On Stan Kroenke, Inglewood, and the Future of the St. Louis Rams

Rams NFL stadium site - Inglewood, CA

“Inglewood. Always up to no good.” – 2Pac

The future of the St. Louis Rams was certain to be questioned this off-season, but the news Monday changes the entire game going forward. With one powerful announcement, Rams owner Stan Kroenke has shown us the state-of-the-art 80,000 seat stadium he intends to build, right when the Rams are to announce whether to go year-to-year with their lease of the Edward Jones Dome. However, to the pain of all of us in St. Louis, his stadium will be built in Inglewood, Southwest Los Angeles, maybe three miles from Los Angeles International Airport. This comes just days before the announcements by the Dave Peacock-Bob Blitz commission called forth by Governor Nixon to present the Rams with our proposal for a new St. Louis Rams stadium, and coincides with the start of the new legislative session of the Missouri General Assembly.

As highlighted by Sam Farmer’s article in the LA Times, Stan Kroenke’s stadium plans are a joint venture with development company Stockbridge Capital Group. Based in San Francisco, Stockbridge is an $8.8BB real estate investment management firm whose most well-known project is the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas. Stockbridge subsidiary Hollywood Park Land Company has been building a new mixed-use development on the grounds of the shuttered Hollywood Park horse track since June 2014. That property is being built as a 365-day destination retail and entertainment complex, complete with residential, office, and the Hollywood Park Casino, already in operation.

Last year, Stan bought land adjacent to Hollywood Park between the old Hollywood Park and the shuttered Forum, former home for the Lakers and Kings before their relocation to Downtown Los Angeles (next to the planned Farmers Field stadium). This land was originally owned by Walmart, his wife’s family’s company, which envisioned a Supercenter at the site before Inglewood told them no. Walmart sold the land, then Stan reacquired it.

In total, Stan’s property and the former Hollywood Park will be co-developed into a 300-acre master project. Stockbridge will build it, and The Kroenke Group (one of Stan’s real estate companies) will manage it. When first marketed, Hollywood Park Land Company spoke of a park to be developed inside of it, which they had called “Champions Park”. Originally stated to recognize the thoroughbreds that raced there, it’s quite evident this park’s true intent was to be Stan’s new NFL stadium.

The most immediate takeaway of this proposal is that it is highly detailed, suited to Stan Kroenke’s ideal considerations, is designed to maximize owner revenues, and has taken many years to put into action. As details emerge from the plans, it’s evident this project meets up with the exact desired elements of what Stan Kroenke’s been seeking in his dream stadium development all along.

Equity Ownership: Stan Kroenke has long maintained that he wants to “own the dirt” of a future stadium development, as opposed to the Edward Jones Dome being publicly owned. And while many Californians are wealthy, its governments aren’t the most robust, and they have refused to contribute to a new stadium with public monies (see: San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders). The partnership between The Kroenke Group and Stockbridge, however, plans to construct the entire development with their own monies. This shouldn’t be too difficult; between Stockbridge and the Kroenke family (Stan and is wife, Ann Walton Kroenke)’s personal wealth, they’ll have $20BB to source their capital. After all, based on personal wealth, Stan Kroenke is the second wealthiest owner of an NFL team (behind Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen).

(Los Angeles: You still better set public monies aside for new construction along the nearby 405, because these plans will compound your traffic even worse, with your Metro light rail system only coming to within a mile of this stadium by 2019)

Rams_small market_big burden

While the trend in mid-size and smaller markets has been for public money to pay for stadiums, MetLife Stadium, home to the NFL Jets and Giants, was 100% privately funded, opening in 2010. The San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium (2014) was also privately funded, though an existing hotel tax provides some support. Kroenke’s happy to go into his pockets for Inglewood, but still expects St. Louis and Missouri to pony up as much of our public money as possible for our city’s counter-proposal.

Secondary Revenues: Besides revenues from football fans attending his new stadium and other franchise-related capital inflows, Stan has maintained that he would seek profit maximization from whatever developments may come for a stadium, including an equity stake in restaurants, retail shopping, parking, and other related entertainment options. Through partnership with Stockbridge, Stan will have equity in their Hollywood Park retail developments and garner his share of the revenues directly. The Hollywood Park project will also include a 6,000 seat concert venue, from which shared revenues can also be assumed. The stadium’s naming rights and likely future as a major concert venue are assumed to also be a split-revenue source for both firms.

We can also expect a new team branding campaign to come shortly after a move, with rumors pointing to uniforms returning to being mostly yellow. This change in branding will be to both promote revenues from new sales and to sever ties to the Rams’ last two decades in St. Louis.

