NFL's Los Angeles relocation decision rests on league elders

st louis rams san diego chargers

The future of Los Angeles football could soon be decided by six very powerful men.

With days to go before a final vote, the National Football League's 32 franchise owners are deeply divided over which team, or teams, should be allowed to move to the City of Angels -- and that has left many looking to six veteran owners to provide guidance.

The owners will gather in Houston next week to decide on two proposals: One that would bring the St. Louis Rams to Inglewood, another that would bring both the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders to Carson. And there are other possible outcomes, including one that would see both the Rams and the Chargers in Los Angeles.

The beneficiaries can expect to boost their revenues by hundreds of millions a year.

As of Thursday, no proposal had amassed the 24 votes necessary for approval, sources with knowledge of the meetings told CNNMoney. The Carson proposal, led by San Diego with Oakland in tow, has more support -- as many as 20 votes, by some estimates -- while the St. Louis proposal has about half that.

But NFL owners are an unpredictable bunch: Their decisions are driven by a mix of self-interest, emotion and personal bonds built over many years. More importantly, both Chargers president Dean Spanos and Rams owner Stan Kroenke can rely on having enough support -- 9 votes -- to block the other's bid.

Which is where the veterans come in: Nearly a year ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell formed a committee made up of six powerful owners: Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II (who serves as committee chairman); Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft; Houston Texans owner Robert McNair; New York Giants owner John Mara; and Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt.

This group, known as the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities, is expected to make a formal recommendation to its fellow owners, the sources said. This recommendation could come as early as this week or as late as next week's gathering in Houston, they said. But all agreed that it was likely to be the deciding factor in the decision.

"The biggest shoe that is yet to drop is the recommendation of the LA Committee," one source with knowledge of the meetings said. "These are extremely powerful owners. And it is expected that they will make a recommendation prior to next week's meeting. The question is, when that happens, what kind of influence does it have on the votes?"

Chargers have an edge, but Rams have leverage

Stan Kroenke Dean Spanos Mark Davis
Stan Kroenke of the Rams; Dean Spanos of the Chargers; Mark Davis of the Raiders.

Early last year, conventional wisdom among NFL insiders was that the St. Louis Rams were best-positioned to make the move to Los Angeles. But that has changed in recent months, for several reasons, and now the San Diego Chargers look to have the edge.

"In the spring, the Inglewood proposal was head and shoulders above Carson," said Marc Ganis, the Chicago-based sports marketing consultant. "In recent months, the gap has closed considerably, and many believe Carson is above Inglewood."

There are several reasons for that, the most important of which is that Dean Spanos, the president and CEO of the Chargers, and the son of the owner, is widely respected by the other owners. Spanos is also seen as the most deserving candidate, because he's spent decades in San Diego's subpar Qualcomm Stadium -- and nearly 10 years fighting for a new venue, which he hasn't been given.

Spanos' partner in the proposal, Raiders owner Mark Davis, adds what one source referred to as "negative leverage": His team brings in the second-lowest revenues in the league, according to Forbes, which means the league's more successful owners -- who end up having to compensate for the Raiders' expenses -- are eager to find a solution.

Finally, Spanos and Davis have the added weight of Disney (DIS) Chairman and CEO Bob Iger, who in November was tapped to serve as the Carson effort's non-executive chairman. As one of the most powerful and influential men in the entertainment industry, and in Los Angeles, Iger brings additional heft to the Chargers and Raiders' proposal.

"Iger has a lot of juice in the L.A. market," Ganis said. "He is the chairman of the most successful live entertainment company the world has ever known. He has a big Rolodex, and a lot of people who owe him favors."

But Rams owner Stan Kroenke has his own leverage. While not as popular as Spanos, his money and his business acumen are widely respected. There is little doubt among those involved that Kroenke could amass the nine votes needed to block the other teams from moving to Los Angeles if he wanted to do so.

Which means that no team can win a ticket to Los Angeles unless Kroenke is convinced not to block the effort. That means that the Rams will either need to be included in the relocation -- alone or along with the Chargers -- or be given enough incentives in St. Louis to stand down.

"It all comes down to what deal can be made with Kroenke to partner or stand down," one source with knowledge of the negotiations said. "It's very hard to see any deal happening without making peace with him one way or the other."

Several Possible Outcomes

With so many variables, the Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities could propose an alternative to the two proposals, sources with knowledge of the meetings said.

In one scenario, the Chargers would move to Los Angeles alone, leaving one spot open for either Oakland or St. Louis later down the line.

In another, the Chargers and the Rams would move to Los Angeles, and the NFL would work with Davis to organize a sale of the Raiders to another owner -- perhaps a tech mogul in Silicon Valley.

The Committee could just as likely advise in favor of one of the current proposals -- or, it could propose a one year delay in the entire process to try and end a stalemate.

Whatever the case, the team or teams that do not come to Los Angeles will need to be rewarded in some fashion -- extra money from the group fund, a new stadium, the right to host special events like Super Bowls and drafts, etc.

"Kroenke's best possible outcome is a move to Los Angeles, so the league would have to give him a lot to get him to stand down," one of the sources said.

With the Chargers and the Raiders as 50-50 partners on the Carson proposal, Davis would also demand concessions to let San Diego move to L.A. without Oakland.

"The Raiders have no obligation to allow another team to step into the Raiders' shoes on the deal," another source said, "so Mark Davis will hold a lot of cards under this scenario."

The final option is that no team will move to Los Angeles, because the proposal will fail to satisfy all parties -- a result that would disappoint almost every member of the league.

"The the primary objective is, what will result in the successful reintroduction of the NFL to Los Angeles," Ganis explained.

"This is the closes the NFL has been to Los Angeles in 20 years," he continued. "The intent is to resolve the issue in Houston. Whether it does or not remains to be seen."

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