Gambling on professional sports may be illegal in most states, but everyone still knows the rules: One way or another, the house always wins.
So it is with the NFL.
On Monday, the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams filed applications with the league to move their football franchises to the Los Angeles area. The action was widely expected, even welcomed, as a way to resolve a question that’s been hanging out there for far too long.
It was more than a year ago that Stan Kroenke, owner of the Rams, set off a relocation race when he announced plans for a $1.86 billion, two-team stadium in Inglewood. A few weeks later, the Chargers and Raiders teamed up to say they, too, were planning to build a stadium to share in L.A., this one in Carson and costing $1.7 billion.
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The applications got a cursory look last week. A final decision will be announced some time after all 32 team owners huddle in Houston this week.
Whatever happens, we can promise you one thing: It will have nothing to do with football fans who gamble away their hearts Sunday after Sunday. And it will have nothing to with the cities that, like others before them, have bet large amounts of cash in hopes of winning a team’s loyalty.
Indeed, none of this is about football. It’s about money. The NFL is greedy like that, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
There’s no real reason the league couldn’t expand, adding another team – or four – instead of just moving teams around, handing them over to cities that emerge, “Hunger Games”-style, as the highest bidders. That’s why the Raiders, Chargers and Rams got shuffled around. All three teams once played in Los Angeles.
The NFL’s last expansion was in 2002 with the Houston Texans. There’s little to suggest that the market couldn’t absorb another team. Football fanatics are everywhere and colleges are bursting with talented players.
But none of this is in the NFL’s playbook. The league’s business model depends on making money from ever bigger, ever fancier stadiums, usually surrounded by new commercial and residential development.
The stadium the Rams are proposing, for example, would sit on a new 298-acre entertainment, retail, office and housing district, all owned by Kroenke. In the team’s application, he made sure to point out the large number of pricey club seats and private suites that will “provide greater revenue opportunities.”
The hotter the market, the better for the league’s bottom line. And L.A. is hot right now.
That’s why, as much as we love the NFL, we know it’s a losing game. It doesn’t matter what cities pony up. If a few years down the road, the league sees a hotter, more profitable market on the horizon, they’ll go for it.
We’re not placing any bets that the NFL will ever choose football over money. But there’s no harm in making it about both.