Commentary: NFL relocation will cost a generation of fans

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Championship banners are removed from the ceiling of the Edward Jones Dome, former home of the St. Louis Rams football team, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in St. Louis. The Rams will begin playing in Los Angeles starting with the 2016 season. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Championship banners are removed from the ceiling of the Edward Jones Dome, former home of the St. Louis Rams football team, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in St. Louis. The Rams will begin playing in Los Angeles starting with the 2016 season. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

There is simply nothing like attending an NFL home game.

The exhilarating thrill of a last-second victory. The agony of a heartbreaking defeat. The smell of overpriced beer on a crisp fall afternoon, all shared with tens of thousands of strangers who, for three-and-a-half hours on Sunday, begin to feel like some of your closest friends.

On Nov. 17, 1996, I received my first taste of this one-of-a-kind experience, traveling to the Houston Astrodome to watch the hometown Houston Oilers take on the Miami Dolphins.

Legendary Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino led a fourth-quarter comeback, as Miami defeated the Oilers on a field goal with time expiring. Despite the disappointing outcome, I was hooked. And I could not wait to go back next year.

Except there was no next year.

The Oilers moved to Tennessee that offseason, leaving myself and millions of Houstonians disheartened for six years, until the NFL graced the city with the expansion Houston Texans.

Nineteen years later, fans of the St. Louis Rams are the latest victims of franchise relocation, and unfortunately, there is no potential expansion team in sight to fill that void. Even more unfortunate, taxpayers at the city and state level will be paying off the Rams’ lease at the aging Edward Jones Dome until 2021.

A vote Tuesday among NFL owners in Houston sealed the fate for professional football in St. Louis — at least for the foreseeable future. The owners voted 30-to-2 in favor of the franchise relocating to the Los Angeles area immediately, bringing the NFL back to the second-largest television market in the nation following a 21-year absence.

In 2019, the Rams will move into a brand-new stadium in Inglewood, Ca., located roughly 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. According to a study commissioned by the Inglewood city council, the facility is estimated to cost $1.8 billion, a forecast that would make the venue the most expensive stadium ever constructed. Until then, the organization will play its home games at the Los Angeles Coliseum, home of the USC football team.

For years, NFL owners have leveraged cities with threats of bolting to the west coast in hopes of footing taxpayers with the bill for a state-of-the-art stadium. But now that Rams owner Stan Kroenke has followed through on such a threat, is Los Angeles truly the appealing destination that it has been made out to be? After all, this is a city that lost two NFL franchises in the same year back in 1994, one of which was the Rams.

A metro population upwards of 10 million hardly guarantees the intrigue of the city of Los Angeles. The city of angels loves a winner. A loser? Not so much. Just ask the Los Angeles Clippers, who consistently failed to fill the Staples Center at 90 percent capacity until their recent string of four consecutive playoff appearances.

The Rams have not been to the postseason in 11 years, and are in the midst of nine consecutive losing seasons.

Furthermore, their move to St. Louis 21 years ago cost the Rams an entire generation of fans in Los Angeles. NFL fans who have grown up in the city during the past two decades have developed attachments to both the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, one of whom could potentially join the Rams in Los Angeles.

The move undoubtedly has its benefits. The television market is matched only by New York City, the money is abundant and the Mediterranean climate of the Southern California coast is a marketing tool that can be utilized to attract the top players, coaches and front office executives in the industry.

But overshadowed by a shiny new stadium and the bright lights of Los Angeles is the fact that the Rams are ripping out the hearts of an allegiant fan base with the uncertain hopes of building a new one, leaving emotional and financial scars in their wake.