Go West, I Guess: Breaking Down the NFL's Quest for More Money

Here's a fun fact: in 2014, the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, had a salary of just $3.2 million. Does that surprise you? Surprised me a bunch, especially since his 2013 salary was reported by the Sports Business Journal as over $44 million. Had Roger Goodell, evil, brain-hating, toothless shark of a lawyer, finally remembered what shame was? Certainly not. You see, Goodell's base salary is just $3.2 million, but all 32 owners in the NFL found the kindness in their hearts to fork over $31.8 million in bonuses. Wow, I haven't seen that big of a Christmas bonus since Clark Griswold was enrolled in the Jelly of the Month Club!

$31.8 million can buy you a lot of things in this world, but not much land. At least, not in Los Angeles. How do I know this? Well, when the owner of the Rams, Stan Kroenke, bought 60 acres of an old parking lot between the fabled Forum and the abandoned Hollywood Park in Inglewood almost two years ago to the day, the land was about to be bought by Madison Square Garden Co. for $90 million. Of course, Kroenke must have outbid that for him to have come away with the lot.

Basically, Roger Goodell would have to be a lot greedier to compete with the owners of the National Football League. Maybe that's why they like him so much; he lets them buy anything they want, and he doesn't ask for much in return, at least compared to their standards. I imagine Stan Kroenke will be delivering his bonus for Goodell in a giant burlap sack with a dollar sign drawn in big black ink on the front. The note attached will read "Thanks for helping me dump her!" The titular "her" is St. Louis, a city awash in potential new and lost.

When I drove past the Edward Jones Dome just two weeks ago, I was struck by how easily the gloomy gray exterior blended in with the snowy sky above me. It reached a high of 27 degrees that day, and the flags emblazoned with Jeff Fisher mustached face seemed frozen in place. A worn billboard promoting the coach's radio show on the local ESPN affiliate hung across the street. Among the events scheduled for the Dome during the (now-forever) offseason: Monster Jam on February 20th, featuring monster trucks doing monster truck things, and Supercross, which is according to Wikipedia is "a newer version of motocross." 

Then nothing. As of January 20th, there's no events scheduled in the dome for the remainder of 2016. I have a sad hunch that there was still some hope that the turf would be laid down in the fall. On January 12th, just two days after I returned home from St. Louis (and my birthday, for the record), the Rams were officially LA-bound.

So the rich have gotten richer. Now what? Well, the Rams have a new stadium in the works, currently known as the Los Angeles Entertainment Center, or City of Champions Stadium, based on the stadium's link to the City of Champions Revitalization Initiative. The Initiative proposes building several interconnected shops and restaurants surrounding the stadium, thereby creating a new major hub for Inglewood and greater LA. The proposal is very similar to LA Live, an area surrounding the Staples Center that also houses ESPN's west coast studios. Having walked all of LA Live while lost in the quest for sushi (Katsuya, can't recommend it enough), I can say that a similar investment from Inglewood would not be unwise. In reality, it's what stadium and team owners alike must invest in for their franchises to really have a major economic impact on the local area.

That’s kind of the the gag. The Stan Kroenke and the NFL can swoop into the city with claims that they’re giving the people what they want, though apparently the people didn’t want the sport there enough to keep the previous three teams, and build in an underdeveloped area to be able to say that they’re somewhat charitable. The latter point is a crock of garbage, but that’s how they can get city government-approved cashflow from the taxpayers. Make them believe in a better future, get that sparkling new stadium, then charge them 150 bucks for nosebleeds, 10 dollars for a beer, and don’t give a damn about any other part of the town.

In the middle of a seemingly endless era of scrutiny, the NFL is advertising its product in reverent tones. “Football is Family”, or so we’re being told by their biggest advertising campaign this season. Football has long since supplanted baseball as the true national pastime (which means hot wings has overtaken apple pie), and team owners are far from sweating. Fans of the game want to keep watching football, and they want the concussion epidemic in the league to stop, or at least slow enough for them to be ignorant once more. So owners will throw the public a bone at some point—vote to remove fire Goodell, support some new rule that will decrease the frequency of injuries, etc.—and then they’ll go back to sleep on their ever-expanding pile of money.

The Los Angeles move proved just how powerless the public—who pay money to watch and support this game—really is to fighting against any whim the league has. That’s because the NFL isn’t beholden to them in the eyes of the decision-makers. To Roger Goodell and the owners, there’s NFL fans everywhere. Pissed off a bunch of people in St. Louis? Los Angeles has literally over ten times the population, so the anger will quickly be drowned out by the citizens of a mass media hub hollering with joy over football finally returning.

What will LA fans even have waiting for them when they walk through the famed arches of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? Todd Gurley is unquestionably the running back star of the future, something that NFL is running short on. That comes with an asterisk indicating “if he stays healthy.” With the exception of Janoris Jenkins, the Rams’ awesome defense is staying together, at least through 2017 when a whole mess of contracts run out, including Akeem Ayers, Alex Ogletree, and the captain himself, Chris Long. 

The bad news is that Nick Foles, who did not impress in the slightest when he was healthy this season, is still under contract until 2018, with $24.5 million left to be paid, $13.7 million of which is guaranteed. If this NFL season proved anything, it’s that without a very good or great quarterback, your team can forget a lengthy playoff appearance, much less a Super Bowl bid. Look at this year’s final eight starting quarterbacks in the playoffs: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, and Alex Smith (aka exception that proves the rule). With injuries becoming more and more serious, and teams frequently relying upon undrafted, has-been, or never-was talent to just fill roster spots, quality players are at a premium. To make matters worse, the quarterback talent in the 2016 and 2017 drafts lacks any “sure things”. The closest would be Deshaun Watson, who is projected to be a number one pick next year, but still needs plenty of work on his intangibles.

If there’s any kind of karmic justice, the Rams will turn out like the Los Angeles Clippers of the 1990s and early-aughts: an incompetent, pathetic wreck of a team in the middle of a city that literally only cares about stars and looking good. You can hide in St. Louis, in the middle of the country where people might not notice or care if you’re incredibly mediocre, but in LA, the spotlight will be on the Rams, and they’ll have to put on a show if they want to make it in Hollywood.