The piece on ESPN.com by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr is a terrific piece of reporting, and should be read immediately before proceeding any futher.
In my view, Spanos lost for 2 reasons. One of them is money. The other is because Spanos is risk and conflict averse, and that meant he was malleable in the eyes of his fellow NFL Owners.
In other, much more famous words... The Dude Abides.
It's Always the Money
The article says it explicitly:
The silent majority preferred the Inglewood site but liked Spanos better than Kroenke.
There were many reasons that the Inglewood site was preferred. First, it provided the "Wow" factor which many owners believed was vital, chief among them Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Second, it was the NFL's preferred plan, supported quietly by Commissioner Roger Goodell and Vice-President Eric Grubman.
Most importantly, as was said repeatedly throughout the process, Kroenke had the money to see it through.
This brings me back to Dean Spanos adding Mark Davis to the Carson project. According to the article, Spanos included Davis at the suggestion of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. I submit this was done for one reason, above any other:
Spanos couldn't do Carson by himself.
I wrote about this back in April. As it turns out, if Dean had tried to do Carson on his own, he would've paid $1.8 billion for the stadium, at least another $550 million in relocation fees, as well as other costs associated with the move - such as physical relocation, temporary and new facilities, and rebranding. A conservative estimate puts Dean in the hole by at least $2.4 billion dollars, not including interest.
For a family valued (according to the article) at $1.689 billion, $2.4 billion is a lot of debt to assume. And if you think the NFL and the other owners didn't see that as a ginormous red flag, compared to Kroenke's $2.7 billion project against $7.6 billion in personal wealth (not counting his wife - a Wal-Mart heiress), you're kidding yourself.
If the Raiders were a millstone around Dean Spanos' neck at the end of the process (and they were, albeit to a smaller degree than others think), then it's even more true that Spanos would never have gotten as far as he did without Davis on-board to begin with.
Spanos Wasn't The Man for Los Angeles
Here's how the article contrasts Kroenke and Spanos:
The ruthlessness of Kroenke was fixed in sharp relief against the abidance of Spanos.
and here's how his fellow NFL Owners viewed Dean Spanos:
With thinning brown hair and rimmed glasses, Spanos was deeply involved in league matters, "loyal to a fault," in the words of a close friend. Now 65, he ran the team owned by his 92-year-old father, Alex Spanos. The NFL was his primary business, even if many owners wondered whether he possessed the sharp elbows of his father.
Further, as you read the article, it becomes evident that everyone in the group viewed Spanos as malleable. Jones approached him back in August about potentially partnering with Kroenke. Meanwhile, Richardson is the one suggesting to Spanos that he bring on Davis, and later suggests that Spanos (and Davis) bring Disney CEO Bob Iger aboard.
We also know that Dean Spanos is very conflict-averse in how he runs his business. One needs to only look at Chargers history to see that Spanos tends to avoid conflict at all costs, even when the cost to his own franchise is catastrophic. Remember his inability to resolve the feud between then General Manager Bobby Beathard and Head Coach Bobby Ross during the 1990s? That failure was followed almost exactly a decade later by another feud between then General Manager A.J. Smith and Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer.
In both cases, Dean's failure to act decisively and solve those problems damaged the two most successful runs of the franchise during his stewardship.
Now, back to the opening of the article:
At Mastro's, the two men met to determine whether they might have a shared vision for Los Angeles. Kroenke was enthusiastic about a 60-acre tract of land in Inglewood, nestled between the Forum and the soon-to-be-closed Hollywood Park racetrack. Earlier in the year, Kroenke had driven around the site at 5:30 a.m. and raved about its potential to Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff and to Jones. Spanos, though, was cool on the Inglewood location, citing concerns about parking and traffic.
Still, both men, and their associates, saw the convivial dinner as a promising first step toward a potential partnership. They agreed to be in touch.
But after the dinner, Spanos called Kroenke several times. Kroenke never returned any of the calls.
It's my opinion Kroenke needed only that dinner to realize that Spanos didn't have the vision to see what could be done in Inglewood, and therefore wasn't the right guy to help him get to Los Angeles.
Even now, back in San Diego, Spanos has refused to say decisively which stadium site he wants to pursue. Does he prefer downtown? Yes. Will he pursue it at all costs, against a political establishment (and public desire) which wants him to stay in Mission Valley? That remains to be seen, and becomes murkier with each passing day.
Let's also not forget that Spanos was thisclose to closing the AEG deal for Farmers Field back in 2011, and walked away at the last moment.
Lastly, I'd suggest Dean got exactly what he always really wanted:
Kroenke had land, money and, most of all, the shrewdness required to relocate. He was willing to sacrifice his relationship with Rams fans and with the state in which he was raised -- something that Spanos, for all of his fights with San Diego politicians, seemed reluctant to do.
The chance to get a deal in San Diego while having a guaranteed fallback in Los Angeles.
Cash-strapped (compared to other NFL owners), risk-averse, indecisive, malleable, and "loyal to a fault" to his home market. Is this who the NFL wants running Los Angeles?
Now, let's come back to the point made earlier about financial risk. Spanos decided against going rogue following the outcome of the meeting, and instead accepted the decision of his fellow owners.
Then, when presented the opportunity for a true partnership in a better project with a financially secure owner as a backstop, did Dean take the risk?
Nope - he is likely to accept the lower risk option of becoming a tenant in someone else's building, if he ends up moving to Los Angeles in 2017.
In so doing, he validated the concerns of every owner who'd argued on behalf of Kroenke and the Inglewood project and proved he wasn't (and had never been) the right owner for Los Angeles.