The L.A. Story: The Chargers, Raiders and Rams
The ads are sometimes even funny.
The NFL Network ran spots promoting last week’s Thursday Night Football matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and the St. Louis Cardinals. A subcontractor named Henry, presumably building the team’s new stadium in Minneapolis, says “Hey, watch MY Vikings take on the Cardinals …”
NFL Network analyst and former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner says, “Hey America, watch MY Cardinals take on the Vikings.” Warner goes so far as to rip off his suit, only to show that he is wearing his old Arizona jersey, all ready to play again.
Others, not so much.
Tonight, it’s the Rams and Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football and the NFL Network has shown a similar spot with a St. Louis fan talking about “MY Rams.”
And it’s going to get even more uncomfortable next week when the San Diego Chargers are at the Oakland Raiders.
Can a fan of the Rams, Chargers or Raiders call them “MY Rams,” “MY Chargers,” or “MY Raiders” when all three teams are lining up to move to Los Angeles?
The Chargers and Rams have been dreadful this year and the Raiders have served as a mild irritant to Broncos fans by beating the beloved Broncos last weekend, but, by and large, this story’s stayed out of the headlines.
The Chargers have already filed the paperwork with the league to move. The nomadic Oakland Raiders’ lease is up with the O.co Coliseum, aka the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum at the end of the season.
And the St. Louis Rams can opt out of their agreement with the Edward Jones Dome, built only 20 years ago, on an annual basis.
The NFL, which is already happily drowning in television revenue to the tune of $7.245 billion per year — that’s $226 million per team per year — feels it needs more TV revenue. And with no teams in the nation’s second-largest market, it can do something about it.
Ironically, all three teams have played in Los Angeles at one point. The Chargers started as the AFL’s entry in Los Angeles in 1960 for one year before moving to San Diego in 1961. The city has supported the team for 54 years, through a lot of terrible football, and does not feel like building owner Alex Spanos, a billionaire, a new stadium. (Spanos bought the Chargers for $48 million in 1984, so he’s kind of ahead already on this deal. He can probably spring for, at least, part of a new stadium.)
The Raiders, of course, have done this before. They were in Oakland from 1960-1981 before suing the NFL to move to Los Angeles. After not extorting a new stadium, but getting high marks for trying — Irwindale, anyone? — the Raiders sued the NFL again in moving back to Oakland for the 1995 season. Oakland built the original stadium for the Raiders in 1966 and renovated it to the tune of $200 million in 1995 to get the team back. (The Davis family — then Al, now son, Mark, — bought the team for $1.5 million back in the day, so the Davises aren’t exactly searching for loose change.)
Meanwhile, the Rams left Los Angeles that same year for St. Louis, which was building the fancy $280 million Edward Jones Dome. But the Rams had a nifty clause in there that if their new stadium wasn’t in the top “25 percent” of NFL stadia, read sky boxes and other revenue streams, they could opt out.
It’s a business
I’ll stipulate that Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego has probably outlived its usefulness. The Oakland Coliseum is dung-hole, literally — the sewage has been backing up there for years.
But Spanos and the Davises can probably figure out a way to build replacements. Let’s go back to the TV money. The salary cap in the NFL is always less than each team’s annual TV share. An owner is in the black annually before selling a ticket, a beer or jersey and these guys have owned their franchises since the mid-80s, if not earlier. They can blow their respective noses into Benjamins.
Owner Stan Kroenke, who owns the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche along with the Rams, is simply an opportunistic bastard.
The NFL is a business and two fan bases are going to be losing their teams in very short order.
What if …
This probably doesn’t mean much to Broncos fans. The Raiders are evil, whether from Oakland or Los Angeles. (Been there, done that, have the T-shirt, I know.) It would be weird for most Denver fans to see the Chargers in Los Angeles, but aside from continuing to call them the San Diego Chargers out of habit, life would be fine.
The Rams back in LA.? Meh.
However, what happens when current Broncos owner Pat Bowlen dies? With Bowlen suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, the team is held in a family trust. What if Bowlen’s offspring aren’t into football? What if they want a new stadium? (After all, 20 years made St. Louis’ facility old.) What if they sell?
You can talk all you want about Broncos fans’ loyalty, which is downright admirable. It doesn’t matter. The Raiders were never leaving Oakland the first time. The Colts couldn’t leave Baltimore, and Cleveland without the Browns was unthinkable.
Keep it in mind the next time you talk about “MY Broncos.”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.