INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – Stan Kroenke stepped to the microphones at the Forum with football fans chanting “We love Stan!”
When the owner first said the words “Los Angeles Rams,” those fans erupted in wild cheers.
What a difference LA makes for Kroenke and his Rams, who are home again after 21 years in St. Louis.
The Rams formally returned to the West Coast on Friday with their first public appearance since getting NFL permission to relocate. Team executives, former players and fans shared their anticipation and excitement when they assembled mere steps away from the planned site of a lavish stadium set to open at Hollywood Park in 2019.
“It’s quite a privilege,” Kroenke said. “We’re looking forward to moving ahead with this. It’s been a long road, but we made it. We’re going to have some fun.”
The Rams played in Southern California for 49 seasons before owner Georgia Frontiere moved them after the 1994 campaign. Kroenke won the three-team derby to return to the nation’s second-largest market earlier this week, enticing NFL owners with his impressive stadium plans and his team’s ties to Los Angeles, where thousands of fans stayed true to the Rams during two decades away.
Kroenke appeared to tear up slightly at a few points in a cathartic afternoon.
“Sure, it’s emotional,” said Kroenke, a Missouri native and a Malibu resident for 20 years. “I have a home here, and I love the area. It’s a lot to take in, and we haven’t been able to enjoy the fun stuff yet.”
COO Kevin Demoff confirmed several details of the move, saying the Rams will play the upcoming season downtown at the Coliseum, their home from 1946-79. They’ll start selling tickets Monday at prices comparable to last year’s rates in St. Louis.
Demoff also made it clear that the Rams expect to partner with the Chargers or Raiders in Inglewood, drawing a few jeers from Rams fans.
“We are honored for the faith that the NFL and its owners have put in us to deliver a terrific product here in Los Angeles,” said Demoff, a Los Angeles-area native. “We can’t wait for the day to welcome a second team into our building to help have a true NFC-AFC rivalry, which will be special. And maybe one day there will be a terrific Super Bowl of two Los Angeles teams.”
The Chargers have a year to relocate to Los Angeles to become a partner in the Inglewood project, but owner Dean Spanos hasn’t decided. If the Chargers stay in San Diego, the Oakland Raiders almost certainly would leap at the chance to move back to Los Angeles in 2017.
“We don’t want them!” several fans chanted to laughs and cheers.
General manager Les Snead said the Rams intend to hold their entire offseason training program in California, starting with workouts in April. They haven’t finalized plans for a training complex.
The move is a homecoming for Demoff and Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and played at USC before becoming the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator in 1991.
Fisher has experience in the challenges ahead of the Rams: He was the head coach of the Houston Oilers when they became the Tennessee Titans in 1997.
“It’s not an easy experience, but you can do things right,” Fisher said. “You can make mistakes if you’re not careful, but Stan and I discussed this at length, even at the time at which he hired me four years ago. I’ve been through that experience, so we have a pretty good idea how to handle it.”
Kroenke, a billionaire land developer married to a Walmart heir, is building more than a football stadium with the reported $1.86 billion Inglewood project, which also includes office space, shops, a concert venue and innumerable other enticements. Chris Meany, the development manager for the Hollywood Park Land Company, recalled a conversation with Kroenke that set out their mission.
“(Kroenke) said, ‘Make sure you don’t ever lose sight of what we are trying to do here,’ ” Meany recalled. “‘When we are done, when someone from around the world thinks of LA, Hollywood Park must be one of those three or four places that instantly identify the city.’ “
Kroenke said his new stadium will host Super Bowls and Final Fours, which he has already discussed with the NCAA. The Los Angeles area hasn’t hosted the Final Four since 1972, lacking an appropriately huge roofed venue. Inglewood Mayor James Butts said he already has expressed interest to the NFL in hosting the Super Bowl in February 2021.