What’s Really Behind the Rams’ Return to SoCal?

The formerly native team comes full circle, and so does Inglewood

There’s a feel-good symmetry to the Rams’ return to Southern California after a 21-year absence. After all, they were L.A.’s original team: the first major-league franchise to establish roots here, the first to win a championship, the first with players we fell in love with (Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, the Fearsome Foursome, Roman Gabriel, Eric Dickerson). They were also the first to dump us—initially for Orange County before decamping to Missouri.

The City of Inglewood knows a thing or two about being dumped. The Lakers and the Kings left for Staples Center in 1999. Hollywood Park racetrack closed three years ago. Now, with the NFL’s approval of the “Disneyland for professional football” complex and the rebirth of the Forum as a concert venue, the self-proclaimed City of Champions is again feeling good. Call it symmetry.

In sealing the deal, Rams owner Stan Kroenke put an end to two decades of false starts, as everyone from Disney head Bob Iger to Staples owner Philip Anschutz to real estate magnate Ed Roski to superagent Mike Ovitz failed to persuade the NFL to buy into their respective projects. Former Dodger scion Peter O’Malley tried and failed, too. All had smarts and money, but only Kroenke, a real estate developer who married into the Walmart fortune, had the team.

Rams running back John Cappelletti in 1977
Rams running back John Cappelletti in 1977

Photo courtesy of AP Photo/David Durochik

He also had something else going for him: Inglewood. The town, which had lost out on a 1995 plan for a stadium, made the most of Hollywood Park’s demise by green-lighting a 300-acre mixed-use development spearheaded by Kroenke, who owns 60 of those acres. It was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said “Silent Stan” in a rare interview, on KPCC. “Bigger than Century City as a footprint.”

What Inglewood gets is bigger than any mere football stadium. Expected to cost $3 billion or so and requiring no public subsidies, the 70,000-seat arena will feature a translucent roof, enabling it to host the Final Four and other major events; it’ll join the rotation for future Super Bowls and could host the wished-for Olympic Games. As a bonus, the location is within two miles of a Crenshaw Line light-rail station, scheduled to open in 2019—the same year as the new stadium.

Until then, as the Rams temporarily return to the Coliseum, Kroenke will be doing the math on season tickets, personal-seat licenses, luxury suites, and beer—figures that may well dwarf the size of the new stadium—and trying to build a Super Bowl contender. Symmetry? Not really, given the Rams’ dismal record when they left town in 1995, but we’ll take it.