|Leave Through The Hoop|
Now, I'm not going to get into the merits of this. I've been to the Edward James Dome, and there's nothing wrong with it. I enjoyed the location, the neighborhood was safe, I got to walk to the stadium from the hotel and play poker at a nearby casino, and make back my airline ticket. If there were $700 million worth of enhancements to make to the place, I have no idea where they'd spend the money. The sound system was a little heavy on treble, I guess.
A side point: no current stadium in the NFL is a hole; this is the biggest money league in the biggest money country, and the simple fact of the matter is that football doesn't need anything beyond good grass and accurate measurements. I've seen NFL football played in seven stadiums (two Philly yards, Green Bay, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis and Oakland), and the yard didn't matter in any of those games. Either my decision to go, or the outcome of the game. It just doesn't matter. Play the games anywhere, and we're watching and going.
But that isn't what's really at work here. What's really going on is the oldest NFL game in the book: holding up municipalities for unearned largess. Since there are only 32 NFL teams, no relegation or minor league system, and literally hundreds of municipalities that would give their souls to be Major League with America's Obsession (seriously, if Green Bay can support a team, what town can't?)...
Well, there are no shortage of places for them to go, and no end of history to show that they'll move. Remember, this franchise has already been in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Anaheim before going to Missouri in 1995. So here's my list of candidates, ranked in probability...
10) Albuquerque. As we've seen, Walter White's got more money than he knows what to do with, and he's got to be looking for a way to launder his funds. (OK, I'm kidding. But if the Rams want to stay in the West and tune up a desperate city for Only Game In Town status, this isn't a bad place to hold up. Some league will do it eventually.)
9) Salt Lake City. The fun house mirror to Vegas, and a far less likely scenario... or is it? SLC has a surprising amount of new media money, and the NFL is big on its red state love. It's not very likely, but neither was St. Louis in the mid 1990s, frankly.
8) Tulsa. Sure, they are kind of ridiculous with that Olympic bid, but there's more money than you think here, and an entire state that would pop like mad for the franchise. There's also something just wrong about Texas having two NFL football teams while Oklahoma has none. Besides, if we want to keep rebuilding the place after the tornadoes crush it, we're going to need more pro athletes in town.
7) Brooklyn. Hell, if Dallas can be in the NFC East, why shouldn't the Rams just go for maximum money and ride the wave of the hottest team poaching region in American sports? In the long run, the New York media market can, and will, support more than one NFL franchise. (And no, this isn't going to happen. But we are going to hear about Brooklyn getting an NFL team for the next two decades before they get one, and anything that gives Jets Fans an option to not spend their life in misery has to be a win.)
6) Las Vegas. Everyone's favorite party town is a given for every minor league football experience, and the long-term demographic changes ensure that they'll be in the majors someday. Sure, the NFL has issues with gambling, but that's going to have to take a back seat at some point, and it's not as if there aren't enough high rollers in town to make this happen. Besides, they'd never miss a home sellout, since the road fans of every visiting team are going to fill the yard. Again, this is a when, not an if.
5) Portland. Too much money in the area to ignore, especially now in the post dot-com era, and from a geographic standpoint, it makes so much more sense for the NFC West to have a team between Seattle and San Francisco. They'd also be the only team drawing for hundreds of miles, and Oregon has an ever-increasing number of ex-Californians with money. There will be a team here at some point, so it might as well be now.
4) Anaheim. A lesser target than Los Angeles? Sure, but it's also got a history, perhaps more flexibility for a venue, and Disney/Pixar tie-ins a-plenty. No one ever thinks too hard about Anaheim, but they've supported an MLB franchise for decades and an NHL team despite a ridiculous name, and no prior interest in hockey. They'd do fine with football, and there's a certain kismet to returning their team.
3) San Antonio. Not on the radar and a surprise choice for #3? Well, sure... but the NFL keeps making overtures to Mexico City and the Mexican market, and San Antonio is as close to the border as they are ever going to get. They also have a huge military presence. Both of those are right in the wheelhouse of the NFL, and Texas is so football-crazed, there's no chance of a franchise here taking anything away from Dallas or Houston. Hell, it'll probably make both of them better, the same way it has in the NBA.
2) London. Complete insanity? Of course. But hear me out. Two teams (Jacksonville, owned by a guy with Euro history, and Tampa, who have Premier League tie-ins) have already been sniffing hard at a London franchise. They'd be the only team in, well, Europe, with an absurd home field advantage from the travel and ridiculous corporate money on the local level. Maybe the team helps to build money for the entire league. That's why the NFL has been force-feeding this market with a game every year, and the yard keeps selling out. Of all of the cities on this list, this might have the most potential to make the other 31 teams more money.
1) Los Angeles. The second largest market in America has been without a franchise since the Rams and Raiders left in the last century, and it has to be a thorn in the side of the NFL that this field lies fallow. Not that it's hurt them any, but the first rule of economics is that things that can't continue, um, won't. It would take building a stadium in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country, but this is the NFL, and there are no shortage of people in SoCal with life-changing money. They were never meant to be without an NFL team for this long, and it's an embarrassment to a league that shouldn't suffer embarrassments for long.
The Rams make the most sense here.
And Dick Vermeil's NFL championship notwithstanding... they always have.