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Goodbye, St. Louis Rams; next stop, LA

Goodbye, St. Louis Rams; next stop, LA

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HOUSTON • National Football League owners on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to strip the Rams from St. Louis and send the team to owner Stan Kroenke’s proposed $2 billion stadium in Los Angeles County.

The owners also agreed, after more than 10 hours of presentations and negotiations, to allow Dean Spanos to move his San Diego Chargers — but not to the site he proposed. Instead, after multiple closed-door meetings, Spanos agreed to consider leasing or buying into Kroenke’s stadium in Inglewood, southwest of downtown L.A.

The Rams will play in a temporary home in the Los Angeles area next season.

The news almost immediately drew outrage from St. Louis fans, and disappointment from local leaders.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said in a statement that the NFL ignored the facts, the strength of the market, the local plan to build a new stadium, and the loyalty of St. Louis fans, “who supported the team through far more downs than ups.”

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said he was “bitterly” disappointed.

Dave Peacock, co-chairman of the task force to build a new football stadium here, called his work with the NFL more “contemplated and contrived than I realized.”

“We’d aim for a target, hit it, and they’d say, no the target was over here,” he said of the NFL’s direction.

And lifelong fans, such as Mickey Right, were crestfallen.

“This whole thing’s made me want to become a basketball fan,” said Right, who visited the Edward Jones Dome late Tuesday in homage. “It just really loses your faith in the NFL. It’s supposed to be a league of integrity.”

The Rams and the Chargers, if the team moves, will each pay a $550 million relocation fee.

Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis is, for now, left out of moving plans. Spanos had worked with him for at least a year on a two-team stadium in Carson, Calif., just south of Kroenke’s site.

“We’ll see where Raider Nation ends up here,” he said after the meetings. “We’ll be looking for a home.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said after the meetings that Davis will have the opportunity to take the second spot in Inglewood, if Spanos declines. Also, the league has agreed to pay an extra $100 million — beyond the $200 million in NFL stadium construction funds — to either Spanos or Davis, whichever stays in his hometown.

Goodell called both the Carson and the Inglewood projects “outstanding.”

But he said he expected Kroenke’s plan to become “one of the greatest” sports and entertainment complexes in the world.

“We have the return of the Los Angeles Rams to their home,” Goodell said. “We have a facility that is going to be absolutely extraordinary in the Los Angeles market that I think fans are going to absolutely love. And I think it’s going to set a new bar for all sports, quite frankly. And, that, we’re very proud of.”

Those close to the process said after the meeting that it was Kroenke’s stadium vision — in its physical beauty, surrounding redevelopment, and its pitch to house the NFL’s substantial media businesses — that swayed owners. They came into the meeting, insiders said privately, liking his plan better.

Still, they had to vote twice to cut the deal. The first vote favored Kroenke, 20-12, but failed to get the necessary three-fourths of the league’s 32 owners, as required when a team applies to move to a new city.

The owners then took a break while several met behind closed doors with Spanos and Davis.

The final vote came in 30-2, several sources told the Post-Dispatch — and left St. Louis without an NFL team, again.

ST. LOUIS SAGA

The day was historic for the league. Owners have never agreed to relocate two teams at once.

And it ends a year of deliberations by finally returning the NFL to Los Angeles, which has been without a team for more than two decades.

Most credit Kroenke for starting the race. Three years ago, the billionaire real estate developer took his landlords at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis to arbitration over the now-infamous “first tier” clause in their lease. The clause required the state of Missouri, city of St. Louis and St. Louis County to renovate the Dome — for about $700 million — up to the league’s “first tier,” or top eight stadia. Local officials declined, and, as prescribed in the lease, the Rams went year-to-year at the Dome.

Two years ago, Kroenke bought land in Inglewood, next to the Los Angeles International Airport. Just a year ago, he announced he was building a “world-class” stadium there.

Spanos has said publicly that he took Kroenke’s move as a direct threat to the Chargers’ fan base, one-fourth of which comes from L.A., he said. Soon after Kroenke’s announcement, Spanos and Davis announced a two-team stadium in Carson.

In the meantime, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon named a stadium task force, which proposed a $1.1 billion open-air stadium on the St. Louis riverfront — with $400 million in public funding — just north of downtown.

The past year featured regular revelations. At some point, nearly every pundit made a prediction.

Then, last week, the league’s relocation filing period opened, and all three teams submitted. Kroenke pitched a sparkling stadium set among shops, restaurants and hotels. His proposal also blasted St. Louis, calling the city “struggling,” and the region unable to sustain three professional sports teams.

Moreover, Kroenke said, Nixon’s stadium plan was so inadequate, not only would the Rams decline, but any NFL team that took the deal was on the path to “financial ruin.”

Officials, from Mayor Slay to Sen. Claire McCaskill, were outraged. Nixon’s stadium task force sent a point-by-point response to the league.

But, this past weekend, Goodell sent a report to all owners saying that the task force plan was inadequate.

Early on Tuesday, it seemed like St. Louis fans could hold on to hopes that owners might vote otherwise. The league’s Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities, made up of six influential owners, recommended in favor of the Carson project.

But by midday, it didn’t seem to matter. Kroenke’s proposal took top billing in early votes, and the owners broke several times, with L.A. committee members meeting in private with Spanos and Davis.

FUTURE OF NFL

IN ST. LOUIS

Late Tuesday a triumphant Kroenke took the stage, unflinchingly, in a large room at the Westin Hotel, site of the meeting. “This is the hardest undertaking that I’ve faced in my career,” Kroenke said. “I understand the emotional side.”

Kroenke, infamous for ducking the spotlight, spoke haltingly, but answered every question asked by dozens of reporters at the news conference. It was the most he had said to St. Louis in two years.

And he was unapologetic.

“We worked hard, got a little bit lucky, and had a lot of people help us,” he said, nodding to league staff.

“We have to have a first-class stadium product.”

After the press conference, as NFL security ushered Goodell away from the throngs, the commissioner stopped for a moment to discuss the NFL’s future in St. Louis.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to speak to the governor; of course, I will,” Goodell told the Post-Dispatch. “I think that’s got to be a decision we jointly have to make.

“It’s going to take a high-quality stadium that we’re comfortable with,” Goodell said. “That’s a starting point.”

And then, he said, they’ll have to match St. Louis to a team.

COMMENTARY:

 HOCHMAN: NFL thugs leave us with only memories

 BENFRED: We'll miss the Rams but not their owner

 GORDO: Kroenke fails St. Louis, flees town

 TIPSHEET: Rams monetize failure with LA move

Kristen Taketa of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report from St. Louis.

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