From Madison Avenue to Capitol Hill and from network headquarters to mayors’ offices, the National Football League is accustomed to getting its way. The line in “Concussion” was absolutely true: The NFL owns a day of the week.
It has stakes in Mondays and Thursdays, too, plus select Saturdays.
All of that power can go to a league’s head, making it feel invincible and impervious. Such entities believe they can do what they want, when they want and how they want, going through the motions of negotiating, building consensus and working in good faith.
But whenever necessary, the billionaires’ club breaks out enough brass knuckles and lead pipes to make Jimmy Hoffa smile from his end-zone crypt in Jersey. Or, it slaps unruly subjects in the face and sweet-talks them into remaining loyal, like the dynamics between supervisors and employees in the world’s oldest profession.
St. Louis went to bed Tuesday night as a scorned lover. The Rams are headed back to Los Angeles, from whence they came in 1995. That indignity makes St. Louis a two-time loser, previously dumped by the Cardinals in 1988.
A lesson in karma? St. Louis had no problem playing a role in Los Angeles’ heartbreak two decades ago. Jilted partners welcoming another city’s former mate is part of the NFL.
Arizona opened it arms for the Cardinals. When the Colts slipped out in the middle of the night in 1984, Baltimore used its charm to seduce the Browns from Cleveland. Nashville agreed to lie down with Houston’s Oilers in 1997. Los Angles took in the Raiders in 1982 but watched them return home to Oakland in 1995.
St. Louis grieves the loss of its (putrid) NFL franchise but the relationship didn’t have to end this way. The Chargers and Raiders had a deal to leave for L.A. and share a stadium in Carson, Calif., which would’ve left the Rams as odd team out. Unfortunately for St. Louis fans, Rams owner Stan Kroenke is better at league politics and has stronger supporters than Raiders owner Mark Davis, who’s still paying for the sins of his father.
Davis thought his pact with Chargers owner Dean Spanos was unassailable. Spanos previously declared he had zero interest in a proposal that the Chargers shack with the Rams in Kroenke’s planned stadium in Inglewood, Calif.
“Nothing gives me any reason to reconsider my partnership with Mark Davis and our stadium site,” Spanos wrote in a Dec. 7 letter to the NFL committee on L.A., according to the Orange County Register. “I firmly believe the proposal we have jointly made is in the best interests of the entire League and is in complete compliance with the League’s relocation policies. I write to respectfully reaffirm our strong partnership and my abiding desires to the help the National Football League’s return to Los Angeles in the most successful way.”
But when the owners convened Tuesday in Houston to settle relocation matters, Spanos was made to realize that the league’s desire trumps his “strong partnership” with Davis. By a 30-2 vote, the owners approved Kroenke’s move, gave Spanos one year to decide on joining him, and told Davis he had second dibs if Spanos declined.
That’s straight gangsta.
NFL Media reported that there was “strong opposition” for the Raiders’ return to Los Angeles. The other owners essentially pitted Spanos and Davis against one another, telling the “partners” there was an L.A. life vest for one of them, but not both. The owners also gave Spanos and Davis $100 million apiece to aid their cause in wooing public money for new or improved facilities in San Diego and Oakland.
Always remember that the NFL is addicted to spanking-new stadiums that taxpayers finance. According to one study, the public funded 65 percent of the average NFL stadium. Markets that didn’t want to face the prospect of losing their teams – Minneapolis, Atlanta and Arizona – got with the program and ponied up.
The league was determined to return to Los Angeles, the nation’s No. 2 market, because it can’t stand the idea of leaving money on the table. Spanos and Davis now have added leverage in extortion negotiations back home, because the Rams are willing to share the market.
Meanwhile, St. Louis will adjust to life without the NFL beginning next season, probably just the impetus needed to build a new stadium and see who the city can woo.
The relocation process revealed the NFL’s version of thug life amongst owners and their respective cities: Watch your back.