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“Why would L.A. not have a pro football team?” Kroenke asked Thursday morning at the Variety-Sports Illustrated Entertainment Summit in Los Angeles.
Jon Wertheim, executive editor and senior writer at Sports Illustrated, moderated the panel.
Kroenke admitted that he was surprised that he was able to move the team from St. Louis. “We didn’t expect to have this opportunity thrown at us,” he said.
Kroenke said the key to the deal was being able to acquire the 300 acres at the site of the now-demolished Hollywood Park thoroughbred race track. He has announced plans for a $2.6 billion stadium complex at the site in Inglewood, but it’s not slated to open until 2019.
So for the first three seasons back in L.A., the Rams will be playing at the Coliseum — and Kroenke knows the team’s performance is paramount.
“We’ve been doing this real estate thing for a long time,” he said. “I’ve always loved sports and you have to make it make sense financially. But you learn over the years that it’s no fun if you don’t win.”
Kevin Demoff, exec VP and chief operating officer, said the team is making a grassroots effort to reset the franchise in Los Angeles.
“The most important thing here is to connect with the generation that grew up without that professional team,” he said. “We want to establish the team to be successful in the long term. Our focus is to bring the same fans now and in 10 years. Our challenge is to convert our generation into die-hard Rams fans.”
Demoff also said, “What impressed me the most is that people are excited to make this a family event. When you live in Los Angeles you have access to almost every event and this is the one they haven’t had. One of the reasons this NFL situation got solved is that Los Angeles is ready to have football back in this city. ”
Coach Jeff Fisher, who starred in college at USC, noted that he previously faced a similar situation when the Houston franchise became the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity and I’m honored to be in a position to come back home,” he said. “My world is the players and that’s what’s important. That’s what I gained from doing this once before and it’s about your focus on the players and getting better.”
Demoff said it’s crucial that the Inglewood location will have an entertainment district attached to the stadium.
“We had to give people a reason to come down,” he added. “We designed the stadium with Los Angeles and Hollywood in mind. The NBA has courtside seats and the NFL doesn’t, but our focus throughout the building is that you design it to replicate what we see in our daily lives in L.A. But the main thing is winning on the field. It starts with having a great football product.”
Kroenke noted that the return of the Rams coincides with the globalization of pro sports.
“When you look at where we are focused as a league, Rams are playing the Giants in London this season, Arsenal is playing over here and the NBA is playing games in London,” he said. “The upshot is that sports is so global, and within the last few years, and that’s where I think people are focusing for growth. Los Angeles is so important to NFL – some people call it gateway to South America and Asia.”
— Variety (@Variety) July 14, 2016
As for the Coliseum, Demoff offered an upbeat take.
“First and foremost it has great history and nostalgia for Los Angeles,” he said. “It won’t be perfect but it’s the home of the Olympics and USC. We have a honeymoon period with the Coliseum right now but we’re thinking of that other stadium. We have to emphasize that we’re going to figure out the idiosyncrasies and move forward.”
Fisher said the Rams players are fired up for the season.
“Our players are truly very excited about being here,” he added. “They have the playground mentally that as long as they play it doesn’t matter where. We sat them down and spelled out the next two to three years and they’re excited to play at the Coliseum. It doesn’t take much from a player standpoint.”
Demoff noted that the Rams have an agreement with the San Diego Chargers should the team chose that option to come to Los Angeles, and that the Oakland Raiders may also relocate.
“This is a potential new blueprint for football,” he said. “I hope the blueprint that we lay is a combination of real estate and sports coming together in a great way. If you look at it there’s two teams for every major sport in this area. Competition always brings out the best in sports.”
Fisher said he’s been impressed with the enthusiasm in Los Angeles. “People are excited to have pro football back in L.A. but most importantly having the Rams back in L.A.”
— Variety (@Variety) July 14, 2016