Design: Stan has long maintained his affinity for the design of Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, which was built by architecture firm HKS. Stan chose this firm for schematics when he took the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission to arbitration for a $700MM+ retrofit of the Edward Jones Dome, for which the arbitrators found in favor of the Rams and which the CVC didn’t have the monies to build. Stan has again utilized HKS for design of his new Inglewood stadium, planning his own version of Lucas Oil Stadium. This continues HKS’ work with NFL teams the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys.

Not surprisingly, Stan decided to not work with St. Louis-based architecture firm Hellmuth Obata + Kassabaum’s HOK Sports division for this prep work.

Super Bowl Host: Stan’s big dream has been to host a Super Bowl, to hold his head up there with the other major NFL owners and tout his team’s facilities to the world. This is all ego, no doubt. With the favorable winter climate of Southern California, Stan will want to bid Super Bowls as quickly as possible.

So far, he has committed to building this new Inglewood stadium but hasn’t made any public statements that the Rams will be relocating. His people have even alluded to the idea that he could own it while another team moves into it. But, why commit to build your ideal of a stadium if you don’t intend to move your team into it, right when you’re actively seeking a new stadium already?

rams dome{this $700M+ Rams’ counterproposal in St. Louis was rejected by local leaders}

Let there be no doubt: While the Rams organization has been talking publicly about their long-term plans in St. Louis for all these years, Silent Stan has been putting together a California Dream Home for our team the entire time. Yet, relocation to Los Angeles is only one possible future for the Rams.  There are many steps to go in the NFL rule book before any potential move takes place.

First off, NFL franchises are required to exhaust all reasonable efforts to remain located in their home city before they can even attempt to file for relocation. So far, the only nixed idea has been the arbitrated retrofit of the Edward Jones Dome. This Friday, the Peacock-Blitz commission will present their recommendations for a future Rams home in St. Louis to Governor Nixon. Mayor Slay’s office apparently has some knowledge of the details.

The most well-known element of the impending proposal is that it will be along the North Riverfront: south of the Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge, east of Broadway, and north of the Lumiere Casino. On a site filled with mostly empty warehouses in various states of decay, we can anticipate a plan that would effectively extend the Laclede’s Landing entertainment district north. This will provide an entertainment environment with plenty of opportunities for parking, retail shopping & dining, and ancillary events like concerts, all self-supportive even when no games are being played. Having the new Rams stadium come into an extended, Lacelede’s Landing would be an economic shot in the arm.

The commission’s recommendations will be the first of potentially multiple options for future stadium options in St. Louis. Until all these reasonable plans have been exhausted, the rules state the Rams must continue to play in St. Louis. The NFL has already stated that no team will play in Los Angeles in 2015. And, by the end of this month, the Rams are expected to announce they will renew their lease on a year-to-year basis as predicated by their existing contract with the CVC. These are the NFL’s rules. We know that David Peacock has presented preliminary proposal details to the NFL’s owners, the NFL Commissioner’s Office, and likely the Rams (although the Rams have been, surprise, silent about this).

As well, plans for a new St. Louis stadium have also been presented to the Commissioner of Major League Soccer as a potential site for a new franchise. MLS has long sought to award a franchise to St. Louis, and at least three distinct ownership groups have been actively courted by MLS to bring professional soccer to the Gateway City. The most well-known candidate owner was the Cooper proposal for a stadium in Collinsville which fell apart in 2008. But, there are others (there’s also Stan Kroenke himself, who owns two pro soccer teams already).

The biggest hold-up this whole time has been that St. Louis hasn’t had a MLS-quality venue for soccer; with this new Rams stadium being built, it could very much serve double-duty for both pro football and pro soccer. And it seems MLS is very much part of the conversation. So far, this is likely the best chance for an MLS franchise to come to St. Louis.

More proposals may follow. Absolutely, there are more places in St. Louis, including Downtown, which can house a new modern football stadium. We must also remember that San Diego’s been working to find a “reasonable” new stadium plan for fourteen years. If we all play by the rules, we’ll have some time.

Rams NFL stadium site - Inglewood, CA{site plan released for

And of course, the Inglewood proposal could turn out to be mostly leverage for negotiations in St. Louis to offer him best terms on a new Rams stadium. Inglewood must be taken seriously, but we must also take ourselves seriously.

Still, say Stan doesn’t like these options, and he decides to apply early for relocation. He would still need an overwhelming majority of the other NFL owners to vote in favor of a Rams relocation, needing a 75% majority vote. That means only nine teams would have to counter a Rams move to LA. And he very well may not have those votes right now.

I can think of a few teams off the top of my head that would vote No, including teams that could be at risk from a Rams relocation to LA (the San Diego Chargers, the Oakland Raiders, the Jacksonville Jaguars, even the Carolina Panthers come 2020), other mid-tier Midwest teams that may be threatened by how St. Louis is being treated (the Cincinnati Bengals, the Indianapolis Colts, the Kansas City Chiefs), teams that have recently undergone threats of relocation to Los Angeles unless they “kiss the commissioner’s ring” (the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings), and cities who’ve experienced the pains of unfounded relocation by compromised owners (the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns).

