As National Football League owners convened in Arizona this week for their annual off-season meetings, the featured item on the agenda remained the prospect of a Los Angeles franchise (or two).
Ironically enough, the host city of this year’s meetings, Phoenix, maintains a dubious place in St. Louis lore as the city that successfully lured the St. Louis Cardinals (the football team, remember them?) away from the friendly confines of Busch Stadium in 1988, only to become….you guessed it, the Phoenix Cardinals (later Arizona).
When taking into consideration St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s January announcement of a fully-funded and partially self-financed plan for a new stadium in Inglewood, California; the stakes for St. Louis couldn’t be higher.
An NFL franchise is a major source of civic pride and a statement of national economic importance. Hell for some markets, it’s all they’re known for (see Green Bay and Jacksonville). While St. Louis isn’t quite that wanting for national relevance, the negative impact that losing its NFL member status is one that’s hard to swallow, both economically and as a point of pride.
Some will attribute the weak attendance figures and lack of community support to the Rams’ atrocious record of late….it’s true they’ve been among the worst on-field products in the NFL over the past ten seasons, not having obtained a playoff berth since 2004. Yet, one must recall that the Rams have two Super Bowl appearances in the last 16 years, including a Super Bowl victory in 1999. The Rams’ in-state neighbors to the west, the Kansas City Chiefs, haven’t won a playoff game since 1993 and haven’t appeared in a Super Bowl since 1969. Yet attendance in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium ranks among the best in the NFL. The performance argument just doesn’t hold up.
The St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999 as the “Greatest Show on Turf”
Despite the autographed St. Louis Rams helmet sitting on display in Governor Nixon’s office, the unfortunate situation that the interested parties find themselves in today is in no way unexpected. Despite protest on the Rams’ part, both the City of St. Louis and the State of Missouri have kicked the can down the road for years regarding a proposed renovation to the Rams’ current home, the Edward Jones Dome, or a new stadium project.
Kroenke’s stadium announcement signaled one thing: the city and state’s chickens have come home to roost (cue Reverend Jeremiah Wright).
While Governor Nixon’s recent efforts to secure the financing of the proposed 64,000 seat stadium north of downtown is admirable, it reeks of desperation. As it should.
In our view, the St. Louis Rams will be in sunny Southern California by this time next year. The move makes too much sense for Kroenke financially not to execute. If the NFL and its owners care about one thing it’s money, they can’t get enough. A Los Angeles franchise (or two) equals a licenses to print money, and for the NFL, Kroenke is an all too willing partner to further that effort (who can blame him).
Despite our assertion that both the Rams and the City of St. Louis have both worked tirelessly to poison their mutual well regarding the continuance of their relationship, the potential investment in a new downtown venue isn’t a bad one for the city.
As long as Kroenke owns the team, the Rams are as good as gone; but there remain other suitors to be had (we’re looking at you Raiders and Chargers).
Granted, there is minimal appetite for state funds to go to the financing of yet another St. Louis stadium project; especially in rural Missouri and Kansas City. The support just isn’t there, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be.
The 2016 NFL season will see St. Louis without an NFL franchise for the first time since 1993. That’s the cost of continued dawdling in the high stakes game of modern sports finance. However, the opportunity for an NFL return as early as 2017 is there to be had, pending of course of the obtaining of private and city funds to push the proposed downtown stadium project ahead. The actions of both Governor Nixon and Mayor Slay in the coming months will ultimately determine this.
A rendering of the proposed St. Louis stadium project north of downtown.
The clock’s ticking….