Bearing a $5 billion price tag — about eight times the cost of Petco Park even allowing for inflation — the football palace that lured the Chargers north was home to its first event Sunday night, a season opener between the Rams and Cowboys that Los Angeles won 20 -17.
With fans absent the game didn’t feel big time, but the stadium did.
Its vastness suits the size and ego of the NFL and Los Angeles.
Does it seem obnoxious that a football venue costs a few billion dollars?
It truly would be obnoxious if taxpayers were footing the bill, especially during a viral pandemic — but because subsidies the NFL gets from other states weren’t available in California, the project was almost entirely paid for with private money.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke, a megabillionaire, agreed to build the NFL a pleasure dome in America’s second-largest media market if Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — a big ideas guy himself — could get NFL owners to allow his relocation from St. Louis to LA and choose his project over a competing project the Chargers and Raiders planned for Carson.
Jones got the votes.
As a support to Chargers owner Dean Spanos, NFL owners gave him first rights to tenancy in the Kroenke Dome. (That NFL owners didn’t want the Raiders beating Spanos to LA was part of the puzzle.)
Kroenke, per Forbes, is worth $8.3 billion. If project overruns already estimated at $3 billion create a squeeze for him, perhaps Stan will seek a loan from wife Ann Walton of the Walmart Waltons. Her estimated net worth: $8.7 billion. As it is, when stadium costs soared after heavy rains pushed back the opening a year, the NFL floated Kroenke $500 million in project aid to go with its first pledge of $400 million in loans.
Dug into land four miles from Los Angeles International Airport and 120 miles north of Mission Valley, the Kroenke Dome is an impressively spacious, efficiently presented, relentlessly corporate venue whose signature features are a white, translucent canopy and a massive video screen that hovers over the fake-grass field like a spaceship.
Of course there’s no way San Diego, to retain the Chargers, could have competed financially with a $5 billion project, to say nothing of a real-estate swath that’s larger than Disneyland.
Nor were the Chargers seeking that scale in San Diego
In their 2016 stadium initiative, they sought a new home that, along with a convention center annex, would cost an estimated $1.85 billion and allow them to rise to the 32-team NFL’s mid-tier of revenues.
Yet in San Diego, the bulk of the cost of a new stadium would fall on public financing. The Chargers sought $1.15 billion in money from a hotel tax. San Diego voters turned them down, and in light of the coronavirus pandemic pummeling the tourism industry this year, voters did both the City and the Chargers in favor.
When public funding in San Diego never materialized and NFL owners assured them tenancy in the Kroenke Dome, Spanos and his three siblings decided to move the family business north.
While the stadium politics the NFL and Spanos practiced invited criticism — not without good reason — the events leading up to the relocation decision didn’t occur in a local vacuum. Public posturing aside, the Chargers’ exit seemed to suit several local power brokers including the Kevin Faulconer-led City Hall, the Padres and San Diego State. All three all had visions for Mission Valley and the East Village that were at odds with the Chargers either moving downtown or, in SDSU’s case, getting a new stadium in Mission Valley.
The Chargers struck favorable terms with the Rams, notably getting Kroenke and Co. to bear all cost overruns on the stadium construction and not requiring the Chargers to meet a target on sales of seat licenses.
But will the Chargers ever become relevant in LA? It seems unlikely crowds at their games will fill up the 70,200-seat venue with any consistency, even with Team Spanos under-cutting the Rams on ticket prices as it has.
Fans of the Chargers’ opponent accounted for up to 80 percent of the 27,000 attendees at several games last year in Carson, despite the nominal home team having gone 12-4 and winning a playoff game the previous year.
Sunday night, the Rams got two touchdown runs from Malcolm Brown, three sacks from their defense and 9-for-17 efficiency from their offense on third downs to outlast the Cowboys, a two-point favorite on betting lines.
The Rams caused Dallas problems with an up-tempo offense. Receiver Robert Woods caught six passes for 105 yards from Rams quarterback Jared Goff.