The first weekly column I ever wrote for The Daily was on the NFL. It’s ironic, because I never grew up caring about the NFL, and being from Los Angeles – a city without an NFL team – I don’t really care about it now. So it’s all the more ironic that as I pick up my sports column again after a year’s absence, my first column is about the NFL too. (Yes, I’m still writing for Opinions!) The NFL is talking about returning to LA, and apparently the interest is serious. Yet, as this SoCal boy is going to explain, the more things change, the more things stay the same.
The NFL in LA seems great, doesn’t it? Now that St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke is planning to build an NFL stadium in the City of Angels, we’re drawn to think of the glory that could be. Kroenke says that he’s willing to pay for the stadium himself, and he certainly doesn’t need to wait for a team to move to LA – he already owns one. In short, this looks like a plan with a lot of winners. LA wins because it gets the NFL back without having to pay for a stadium first. Stan Kroenke wins because moving the Rams to LA will probably double the value of his franchise overnight. The Raiders and Chargers might collect $250 million in relocation fees, so they arguably win. St. Louis loses, of course. But most importantly, the NFL does not win.
From the NFL’s standpoint, there is almost no reason why they should want the Rams to move to Los Angeles. It won’t generate that much more television money – if there’s anything we have learned about the NFL over the last 20 years it is that people in LA will still watch pro football even if there is no LA-based team. It might collect more jersey sales, but that’s small potatoes. And by moving to LA, the NFL loses the ability to threaten a move to LA that has helped net its teams oceans of public money – $4 billion in direct and indirect subsidies.
Moreover, while Kroenke’s deal isn’t a bad one, it also might not be a real one. Sure, the details of the offer are good. Nobody in LA will be forced to choose between schools and football. From an LA standpoint, the Rams are not the Vikings, who gave Minneapolis an ultimatum: pay us, or we leave. In fact, aside from the traffic, there is very little downside. But if you look at what’s going on in St. Louis, the saga of the Rams seems to be just more of the same.
Before Kroenke revealed his LA plans, the Rams had been asking St. Louis for $700 million in public financing for stadium upgrades. Not quite the same deal Kroenke offered LA, right? In this context, the LA deal is not a handshake with Southern California, it’s a clear threat to Missouri. Kroenke’s stadium proposal isn’t a game-changer – in reality, it’s what the NFL has been doing for the last twenty years, just packaged in blue instead of purple. I understand why Kroenke is doing this – the Rams are so much more valuable in LA than in St. Louis that he should get some kind of subsidy for sticking with the latter – but I also recognize that we’re still stuck on the same merry-go-round we’ve always had to endure.
I don’t think LA will get an NFL team. But over the last few weeks, though, I’ve had to ask myself whether I even want a football team in the first place.
I didn’t grow up with the NFL on my mind. Yes, I realize that football is the most popular sport in America…but I moved to China when I was in elementary school, and growing up in the American community in Shanghai, I knew a lot of people who used sports as a way to hang on to home. I understand that feeling very well: In a world where soccer is globally dominant, the essential American-ness of the major U.S. sports is a big part of why I love the Lakers and the Dodgers. But there was no Los Angeles football team for me to naturally follow, and six thousand miles from the West Coast, I was never in a situation where caring about American football was culturally indispensable.
But now I live in America again, and since the ninth grade I’ve been confronted with a country where the National Football League is a thing. I picked up pro football because that’s just what you do when you live in rural Massachusetts, especially when the Patriots are good. Do I cheer for the Patriots? No. Do I actively try to watch football? No. Do I know how the NFL operates? How could I not? As a sports fan, I’m bombarded with the NFL each and every day.
I won’t say no to an NFL team in principle. I would rather not cheer for a team that was moved from a different city – after defending the Sacramento Kings in this very newspaper, it would be hypocritical of me if I did. But even if the Rams had never existed and Kroenke was simply the deep-pocketed owner of Arsenal Football Club, I’m not sure it would matter.
You know what? Not cheering for an NFL team and watching people who do has given me a bit of perspective as to whether the NFL actually matters to my life. Yes, sports give us not just entertainment but similar interests and a larger community of fans – and for that, I am very grateful. I am a better person because I am a sports fan. But I get those benefits with the teams I have, and adding the NFL to the mix wouldn’t make any difference. Yes, other people cheer for the Patriots, the Niners, the Seahawks, the Broncos, and they have fun doing so. Even so, I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Sacramento cares so much about the Kings because they’re the only team it’s got. That’s not the case for me. The Rams matter more to St. Louis than they ever could to LA. And that is ultimately why I think St. Louis will pay what it takes to keep them. It shouldn’t cost $700 million – the NFL will likely pressure Kroenke to ask for less, just to keep the LA option open in the future – but it will still be a trainload of money. I hope that it will be worth it.
As for me, it’s not even the lack of a team that disturbs me the most at this point. If the Lakers and the Dodgers teach me the value of being a sports fan, then the NFL has shown me a darker side of pro sports. The NFL is often derided as a business, but it’s not just unsentimental towards most of its players and its coaches – it’s unsentimental towards its fans. As long as I have been a sports fan, Los Angeles has been the proverbial lady jilted at the altar, ditched by the NFL time and time again. We are viewed not as a potential market but as the ultimate bargaining chip. I don’t blame the NFL for doing that – it’s never easy to turn down $4 billion and counting – but I would also feel very uncomfortable making an emotional investment in a league whose teams, more often than not, don’t reciprocate that emotion. NFL fans are rooting for laundry.
If St. Louis sticks to its guns and refuses to pay the Rams what they want, more power to them. It’s their decision, and they’re entitled to spend taxpayer money as they see fit. Admittedly, I hope the Rams won’t leave St. Louis. They spent 48 great years in Southern California, but it’s Missouri’s team now. Even so, if they do end up leaving – believe me, there are worse things that could happen.
According to sources, Winston Shi desires a coaching position on the NFL franchise that relocates to Los Angeles, hoping to build off his solid high school-level credentials. Anyone with contacts in the Rams organization is encouraged to email wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.