The NFL and the St. Louis Rams announced this morning that the Rams will play a home game in London in each of the next three years. Ordinarily, an announcement of who is playing in London in a given year is mild trivia, and the game then comes and goes. However, the league has alternated teams in the past. Only Tampa Bay, with owner Malcolm Glazer owning Manchester United, have made multiple appearances, and not in consecutive years.
The Rams playing in London three straight years is no coincidence. The lease runs up in St. Louis (if the stadium situation is not in the top 25% in the league) after the 2014 season, the year of the final London trip. The league is also taking away a home game from St. Louis for each of these seasons, and potentially one of the most attractive ones, as they want a marquee franchise opposite the Rams. New England is the 2012 opponent, so actual Rams fans won’t get to see Tom Brady.
Goodell wants to move a team to London, and getting teams to become more regular visitors would “lead us to what we ultimately would like to do — have a franchise here in London.” I’ve already said my piece on a move to London, as it would be a dreadful decision from a logistical and competitive standpoint to have one team as far away from all the other teams as they are from each other.
It looks like St. Louis, and their unstable stadium situation, is the target. The question is, who is the real target city on the other end? The NFL is all about using leverage in the form of threats of relocation to obtain public funding. The threat of Los Angeles may be just as good as having a team in Los Angeles for owners seeking new stadiums. After Los Angeles, the next most viable domestic markets are probably San Antonio, Las Vegas, or Memphis, none of which provide larger fan bases than existing locations.
With multiple teams in need of stadium deals, and the threat of Los Angeles teetering, this London talk is the next best thing to create leverage. And what better way to create that talk than by putting one of the most vulnerable teams on a consistent schedule in London “to build fan support.” Now, San Diego can still use the threat of Los Angeles as well (the Chargers have the oldest stadium situation in the league, far older than St. Louis), and new Jacksonville owner Shahid Kahn still has multiple options to use. The threat of LA also has the Minnesota community scrambling for a solution to the stadium issue, though nothing is certain yet. The Rams would seem a logical return fit to LA given their history, but those other teams might sweeten their deal as well.
It looks like Los Angeles will get a team within the next four years, and when they do, the league will need a new 700 pound Gorilla to hold over communities to get stadium deals. They are given it a test run across the Pond with the Rams for the next three years, and want taxpayers in Jacksonville, Minnesota, San Diego and all other cities to take notice.
[photo via Getty]