SCHMUCK: Enough never enough in NFL
If history is any guide, the return of the erstwhile St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles will produce a glitzy new stadium, a ton of seat-license revenue and a burst of phony nostalgia about a franchise that left the City of Angels in 1995 to a collective yawn.
The NFL has finally decided that one of the largest sports markets in the world should be graced again with its presence. So, the fans of the Gateway City are getting the gate and an area that barely has enough fresh water to quench its 15-million-mouth thirst will get another fancy building that sells foofy beer.
What took so long?
For some reason, the people who brought you four-figure face-value Super Bowl tickets decided a couple of decades ago that there was enough gold in the Hollywood Hills from L.A.'s contribution to their national television ratings and the leverage they got having such a great market available during stadium negotiations in other locales.
L.A. was a Dodgers town and a Lakers town when it got caught up in the era of NFL franchise movement, which temporarily brought the Raiders to town before they went home and the Rams headed east.
The point of all this is not to suggest that Los Angeles won't support one — or even two — NFL franchises. It almost certainly will, because of both a Southern California population explosion and an NFL popularity explosion that has allowed the league to weather all manner of scandal and outrageous disregard for big chunks of its fan base.
The point is that what the NFL has done — whether it was done to Baltimore or Cleveland or St. Louis, and whether or not the ultimate outcome for each locality has been good or bad — is reprehensible.
And ironic, if you think about it. The NFL has long held tremendous power over the labor rights of its players, certainly much more so than Major League Baseball, while the league has exercised little restraint with its carpetbagging owners over the past 30 years or so.
Baltimore history: The Colts left Baltimore in the dead of night. The Oakland Raiders jumped to L.A. and back to Oakland, with little regard for the cities they leveraged and exploited. There is franchise movement in the other major professional sports, but it has often been the result of real economic hardship, of which the NFL has none.
Of course, one size doesn't fit all. Baltimore deserved a football team after the way the fans supported the Colts and were betrayed by them. Cleveland deserved a new franchise — and a new stadium — after Art Modell and his debt-ridden Browns felt they couldn't survive there any longer.
Rams' situation: The Rams' situation is a bit different. That franchise was lured to St. Louis with the fulfilled promise of a new stadium and now has been lured back to Los Angeles by the promise of a much bigger fan base and the development potential of a big chunk of L.A. real estate.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke didn't make the original deal with St. Louis, which probably helps him rationalize leaving that city with an empty downtown stadium it is still paying for. But he certainly benefited from it and now is casting a loyal fan base aside to help satisfy the NFL's unquenchable thirst for more and more profit.
Though St. Louis did lure the Rams away from Los Angeles and the Raiders announced their move back to Oakland the same year, the loss of pro football in Los Angeles was not nearly as traumatic as the departure of the Colts and Browns.
The Rams had a long history and a loyal fan base, but the case could be made at the time that there was more passion for college rivals USC and UCLA. The Rams were a consistent playoff team in the 1980s, but were overshadowed by a Lakers dynasty that made eight trips to the NBA Finals during that decade (winning five titles) and a highly popular Dodgers franchise that won two World Series.
Soon after the L.A. Kings stepped up in the market with the 1988 acquisition of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, the Rams faded and would average fewer than five wins per season from 1990 until the move after the 1994 season. When they left, they reduced the number of big-time professional sports teams along a 120-mile stretch of California coastline from 10 to nine.
St. Louis emotionally damaged: Throw in everything else there was to do in Southern California and sports fans didn't exactly have abandonment issues. Los Angeles is not the kind of community that can be emotionally damaged in that way. Clearly, St. Louis is. Public reaction to the announcement that the NFL was bailing out of St. Louis for the second time in 30 years has been understandably bitter.
The city has proposed a stadium construction plan that would include $400 million in public funds, but Kroenke and the NFL don't deal in half steps. Keeping the Rams in St. Louis would mean not being the first franchise back into Los Angeles and not squeezing the last potential dollar out of the best possible market.
If the Rams didn't go there, the San Diego Chargers would have — and still might. The Raiders also are looking to get out of Oakland ... again.
“It is a bit of an arms race, and I do feel bad for the cities,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said at his team's season-ending news conference on Jan. 7. “But I wish that they would stay in sync with their desire. More teams build stadiums to get back a team than build them for their city to keep the team. All three of those cities are vying to go to a city that will make them more financially competitive, and unfortunately, the better the stadium the more financially competitive you are in this business. I lived it for 12 years without a team [in Baltimore] and I feel bad for the other cities that are going to have to experience that.”
It's funny. Orioles manager Buck Showalter was talking about his club's original $150 million offer to Chris Davis last week and asked the rhetorical question, “When is enough enough?”
When it comes to the NFL, the answer apparently is never.