Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Two weeks ago, five miles southeast from the now-vacant Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, football-deprived St. Louisans found something to talk about.
Tim Collins (tpc_stl) uploaded a photo to Twitter of a Los Angeles Chargers team airplane that had recently landed at St. Louis Downtown Airport in Cahokia, Illinois, where it stayed the night.
While the team personnel was likely in town for depositions regarding the city’s current lawsuit against the National Football League, per Randy Karraker of 101ESPN St. Louis, the idea of the Bolts moving yet again has been kicked around enough already to warrant a conversation. That got me (and many other former STL Rams fans that have not and will never get over the team’s crooked relocation to Los Angeles) thinking. Have we really seen the end of football in St. Louis? Is this whole Chargers thing a pipe dream, or does it actually have some substance?
Let’s play this out.
Accompanying the Rams in their relocation to Los Angeles, the Chargers are a team, unlike the Rams, that has no roots in their new city. Yes, technically they began as the Los Angeles Chargers in their first year in 1960, but they only spent a year in the City of Angels before moving south to San Diego, where they would spend the next 56 years. Similarly, the Rams spent their first several seasons in Cleveland before moving to LA, where they stayed for the next 48 seasons. As a result, they have a much deeper stake in LA sports history and in the hearts of the city’s sports fans.
The Chargers’ notorious lack of fan support at home games illustrates the organization’s failure in establishing a fan base in its new city. The 30,000-seat Stub Hub Center has become infamously known as a home away from home for visiting teams, where fans of opposing teams have easily outdrawn that of the home team on numerous occasions since their 2017 move. The Chargers are set to join the Rams in moving into the brand new SoFi Stadium this fall, which is likely to further highlight the Charger’s attendance problems in a 70,000-seat stadium that more than doubles their previous venue’s capacity.
Chiefs fans take over the StubHub Center in 2018.
Poor attendance alone is not enough to move a team. We see teams across sports struggle with fan support, but it’s hard to picture any of them moving in the future. In this case, however, there is more that suggests a move is possible, even likely, than meets the eye.
Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams and most hated man in St. Louis, wants the Chargers out. He is footing the overwhelming majority of the funding for the $5 billion stadium, largely in part due to the Chargers’ inability to sell Public Seat Licenses [see lack of fan support]. The Chargers are simply the Rams’ tenants, paying only $1 a year. Yes, one dollar. So aside from the relocation fees, the Chargers are not pouring money into their new home. As the price of construction continues to rise, it is the Rams that hold all the risk. In this way, the Chargers are literally draining Kroenke of hundreds of millions of dollars. He wants them off his plate.
So where does St. Louis come in?
The story of how the Rams became the 2nd NFL franchise in the Super Bowl era to leave the Gateway to the West is one so full of lies and deceit that it looms over not just Kroenke’s head, but the heads of all 32 owners in the NFL. The City of St. Louis is currently suing the NFL, Stan Kroenke, and all 32 teams in response to the 2016 relocation rip-job that had culminated after years of strategic scheming and lying on the part of the Rams, particularly of Kroenke and team COO Kevin Demoff. The City is arguing that the league failed to negotiate in good faith and violated its own relocation laws, pointing to the fact that the Rams had made their mind up years in advance to move the team and blatantly ignored the city’s viable options to keep the team in St. Louis.
The NFL initially dismissed this lawsuit as just a bunch of angry fans who were pissed off that the league took their team away, but fast forward to 2020, and it’s a whole new ballgame. St. Louis has been successful in every court appearance thus far, most recently with the US Supreme Court denying the Rams’ appeal to take the suit to arbitration last fall. If things keep trending in this direction and St. Louis ultimately wins, it will cost the league over $1 billion. And so far, they’re undefeated.
But what does this have to do with the Chargers in St. Louis?
In the next few years, questions surrounding the Chargers’ future and viability in Los Angeles are going to ramp up substantially. St. Louis seems poised to continue their run of success against the NFL in the courtroom. Rather than pay out the nose and take a public relations beating, why not kill two birds with one stone?
