Last week’s announcement that Stan Kroenke has reached an agreement with the city of Inglewood on construction of a $2B stadium seems like LA’s 20 year NFL drought might finally be coming to an end. Of course, we all thought the same thing when Tim Leiweke announced plans for Farmer’s Field back in 2012. But this time feels different, especially with the simultaneous interest from the Chargers and Raiders, expressing interest in a shared stadium in Carson. No way LA goes from zero teams to three, so what’s likely to happen?
First off, don’t let anyone who tells you that LA has no appetite for an NFL team fool you. It’s total bunk. A team would need to sell 100,000 tickets 8 times a year, or 800,000 tickets total per season. The Dodgers regularly sell over 2.5 million tickets a season. The Lakers top 500k with less than 20,000 seats. And fans of all ages are NFL obsessed in this town. My 14-year old son, who I often call “a focus group of one” is an NFL fiend. And so are his friends. Fantasy Football has kept football alive and well in LA, and created a young generation of fans that are at least as interested in the NFL as they are the NBA, baseball or any other pro sport, regardless of the fact that LA has never had a team during their lifetimes. If the NFL comes, the fans will follow. (*In the short term. LA also loves winners. The town won’t tolerate poor performance for long).
I’ve spoken to several respected colleagues and mentors the past week or so to gauge their thoughts. Of course absolutely no consensus emerged, so it proves once again that “nobody knows nothing”. Here’s what I heard.
First of all, it’s happening. Above all else, stadiums (the “Place” of the 4 P’s of marketing) determine whether or not teams come or go. The biggest reason LA has not had a team for so long is the lack of a modern stadium. The Colliseum and Rose Bowl are old, dated venues that aren’t equipt to generate the suite, concessions, seating and signage revenue that 21st century NFL stadiums need to generate. LA, a collection of semi-independent municipalities, has never had the political backbone to build a publicly funded stadium in hopes of attracting a tenant. LA is a town with tons of existing tourist destinations, a strong economy and a disjointed city councel, and was never going to publicly subsidize a stadium. So without a decent stadium, the City of Angels has had little hope of getting a team.
Clearly, that’s all changing now. AEG teased us with a proposed stadium. Now Kroenke has approved plans to build one. And it’s easy to imagine private investors financing a stadium in Carson if they knew they could book 16 home games per year, with 2 tenants in the building. PSL’s alone, which fans can resell on the open market, could fund much of the likely $1.5-2B construction costs. A stadium will be build, and NFL will be back in LA within 3 years).
Of the two most senior people I spoke with, two totally opposite points of view emerged.
2. It will be the Rams.
Stan Kroenke is not bluffing. The Hollywood Park site is not only well situated, just off the 405 Freeway, and near several others, there’s plenty of room for tailgating and improvement of the surrounding neighborhood. He’s got approval of the city counsel. There’s history here (Pat Haden and Vince Ferragamo notwithstanding), an existing fan base, and a Facebook page with 48,000 followers that would welcome the Rams back to town. And immediately upon relocating from St. Louis to LA, the value of Kroenke’s franchise would skyrocket. If Steve Balmer paid $2B for the LA Clippers, what would the LA Rams be worth?
2. It will be the Raiders and Chargers.
If the NFL allows the Rams to come to LA, they are stuck with two franchises playing in decaying stadiums with no solution in site. Neither Oakland nor San Diego seems to have any hope of building new stadiums. LA is their only option, and if the Rams come here, the NFL is left with two terrible stadium situations. Have you been to a Raider game in Oakland lately? That stadium is one minor earthquake away from looking like like a gravel quarry. And given the success of the Giants/Jets stadium in New York, the NFL knows that system can work. From the league’s perspective, they’d rather see St. Louis use LA as leverage to get a new stadium built there, and Stan Kroenke can develop the Hollywood Park site however he likes. The Playa Vista project demonstrates a model that Kroenke might want to follow.
So who knows. My gut tells me Kroenke is not bluffing, and that the Rams francise would be a better fit for the market. Regardless of who comes, I firmly believe the market will support them. At least for a short while. Then they will have to win to capture fan loyalty here. Regardless of who it is, it’s prettty clear that the NFL will be back in LA in no time. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some football.