HOUSTON (Reuters) - The St. Louis Rams are headed to Los Angeles and the San Diego Chargers have an option to join them after NFL owners voted on Tuesday to end the league's 21-year absence in the United States' second-largest TV market.

Owners voted overwhelmingly to give the Rams approval to return to Los Angeles for the start of the 2016 National Football League season while the Chargers have until next January to agree to lease terms with the Rams.

If the two team's cannot work out a deal then the Oakland Raiders, the other team that was hoping to move to the world's entertainment capital, will be given the first option to work out a deal with the Rams.

"This has been the most difficult process of my professional career, Rams owner Stan Kroenke said in a statement. "While we are excited about the prospect of building a new stadium in Inglewood, California, this is bitter sweet."

Los Angeles Rams NFL fans Tom Bateman (L-R), 43, Skye Sverdlin, 36, Daniel Balma, 36, and Joe Ramirez, 54, show their support for the St. Louis Rams NFL team to come to Los Angeles at a news conference to unveil plans for development at the site of the former Hollywood Park Race Track in Inglewood, Los Angeles, California, January 5, 2015. Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The Rams, who won one Super Bowl since leaving Los Angeles in 1995 for St. Louis, will play their home games at the L.A. Coliseum until their $1.86 billion stadium in Inglewood, roughly 10 miles from downtown Los Angeles, is complete.

The Rams, who first moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland in 1946, will also pay the NFL a $550 million relocation fee.

In his remarks shortly after NFL owners voted 30-2 to ratify the  Rams' application for an immediate move, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called relocation a "painful process."

"It's painful for the fans, the communities, the teams, for the league in general," said Goodell. "Stability is something that we've taken a great deal of pride in and in some ways a bittersweet moment because we were unsuccessful in being able to get the kind of facilities that we wanted to get done in their home markets."

The Chargers and Raiders, who began the day as partners in a proposal to share a new stadium in Carson, about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, were each promised $100 million by the NFL for a new stadium in their respective markets should they choose to stay put.

"My goal from the start of this process was to create the options necessary to safeguard the future of the Chargers franchise while respecting the will of my fellow NFL owners," said Chargers chief executive Dean Spanos. "Today we achieved this goal with the compromise reached by NFL ownership."


The day began with representatives from the three relocation candidates making presentations to team owners and ended with a compromise deal not originally on the table.

For 20 years Los Angeles had been an NFL wasteland without a franchise since the Raiders and Rams left the region in 1995.

In the past, the threat of relocation to Los Angeles has worked to push other cities to pony up public money, with the league often encouraging such brinkmanship.

But on Tuesday owners gathered on the fourth floor of a Houston hotel for a two-day meeting eager to bring an end to a two-decades-long saga and had plenty of options to consider.

They could choose one of the two proposals, Kroenke's vision to be constructed on the old Hollywood Park racetrack site or the joint $1.75 billion venture from the Chargers and Raiders for a new state-of-art facility.

At one point during the day of intrigue and high-stakes pitches, it seemed a deal was close to being struck when the NFL's six-owner committee recommended the Carson proposal.

But the first round of voting, however, ended with neither plan surpassing the requisite 24-vote threshold and reports of the Inglewood proposal had become the frontrunner.

The move is expected to bring greater revenue from naming rights, TV and future hosting of the Super Bowl but there are no guarantees that Los Angeles can ultimately support two NFL teams in a city saturated with sports and entertainment options.

Shortly after the Rams move to Los Angeles was confirmed by the NFL, reaction from local officials in St. Louis poured in expressing their disappointment in losing their team.

"Today’s decision by the NFL concludes a flawed process that ends with the unthinkable result of St. Louis losing the Rams," the St. Louis Stadium Task Force said in a statement.

"We will leave it to the NFL to explain how this could happen and hope the next city that may experience what St. Louis has endured will enjoy a happier and more appropriate outcome."

Ruthy Munoz/Reuters