takes the Raiders elsewhere. No reply from them, but I wouldn’t count on that.

The only thing that was clear for the Raiders is that London is out of the question. Asked where his team would play in the short term, Davis said “America.’’ That’s a relief, although judging by how these owners do business Moscow would fit their fiscal politics.

St. Louis, of course, is crying foul. It’s claiming its $1.1 billion proposal to build the Rams an open-air stadium on the Mississippi River should have kept Kroenke in St. Louis and that dwindling attendance was a direct result of the Rams having posted nine straight losing seasons and 11 without a playoff appearance.

"The NFL and Stan Kroenke have displayed a callous disregard for the St. Louis area and its loyal football fans," St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement.

Sure they have, but what did he expect? Having twice stolen NFL franchises from other cities (the Chicago Cardinals in 1959 and the Rams in 1995), the people and politicians of St. Louis should have known better than thinking loyalty would have anything to do with it. Hell, they trafficked in disloyalty when they stole other cities’ teams didn’t they?

In addition, what do you figure is a better long-term play: a $1.1 billion house in St. Louis or a $2 billion palace in downtown L.A.? If you have to think about that for more than a minute you probably can’t balance your checkbook.

Throughout this process, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reminded us how he keeps his job. He and his staff took the political and fan heat in all three cities, deflecting it away from his socialistic bosses. Several weeks before the vote he issued a report with his name on it, saying the stadium proposals in San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis were “inadequate,’’ and pointed out that St. Louis’ financing was based on a $200 million contribution toward the new stadium from the NFL’s socialistic “Gang of 32’’ when the league’s owners only guarantee $100 million.

In the end, the issue of who was going to land in Los Angeles was settled the way these matters always are. The secret was in the dirt, and Stan Kroenke owned more of it than his rivals. The deciding vote was about the money, and Kroenke’s stadium plan figured to produce more of it than the Carson project for all 32.

When it was over, Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross declared “Everybody won.’’ When reminded that the people of St. Louis might not share that sentiment, Ross added a telling addendum.

“Well, somebody has to lose,’’ he said.

True. Just not the socialists.