LOS ANGELES (AP) — When the Rams take the field for their regular season opener in September, they will end the NFL's 21-year journey back to a sprawling, vibrant city that loves both a spectacle and a winner.
September is a long way away, though. The Rams have an incredible amount of work to do before they can truly call Los Angeles home again.
They must decide where to play on Sundays until their palatial, billion-dollar new home in Inglewood is completed in 2019.
They must find or build a training complex to be their home for the other six days of the week, and their players, coaches and key employees must find homes close to it. They've got to move untold tons of equipment from the franchise's current base in Earth City, Missouri, to their new home 1,800 miles west.
They've also got to decide what to wear: The current uniforms or their classic LA blue and gold?
After that, all they've got to do is hire hundreds of new employees, sell tens of thousands of tickets and corporate sponsorships, establish charity connections to restore community ties and promote their product to 18 1/2 million people who have been getting along just fine without pro football.
And if the Rams truly hope to succeed, it would really help for local boy Jeff Fisher to put a winning team on the field in September.
The franchise hasn't publicly announced how it will do any of that. Rams employees spent Wednesday learning about the months of hard work ahead, and Rams spokesman Artis Twyman said the team hasn't made any logistical decisions yet about the move.
But if the Rams pull it off with no major missteps and a reasonably successful on-field product, this move could be extraordinarily rewarding for owner Stan Kroenke and his lavish Inglewood stadium complex.
"If they didn't believe that, they wouldn't have paid to move now," said David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. "They want to be very careful coming back into Southern California because of the previous failures. They knew they had to get it right this time around, and I believe that they think they've got the right business model."
The Rams haven't formally secured a home stadium for next season, although they appear likely to return to the Coliseum, their home from 1946-79, after the Rose Bowl expressed no interest in fostering an NFL team last year. USC athletic director Pat Haden, the former Rams quarterback, plans to talk with the Rams soon about returning to the Trojans' 93-year-old home, which is managed by the school.
The Rams would be a financial windfall for USC, which wants to make $270 million in upgrades. Haden said its current lease with the Coliseum Commission allows for only one NFL team to use the arena, although it could be amended if the Chargers decide to move as well.
When the Rams spent two days in Oxnard, California, last August for training camp, a widespread rumor claimed the Rams are interested in building a permanent base in Thousand Oaks, the upscale suburb 35 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.
Although the Rams haven't confirmed that plan, Kroenke lives in Malibu, and Thousand Oaks is only a picturesque canyon drive away.
"I've had a home in the area for 20 years," Kroenke said Tuesday. "It will be a lot of fun for me, as I spend a lot of time out there anyway, to move forward, to look forward and build a great stadium for our league and for Los Angeles."
The players have a bit of time to get settled in LA. The Rams held their minicamp and organized team activities in June last season, and while Fisher has scheduled their offseason workouts for May in other years, that plan typically isn't set for three more months.
The Rams' ticket office was closed Wednesday, but it will have plenty of work to do after a temporary venue is chosen. The NFL schedule usually isn't finalized until mid-April, and the Rams will have only seven regular-season home games in 2016, playing the eighth in London against the New York Giants.
Carter thinks the team's marketing department will need a smart plan to re-introduce the Rams, who broke hearts in 1994 with their departure.
"I think it's appropriate, and would be helpful, to have the right kind of 'We're back' campaign," Carter said. "With the passage of time, people might give them a little bit of a pass on how it played out 20 years ago. But simply relying on history and mythology is not going to get it done. They need to take a fresh look at this market and make sure they're really involved in all aspects of Southern California."
AP NFL websites: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL