Who Really Controls the Chargers Future in San Diego?

Stan Kroenke's grand plan may not yet be fully known

NBC 7's Derek Togerson offers a theory on what could be big changes for the NFL in this commentary

When negotiations between the local government and the Chargers begin on Tuesday, one man will have more leverage on an NFL team going to Los Angeles than anyone else in the room. That man will not even be in the room.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke is the man pulling the strings now. He has been for quite some time. On Sunday morning the first real step towards building an NFL stadium in L.A. was taken when the stands at the old Hollywood Park race track came tumbling down.

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Kroenke is going to build a stadium in Inglewood. Odds are he’s going to be well on the road to having it up long before the Chargers or Raiders can even get a shovel in the ground in Carson. Kroenke has secured the financing to build the $1.86 billion dollar stadium with help from private investors willing to put up money to get the deal done then enjoy a handsome return on that investment once the facility is up and running.

Kroenke is the only owner the Rams have. It’s not a group like some other pro sports franchises. In the last team value rankings conducted by Forbes his franchise was the least-valuable in the NFL at just under $1 billion. Most sports economists say a team that moves to the L.A. market immediately doubles in value, at least.

That’s the basis for my hunch: Stan Kroenke is not going to be the owner of the Rams. He’s going to be the owner of the Broncos.

Kroenke will not have to put up a whole lot of his own money to build the Inglewood stadium. Once it’s ready to go his team will be worth in excess of $2 billion. Kroenke is an astute businessman. He understands the concept of “selling high.” Well, when is the team going to have more value than it does when it moves in a brand new home in the nation’s second-largest media market?

The Broncos are going to be put up for sale soon. Sadly, long-time owner Pat Bowlen is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He wants to keep the team in the family but his brother John has no interest. Although a couple of his children have expressed a desire to try, the NFL is unsure if any of them are up to the task. The league has given the family a soft deadline of the start of the 2016 to figure out whom, if anyone takes over.

2016 is also the year the NFL would like to see a team in Los Angeles. Kroenke already oversees the vast majority of the Colorado sports scene. His company, Kroenke Sports Enterprises, owns the Nuggets, Avalanche, Rapids of MLS, and Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League, as well as the Pepsi Center (where the Nuggets and Avs play). It’s a violation of NFL rules for Kroenke to own franchises in other sports in other cities, but the man is so financially powerful the league has overlooked it for years.

The NFL wants to have Stan Kroenke owning a franchise. He’s good for business. Making it one of their “glory” franchises, one with a rich history of success and a rabid fan base in a market where Kroenke is already entrenched would be a best-case scenario. I believe this has been Kroenke’s end game all along.

The Broncos are valued by Forbes at about $1.5 billion. Bowlen bought the team in 1984 for a mere $78 million. Kroenke can sell his Rams to an ownership group in the L.A. market for a heck of a lot more than $2 billion. If the Clippers can go for that amount, tack on another $500 million (at least) for an NFL franchise.

That means Kroenke can sell one team at a massive profit then turn around and buy the one he’s always really wanted for relative peanuts. Make no mistake, the Bowlen family would choose to sell to Stan in a heartbeat, too. Until the Arena Football League folded in 2008, Pat Bowlen co-owned the Colorado Crush with John Elway and … Stan Kroenke.

They know each other. They like each other. They’ll help each other out.

So where does that leave the Chargers? Since the NFL is not going to allow three teams in Los Angeles and the Bolts need help from the Raiders to build in Carson, they really have three options:

Either in a race they can’t win to be the first to L.A., playing second-fiddle to the Rams in Inglewood, or squarely at the negotiating table with the city of San Diego to honestly work and get a stadium deal done here.

My gut tells me Stan Kroenke has been orchestrating this for years. He put the ball in motion to get to L.A. so he could make a monster profit off one team, then buy another team from an ailing friend. And there could even be more to it than that. One thing everybody needs to keep in mind is this: when Stan Kroenke puts his mind to something, he makes that thing happen, and usually it’s on a much grander scale than anyone else could ever anticipate.

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