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What the Rams are getting and giving up to move to L.A.

The St. Louis Rams are returning to their original West Coast home of Los Angeles after 20 years in the Midwest. The NFL team leaves behind fans, as well as public money for a new St. Louis stadium. Hari Sreenivasan takes a closer look with Mike Pesca, host of Slate's "The Gist" podcast.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In a move green-lighted by NFL teams owners, the Saint Louis Rams will return to their original West Coast home, Los Angeles, after 20 years in the Midwest. Owners also gave the San Diego Chargers the option of moving and joining the Rams in what would be the NFL's largest stadium. The Chargers have a year to make the move.

    Hari Sreenivasan has our look at what the moves mean for the teams, cities and fans.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    For the Rams, moving to Los Angeles means leaving behind fans and a $400 million taxpayer contribution for a new stadium in Saint Louis. If the Chargers move, they'd also be leaving public money on the table.

    Joining me to look at what's being won and lost is Mike Pesca, host of Slate's "The Gist" podcast.

    So, Mike, what do Saint Louis and San Diego get out of moving to L.A.?

    MIKE PESCA, Slate's "The Gist" Podcast: Well, Saint Louis is moving to L.A.

    And the owner of that team, Stan Kroenke, looks at the market, looks at this giant market without a team, where his team used to play, and just sees riches. It's a little bit different, the calculation with NFL teams, than the other sports.

    Every other sport, big-time sports, football — I mean — I'm sorry — basketball, hockey, and baseball, they depend on the local market to enrich them. So, for instance,, the L.A. Dodgers have a TV contract worth in excess of $8 billion over 25 years. And, indeed, this is why Los Angeles has two baseball teams, two basketballs teams, even the Ducks and the Kings in hockey.

    But with football, since it's all national TV contracts, L.A. is just one other market. The fact that there are so many people there is not necessarily as big an inducement as it would be with other sports, but Kroenke knows that he could make so much money.

    The Chargers, if they do move there, they look at the stadium that is being built in Inglewood, they see dollars signs also. They envision — in fact, they had an original plan to team up with the Oakland Raiders, the now and still Oakland Raiders, where they have football all the way from Mexico all the way up for hundreds of miles. So, we will see if that Los Angeles Chargers part of the deal that goes through, but the Rams is going to go through.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, this is a stadium being built in Los Angeles that wouldn't be funded by taxpayers, right?

  • MIKE PESCA:

    That is correct.

    And that's important, because the plan in Los — I'm sorry — the plan in Saint Louis would be for taxpayer funding. Now, they claim that it wouldn't be new taxpayer funding, because taxpayers already fund to some extent the place where the — the dome where the Rams now play.

    But, still, in every other case, it would be taxpayers putting the money for a stadium. And it's a sad thing, I think. Economists will tell you that stadiums are not good economic generators. But when a populace has a team, they really don't want to lose the team, whereas the new stadium is not taxpayer-funded.

    And it should be noted that Oakland has basically said, we're not going to use taxpayer funding for your stadium, so the Raiders will have to deal with that.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This has been almost the standard refrain from any NFL team, at least a half-dozen that I can think of, that have said, I will get up and move to Los Angeles if you, town X, don't help me build a new stadium.

  • MIKE PESCA:

    Yes.

    And it's useful to the NFL owners to have one or two of these stalking horse-type cities to act as a bargaining chip. And now I guess Saint Louis will be that city. It is the, last time I looked, 19th biggest metropolitan statistical area. They do — they are building this new riverfront stadium, or say they are. There are plenty of places for an NFL team to play there.

    So that is how business — the business of the NFL goes. It's also sort of society in a microcosm. So many states try to poach other businesses with tax breaks and tax deals. We also see it internationally, right, that people accuse countries of having such low taxes to try to draw businesses away. It is the way of the world, literally.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But what about the fans?

    One of the reasons that the Rams left last time was that L.A. didn't seem like that big of a football town. Even though it had two teams, they both left. Is there enough interest in Los Angeles to fill a 70,000-person stadium?

  • MIKE PESCA:

    A hundred thousand with standing room, they say. I don't know.

    I mean, I saw shots on the news of these Rams fans celebrating. They all seemed to be wearing old jerseys. I didn't see too many 12-year-olds in the crowd. The NFL, though, is so incredibly popular. And I think this stadium will be new and beautiful and big and exciting.

    So, yes, I would expect that an NFL team, especially if it's a decent team, to do well enough. I feel very sorry for the old Saint Louis Rams fan base, who were once the Saint Louis Cardinals fan base, two teams untimely ripped from that city.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Yes, you know, so what happens? Are the fans part of this equation, when 30 billionaire owners of NFL teams get in the room?

  • MIKE PESCA:

    Yes.

    Sure. The fans are part of the equation, because they're the ones who pay for tickets and they're the ones who give them TV ratings. It's, of course, about money, but the fans that they currently enjoy — I mean, the lure of the fan from Southern California, when you're taking advantage or you're taking for granted the fan from Missouri, I guess the siren song is just too powerful.

    And the Rams put together a document that thoroughly insulted Saint Louis and Saint Louis County, saying it's poor, saying that it's not growing fast enough, just really denigrating it.

    It was — I have to say, the owner of the Rams did a great job of bargaining. He positioned himself to have the NFL accept him. He gave them what they wanted, a big, huge facility for NFL Films that will be put out, and the NFL Network, that will be put out in Los Angeles.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right.

  • MIKE PESCA:

    He did a great job. He's a great businessman. I don't know if he's a great humanitarian. I don't think people in Saint Louis will think that he is.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Mike Pesca, host of The Slate's "Gist" podcast, thanks so much for joining us.

  • MIKE PESCA:

    You're welcome.

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