The energy at the event – part press conference, part encouragement – was palpable. The mayor was there and enlivened a lot of the Los Angeles political and business elite. The row of speakers strategically positioned so that television cameras could capture the soccer field behind them breathlessly described the plans for a modern, frizzy stadium. A marching band was even on site to announce efforts to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles after a long absence.
At the moment it was a sign of excitement and progress, but in the eyes of history it would prove to be nothing more than a fleeting wink. Matching t-shirts worn by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other attendees at the 2006 event read “LOS ANGELES 2010,” a reference to the dream of bringing professional football back to the LA Memorial Coliseum by that date. However, the expected $ 800 million redesign of the historic Exposition Park venue would never materialize. Instead, it would be another 14 years before Angelenos got her pigskin palace.
In football, the Colosseum was an incomplete passport. It was just one of many local professional football efforts that failed to reach the end zone.
This weekend marks the debut of the SoFi stadium. The Rams will begin their season on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys at the glitzy Inglewood complex, priced at $ 5 billion. It is a significant achievement and heralds a new era for sport in the region. However, getting here required more hard hits than any Sunday afternoon game.
It has been 26 years since Los Angeles last had a permanent home for professional football. The Rams and Raiders both left town after the 1994 season, with the former fling to St. Louis and the latter north to Oakland (and on to Las Vegas this year). At the time, nobody expected the country's second largest city and hub of the entertainment industry to be without the country's most popular sport for more than a few years. Instead, an entire generation grew up without a home team.
The failed attempts lasted until the day in 2015 when Rams owner Stan Kroenke announced plans to build a nearly 300-acre stadium that he had tacitly bought in Inglewood. Construction began the following year, and the Rams began playing at the Colosseum, sharing the field with the USC Trojans. In 2017, the San Diego Chargers announced they would join the Rams in Inglewood and settled at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson (for a soccer stadium).
The decades without football not only led to the destruction of the dreams of many developers, but also to numerous long-cherished beliefs. In the early years, so-called experts believed that the NFL needed a team in LA to guarantee high TV ratings, and that the city couldn't do without the NFL. The league would have no problem getting more and more lucrative broadcasting deals, however, and while many Angelenos wanted a team, it turned out that football wasn't essential to citizens' identity and that people do many other things on a sunny Sunday had SoCal afternoon. In addition, local guides sniffed the concept of raising public funds to help a billionaire build a stadium.
In 1994, no one expected the country's second largest city to go without an NFL franchise for more than a few years. Instead, an entire generation grew up without a home team.
There has been a lot of effort and some collateral damage. The first attempt came shortly after the Rams and Raiders left when Dodger's owner Peter O’Malley suggested building an NFL stadium in the Dodger Stadium parking lot. The idea generated enthusiasm and support in the town hall. Still, there was a competing effort to bring football to the Coliseum, and then-mayor Richard Riordan played politics and tore his support for Dodger Stadium, according to an ESPN article. According to media reports, this contributed to an angry O’Malley selling the Dodgers a few years later.
More mistakes would follow. In the late 1990s, the city attempted to win an expansion franchise out of the league – super agent Mike Ovitz and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad participated in competing efforts – but lagged when Houston energy tycoon Robert McNair stood ready declared paying a staggering $ 700 million for the rights to a team. That didn't even include the cost of building a stadium.
The 2000s were peppered with a number of trials across the region. Plans have been made for stadiums in locations like the Rose Bowl, City of Industry, City of Commerce, Anaheim, the Coliseum (several times), and several locations in downtown LA.
At the same time, the NFL was grabbing some kind of bad game: when the owner of a small market team wanted a new stadium full of revenue-generating luxury suites and club seating, it was reported that the franchise could potentially be relocated to Los Angeles. This is how LA became an ignorant sucker, and time and again leaders in smaller cities agreed to do maybe stupid deals to fund a new stadium if that meant sticking to their team. Over the years, at least nine teams have been named as candidates for landing in Los Angeles. In addition to the Rams, Raiders and Chargers, the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills dangled.
It's impossible to know if the league ever seriously got the idea of an underdog controlling a stadium in Los Angeles – after all, it took Kroenke, who owned a team, to bring the league back to town. Yet an effort seemed to have real momentum.
That was Farmers Field, a $ 1.4 billion vision created in 2010. The piece for the stadium with 68,000 seats next to the convention center was monumental: Tim Leiweke, then President and CEO of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owned Staples Center and LA Live, praised the project at numerous community meetings and press events and wrote an environmental impact report with 10,000 pages (the city approved it in 2012). Phil Anschutz, the media-savvy company owner, reportedly spent more than $ 50 million on the project. There was even a naming agreement – for a stadium that didn't exist.
However, the NFL never signed up. Over time, the momentum slowed and in March 2015 AEG announced that the project would no longer be discussed with the league. Farmers Field was dead, and Kroenke's vision surfaced a few months later.
Now, more than a quarter of a century after discussions began to bring football back to Los Angeles, here is a shimmering new stadium. In a vicious twist, however, the game will take place without the crowd. Due to the corona virus, the Rams are playing in front of empty stands, as are the Chargers at their first home game on September 20.
For long-suffering fans, the wait continues to see their team in person in a new stadium.
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