When the Rams kick off in Los Angeles next season, Stan Kroenke better make sure he thanks Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
In a terrific story in ESPN on Thursday, Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham broke down the inner-workings and negotiations that ultimately resulted in NFL owners voting 30-2 in favor of Kroenke’s bid to relocate the Rams to Inglewood.
The entire story is a fascinating glimpse into the world of NFL owners — a world of private jets and private steakhouses and negotiations held on tarmacs of private airports.
What stands out from the piece, however, is Jerry Jones: the most powerful owner in the NFL. Without Jones’ support and influence, the Rams would almost definitely be playing in St. Louis next season, and the Chargers and Raiders would likely be the teams in LA instead.
According to Van Natta and Wickersham, once it became clear that the NFL was planning to relocate one or two teams to Los Angeles, two different groups formed among the 32 owners: The “old money” owners, who backed Dean Spanos and the Chargers/Raiders’ Carson bid, and the “new money” owners, who supported Kroenke.
Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson led the charge attempting to corral votes among the “old money” voters, reportedly flying in his private plane to visit other owners and get them on board with the Carson project. Jones, on the other hand, reportedly “worked the phones.”
Jones proved more effective, and also more hard-nosed.
At a key meeting in August, when both location proposals were presented to the owners, Jones reportedly gave a fiery eight-minute speech that appeared to turn the tide of ownership in favor of Kroenke and Inglewood. From ESPN:
Before the meeting ended, Jones, as would be his habit, took control. He delivered a rollicking, profanity-laced eight-minute endorsement of Kroenke’s monumental vision, saying in his Arkansas drawl that whichever owner returned to Los Angeles, he needed to have “big balls.”
It was awkward and hilarious. Everyone, including Kroenke, tried not to laugh. But it was also a welcomed sentiment for the new-money owners such as Dan Snyder of the Redskins and Jeffrey Lurie of the Eagles, who backed Inglewood. “If you want to do it right,” Jones continued, “you have to step up.”
With a final vote scheduled for Jan. 12, 2016, in Houston, only five months away, the Carson supporters knew they were in trouble
Nevertheless, when the NFL’s LA Committee officially recommended the Carson project (largely because of the support of Disney CEO Bob Iger), many of the “old guard” owners felt that the Carson project would pass easily. The ESPN story noted that several owners had already checked out of their hotel rooms prior to the start of the meeting, expecting the vote to be seamless and the meeting quick.
But the meeting would last several hours and require numerous rounds of voting. Ultimately, a secret ballot helped approve the Inglewood project. According to the ESPN story, Jones, yet again, was crucial. Here’s the crux of it, from after the meeting had ended (emphasis ours):
In the lobby of the Westin after the news conference, Jerry Jones exited an elevator, carrying a nearly empty glass of whiskey, looking both energized and relieved. Though he deeply believed that the vote reflected the league’s best interest, Jones had engineered the defeat of one of the most beloved owners by one of the shrewdest.
Kroenke, of course, is the reason the Rams are no longer playing in St. Louis next season. His money, proposal, and shrewd tactics won the relocation battle. But if it weren’t for the help and influence of Jones, all of that would have been for nothing.