Sports

The Biggest Surprise About The Rams’ Relocation to Los Angeles? It’s Actually A Win For Taxpayers.

CREDIT: Damian Dovarganes, AP

Football fans cheer for the return of the Rams to Los Angeles on the site of the old Hollywood Park horse-racing track in Inglewood, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

After years of rumors, speculation, and NFL owners using the empty Los Angeles market as the ultimate bargaining chip to get cities to pony up millions in taxpayer dollars to fund exorbitant stadiums in order to keep their teams, it’s now official: The NFL will be back in L.A. after a 21-year absence.

The St. Louis Rams, who were previously in L.A. from 1946-1994, will move to back L.A. this fall, and the San Diego Chargers will have one year to decide if they will join them in the shiny new NFL village in Inglewood. If they decline, then the Oakland Raiders will have a year to make it work.

The deal, which was approved on Tuesday by a 30-2 vote from NFL owners after a long day of meetings in Houston, is a blatant money-grab by egocentric billionaires and a “warped, diabolical” blow to fans in St. Louis who had supported the team through the mediocrity of the last decade.

But the one thing the deal refreshingly isn’t? An overwhelming burden on taxpayers.

“It’s one of the most public-friendly deals ever,” Neil deMause, the co-author of the book, Field of Schemes, and the editor of its companion website, told ThinkProgress.

“It’s good to see for once when you have team owners trying to shake down various cities for money, the option that won was the option that stuck the public with the bill the least. That’s a reason to cheer.”

Stan Kroenke, the billionaire who became the majority owners of the Rams back in 2010, is privately financing this stadium complex, which is said to cost about $2.66 billion plus the $550 million NFL relocation fee. He will receive about $180 million in sales tax kickbacks, but as deMause put it for VICE Sports, “that’s pretty cheap as stadiums go.” And it’s also a far friendlier number than the $447 million subsidy that St. Louis taxpayers were going to provide if the franchise remained in Missouri.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that this was a giant act of benevolence from Kroenke — far from it. After all, he wasn’t willing to spend even half of that to remain in St. Louis, and he threw salt on the wound on his way out the door by writing that St. Louis “lags, and will continue to lag, far behind in the economic drivers that are necessary for sustained success of an NFL franchise.”

And despite his bizarre remarks after the vote on Tuesday about how the Inglewood project would help “a lot of people with lower incomes,” it’s safe to say that his goal with this deal wasn’t to solve the poverty problem in the L.A. area.

Rather, Kroenke’s plan in Inglewood is, of course, all about lining both his own pockets and the league’s. While deMause considers the Inglewood project a “tremendous risk” for Kroenke, it has already been predicted by some that the value of the Rams franchise will double with the relocation.

Additionally, the minimal taxpayer commitment definitely didn’t play into the NFL vote. Rather, the owners ended up backing Kroenke’s Inglewood project over the previously-preferred joint venture between the Raiders and Chargers in Carson because the proposal for the 298-acre site in Inglewood was the two things that NFL owners love more than anything: bigger and better.

“One high-ranking club executive said the inclusion of a new campus for NFL media—NFL Network, NFL digital ventures and NFL.com, including a theater for premieres of NFL-produced programming and documentaries and films—was a big factor in swaying so many owners to the Kroenke side,” MMQB’s Peter King reported.

Indeed, despite any hard-selling jargon you might hear, this deal had nothing to do with the public good.

“Taxpayers lucked out on this,” deMause said. “Because the cities around L.A. have not been very willing to throw taxpayer dollars at a new football team, and you had this three-way race for two spots, so the team owners had to compete for L.A.’s hand as opposed to the other way around.”

So where does that leave everyone? Well, Kroenke now has the prestige he seemed to crave, but is stuck with a huge bill and no guarantee he’s going to turn a profit. The Chargers have a decision to make: Do they try to work things out with San Diego, which is also offering minimal contributions to a new stadium, or make things work with the Rams in Inglewood? The Raiders will have to sulk back to Oakland this fall, and then figure out where to go from there if and when the Chargers take their spot in Inglewood.

And while St. Louis is left without an NFL franchise, they might be in better shape than the others, as long as they don’t give into the temptation of recruiting another team to take their $477 million in public money. (Put down Mark Davis’ phone number, St. Louis.)

“St. Louis is now the largest metropolitan area in the United States without an NFL team, and it’s a blessing,” Will Leitch wrote for Sports on Earth. “The city should focus on its own problems without propping up welfare billionaires.”