At the NFL owners’ meetings at the Waldorf Astoria New York in October, reporters are kept in a hallway behind velvet ropes. They wait all day for anything they can get.
“You guys are in the pen? What’s going on over here?” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says as he walks by in the morning.
“You make the rules,” says one reporter.
“I didn’t make those rules,” Goodell says over his shoulder.
Now and again, an owner, this time Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, leaves the ballroom where the meeting is and walks down the hall to the men’s room at the other end. “Mr. Jones? Jerry?” the reporters plead. “Do you have a minute?”
Jones stops, and a scrum forms. Nobody has to say what everybody wants to know: What’s the latest on Los Angeles? “We have the opportunity to do something special,” Jones says, before ambling away. The reporters huddle to parse his words. He must mean the Stan Kroenke plan.
The National Football League wants to put at least one franchise in Los Angeles by the start of next season. Kroenke, the owner of the St. Louis Rams and arguably the most powerful owner in sports, wants it to be his. He’s ready to build a $1.9 billion stadium southwest of downtown. He has big backers. Jones, who built an 80,000-seat cathedral to excess known as “Jerry’s World” for his Cowboys in 2009, admires the grandeur of Kroenke’s plan and has sided with him against owners from the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, who want to build and share a stadium in the L.A. suburb of Carson, bringing two franchises to the city at once. Jones’s tossed-off comment about “something special” is the tiniest scrap, but when you’re covering Kroenke, that feels like a meal. He seldom gives interviews.
Kroenke (pronounced Krone-key) is one of the wealthiest and least-known owners in professional sports. He’s a Missouri-born (full name: Enos Stanley, after St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famers Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial) real estate developer who’s married to a Wal-Mart heiress. At the Waldorf, he looks trim and fit for 68 years old. He’s wearing a dark suit, black tie, and white shirt with matching pocket square. His chevron mustache and sideways flop of hair are graying. At one point, in what passes for tweet-worthy news, he exits the restroom with Clark Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the members of the NFL committee overseeing the Los Angeles bids. As usual, he ignores the reporters. He didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
According to the website for his project, billed as the City of Champions Revitalization, Kroenke aims to turn a demolished horse racing track and parking lot in Inglewood, Calif., into an 80,000-seat stadium with a latticed open-air roof; an adjacent 6,000-seat arena; 1.7 million square feet of retail and office space; 2,500 residential units; and a hotel. To put the Rams there, he’ll have to secure the approval of at least 24 of 31 of his fellow NFL owners and give a stiff arm to his native Missouri. Everything in Kroenke’s past suggests he will find a way. “If it can get done, he’ll get it done,” says Jim Gordon, a longtime business partner. The move would almost instantly create one of the most valuable teams in football.