Seventeen years ago, the Rams and Raiders left Los Angeles for St. Louis and Oakland, respectively. Earlier this month, the owners of both teams spoke at press conferences announcing coaching changes and expressed dissatisfaction with their current stadium situations.
First Raiders owner Mark Davis told reporters: "Yeah, Los Angeles is a possibility ... Wherever's a possibility. We need a stadium."
Then, a week later, Rams owner Stan Kroenke refused to commit to St. Louis amidst rumors he's looking at Los Angeles when the team has a clear out-clause in its stadium lease in 2014.
Both Georgia Frontiere and Al Davis have passed away, but given the current state of both franchises, I'd argue the relocation of the Rams and Raiders were two of the dumbest moves in pro sports history.
I'll start with the Rams, since they left first. Their first move out of LA actually came in 1980 when the late Carroll Rosenbloom negotiated a move to Anaheim that his second wife Georgia Frontiere followed through. Anaheim Stadium was always a lousy place to watch a football game. I remember going to a game there as a kid and having to twist my body at about a 60-degree angle to watch the game, while feeling like I was about a mile away from the field.
With the Rams in Orange County, the Raiders moved to LA shortly thereafter and quickly became the city's team. Plagued by years of mismanagement by Frontiere, the Rams became an afterthought in the LA sports scene by the time they left in 1995.
They were supposed to move to a state-of-the-art domed stadium, but the Edward Jones Dome was anything but that. Built by the city of St. Louis to entice a team, it was never constructed for any particular team in mind. As a result, the dome is a dull and imposing structure that lacks charm and many of the modern amenities seen in stadiums that opened just a few years later.
Today the Rams are owned by Stan Kroenke, a man who owns a house in Malibu. They just hired a head coach in Jeff Fisher who's an LA native that went to Taft High School in Woodland Hills and played under John Robinson at USC. The team's COO Kevin Demoff also grew up in Los Angeles. Additionally Kroenke is known to be good friends AEG head Phil Anschutz, and he's reportedly one of the finalists to buy the Dodgers (which could cause issues with NFL cross ownership rules).
The Rams recently announced that they would give up a home game in each of the next three seasons to play in London, angering many people in the St. Louis area. The team's attendance has declined in light of eight consecutive seasons without a winning record. Given all that, many insiders believe the Rams are now the most likely team to move to LA.
The Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982 and won a Super Bowl in just their second year here. Despite some initial popularity, the team struggled to draw at the Coliseum. Some have claimed this was because LA could not support pro football. But I'd argue that assertion is wrong.
From the moment Al Davis moved the Raiders here, he was at odds with city officials and he constantly threatened to move the team. In the early-1990s, the area around the Coliseum was considerably worse than it is now, and many fans were simply too afraid to attend games. That fear was perpetuated by Raiders fans who became known for their unsavory behavior. Davis did nothing to clean up their act or make games family-friendly.
Despite being a pain to just about everyone in town, Davis still had a sweetheart deal to move the Raiders to a brand new stadium in Hollywood Park. He had a handshake agreement with R.D. Hubbard and a press conference was even scheduled to announce it. Davis didn't show up to the press conference and he backed out of the stadium, even though he wouldn't have to pay for it.
Davis would say in interviews later that he reneged because the NFL wanted to reserve the right to place a second team in the stadium. The league was paying for most of it, after all. But Davis refused to share the building. Reports at the time also suggest that Davis was upset that the stadium couldn't be finished in time for the 1997 season.
Fast-forward to the 2012 season, and the Raiders are playing in one of the league's worst stadiums in Oakland. They share it with the Oakland A's, meaning they'll be only NFL team that has to play on a baseball field this September. The only serious new stadium proposal in the Bay Area for the Raiders involves them sharing a facility in Santa Clara with the 49ers - a situation neither team really wants. I guess it wouldn't have hurt to wait until the 1998 season.
I'd argue the Raiders move was even dumber than the Rams because the Raiders actually had a good stadium plan on the table. But either way, it's likely that the Rams and Raiders would both have considerably higher franchise values today if they had stayed. The Rams left the second-largest media market for the 18th-largest, and the Raiders left to share the less valuable half of the 5th-largest market.
Both teams left just before many parts of LA began to see economic development and improvement. They also left just before AEG came to town and started to show everyone how to get sports venues built here. This is all very hypothetical, but I'd bet that had either team stayed - and had the Hollywood Park facility not been built - then AEG probably would have partnered with one of them on a new stadium already.
Of course, AEG still can. And heck, how strange would it be if both teams moved back here and shared a stadium downtown.
On a personal note, I'd rather see the Rams move here. I grew up a Rams fan and I'm not sure if LA really wants to deal with the antics of Raiders fans again.
But a Rams move to LA isn't so simple. Despite the LA connections I mentioned earlier, I do believe that Kroenke (a Missouri native) and Demoff are going to do everything possible to keep the Rams in St. Louis. They are simply trying to get the best deal they can on stadium renovations.
Furthermore, I don't think NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants the Rams to leave. It looks bad if you have a city like St. Louis lose the Cardinals in 1988 because their owner wanted a domed stadium, and then have the city build a domed stadium for the next team, only to see them leave too. Cities may be less likely to help with stadium construction in the future, and fans in St. Louis would be hard pressed to follow the NFL ever again.
If I had to make a prediction, then I'd bet the Rams work out a stadium agreement and stay in St. Louis for the long haul. The Raiders' future is much more difficult to predict because we really don't know much about new owner Mark Davis.
Either way, it's hard to look at the Rams and Raiders now and say that they made the right decision by leaving town. But the next question might be... would they be welcomed back?