Professional liars Stan Kroenke and Roger Goodell talk before a Rams game in 2016
A 2018 tweet from NFL insider Benjamin Allbright is what got this whole idea off the ground. His tweet read, “I’m not saying St. Louis should pitch the #Chargers on a new home…but yes, that is exactly what I’m suggesting.” Shortly after, Allbright appeared on 590 The Fan, a sports radio station in St. Louis, and revealed that several sources had reported to him that the NFL is seriously reconsidering the viability of two football teams in Los Angeles and that the league was already considering future possible destinations for the Chargers franchise, among them being London, San Antonio, and St. Louis. He was later quoted as estimating the Chargers’ chances of relocating as “60-70 percent” in the next five years, and that of them moving to St. Louis as “30-35 percent” in the same time frame. 30-35 percent?!?! Now we’re talking!
Anyone who believes they can put a number on something as speculative as relocation is more than likely making false assumptions. The main takeaway from this report is that people within the league are talking, and at least St. Louis is part of the conversation.
A year or so later in October of 2019, this idea got kicked around again. ESPN Soccer Analyst and St. Louis native Taylor Twellman reported via Twitter that there was a “strong rumor” floating around the league that St. Louis had been “offered” the Chargers by the NFL. What it means to be “offered” a team I am not sure, and the fact that a soccer reporter of all people is the guy that revealed this information means it is probably conjecture. Again, take this with a grain of salt, but leave with the fact that people are recognizing that the Chargers in Los Angeles is not working. And you can bet that the higher-ups in the NFL front office are taking notice too.
You can also bet that they are rethinking ditching St. Louis.
St. Louis’ viability as a football town is not and should never have been in question. We saw this point proved just this spring with the emergence of the St. Louis Battlehawks XFL team. In the start-up league’s abbreviated season, the Battlehawks lead the league in home attendance and were set to welcome more than 40,000 fans into the Dome for their third home game before COVID-19 forced the league to shut down. 40,000! For a minor league football team! The city that saw the Greatest Show on Turf bring a Lombardi Trophy home and rallied around a team that had no roots in the city beforehand deserves football. There is a hunger here. There is a certain pride that comes with being a St. Louisan; bump into one, and you’ll be sure to hear all about the world’s best frozen custard, zoo, toasted ravioli, baseball fans, and hockey team.
XFL via Getty Images
Fans sellout the lower bowl of The Dome for the St. Louis Battlehawks' home opener in February.
This pride, however, is more likely to hinder any future efforts to bring NFL football back to St. Louis than help, and not just for the Chargers. I’m from St. Louis. If you know me and are from out of town, it’s no secret how much I hype this place up. I love football. I would give anything to have football back, whatever the cost, but most people here don’t feel that way, at least not anymore. Being in the position where it is, the city is not going to be jumping at the bit to potentially forfeit a huge settlement from the NFL, as moving a team here would almost certainly require St. Louis to drop their lawsuit.
After being screwed twice, you can hardly blame St. Louisans for being hesitant to welcome a third NFL team. Before the Rams, there was the St. Louis Football Cardinals, who moved to Phoenix in 1988 after 28 seasons. It still stings, but to say St. Louis is still hung up on the Rams would be far from the truth. We’ve moved on. Since the 2016 move, we’ve welcomed an MLS team, saw the Stanley Cup FINALLY make its way down Market Street, and create a cult movement around the short-lived Battlehawks. St. Louis is and will be just fine without an NFL team, but don’t think for a second there is not a love for football here. It’s a longshot at best to believe the Chargers will be playing under the Arch in the next five years, but the idea makes sense. Rumors have connected the team to London as well, along with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The truth is, no one can see the future. Remember how the Rams continued to lie that they had no intention of moving? Until any real action is taken by the league or an NFL franchise, any rumors speculating about relocation are just that: rumors.
Only time will tell.