There are also the other owners who may not like what Stan’s been doing in Inglewood, trying to capitalize on the LA market singlehandedly. For years, the NFL has maintained that LA is a potential market owned by the League itself, not a place where an individual owner can just up and run. If Stan pushes too hard to get into So Cal, the other owners could push back. Who knows, there may even be owners who just don’t like Stan and would vote to see him fail.

Word is that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is already putting together enough votes to block any potential move by the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles.

Even still, the biggest risk is that Stan could just try to move the team anyway. The Baltimore Colts were moved “overnight” to Indianapolis. The Cleveland Browns were taken from that city (although they were allowed to keep the team name for a later franchise release). Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders set anti-trust precedent that can allow a team to relocate without League approval; this allowed the Raiders to relocate to Los Angeles in the early 1980s (before moving back to Oakland in 1995 because of poor attendance and Inglewood denying their attempt to build a new stadium at Hollywood Park).

Last night came reports from sports website Bleacher Report that Stan Kroenke has twice stated to Inglewood Mayor James Butts that he will move the Rams to Inglewood “no matter what”, that he will move the team regardless of whether or not the League approves. Now, this is not Gospel, the aggressiveness of such action is abnormal & unlikely, and things can of course change. But, Stan apparently last stated these words to Mayor Butts to move the team on his own this past Saturday afternoon.

Should this happen, should Stan go rogue and try to run his franchise independent of the NFL, the League has rules to compel franchise owner compliance with the NFL’s standards of conduct. This could include flat-out not scheduling any games for the Rams in 2015 or even pushing for an ownership change. However, this is when the precedent from the Raiders decision could sway to favor Kroenke.

At minimum, going rogue and moving the team without League approval would levy a number of heavy costs upon himself and the team. First, there’ll be the standard fees & costs for relocating the team, which are estimated at around $200MM. Then, there’s the missed opportunity of the NFL’s G-4 Program, a forgivable loan that the League offers to teams to build new stadiums if they stay in their team’s current city; this could be an opportunity cost of around $250MM. Meanwhile, Stan would have to craft a lease agreement with another facility, like the Rose Bowl, while his Inglewood stadium gets built; such a lease would likely cost him $100M+/year for probably three years. Finally, there would be the punitive fines the League can levy against Stan Kroenke.

Rams NFL stadium site - Inglewood, CA{initial rendering of Kroenke’s California dream}

For trying to grab the LA market on his own, the NFL owners could easily implement fees of $800MM-$1BB+ against Stan and the Rams. Conservatively, that’s around $1.5BB in fees alone that it could cost Stan to move the Rams on his own from St. Louis to Inglewood. Then, he has to add-in the costs of the new stadium itself as well as the ancillary developments. It’s reasonably imaginable that, if the NFL plays by its own rules, a total Rams relocation could cost Stan Kroenke around $3BB. The Rams may increase in value by relocating to the LA market, but Stan will likely recognize an equal decrease in his net wealth.

Of course, that’s if the NFL owners play by their own rules and don’t bend them for Stan Kroenke’s benefit. The League bent them before so Stan could grab full Rams ownership at the very last minute from Shahid Khan’s then-winning bid to buy the Rams in 2010. Should Stan’s Inglewood deal be profitable enough to the League as a whole, well, who knows what they’d allow, rules be damned.

At this moment, there are way too many variables to really know what will come next. But, we know what’s going on today: a power play where a billionaire will try to extort as much money as he can out of the City of St. Louis & the State of Missouri under threat of taking the team to Los Angeles, the same billionaire whose 40% ownership at the time helped bring the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis in the first place. And it’s either we pay to keep the team here, or he’ll use his own money to take them away. And, we know whatever happens will be a matter of business only, with no real consideration to Rams fans in either St. Louis or Los Angeles.

The NFL really needs to step in soon and make a statement about the Inglewood proposal, because the present actions of “Silent Stan” are certainly not in the best interest of the League or its fans.

Just how silent Stan has been is reflected in his last major interview with the St. Louis press: April 2010, right after he bid to acquire full ownership of the Rams. Yes, his first interview to the St. Louis press as potential majority owner of the team was also his last. Clearly, he has a long way to go before he can consider his St. Louis options “exhausted.”

In that article, Stan pledged:

I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis. Just as I did everything that I could to bring the team to St. Louis in 1995. I believe my actions speak for themselves… There’s a track record. I’ve always stepped up for pro football in St. Louis. And I’m stepping up one more time.

What a load. Here we are, almost four years later, under very real threat by Stan’s broken word.