Thu February 6, 2014
Commentary: Rams Fans Want to Know What Stan’s Doing With the New Deed
Stan, baby, you’re busting my chops. Every time I write about your Rams and their on-going stadium contretemps, I go to great lengths to remind the readership that without you, the team would have never come to St. Louis in the first place. Back in the day, you were a civic hero.
As you know, the local track record in the NFL has had its ups and downs—with a strong emphasis on the latter. Our first love, the football Cardinals, came here from south Chicago. The forlorn franchise sought to escape the shadow of the more popular Bears that it had labored under in the Windy City. That was in 1960.
At the time, we could have gotten in on the ground floor of the new AFL with local ownership but instead elected to go with carpetbaggers from the established league. Call that our first bad football choice, or BFC I in the preferred parlance of the NFL.
During their 28-year stay in town, the Cards lost more often than not and never hosted nor won a play-off game. After the 1987 season, owner Bill Bidwill was lured to Phoenix where fans promised to build a new home for his outfit. Though it took nearly 20 years, the locals finally delivered and the Desert Rats now play in a shiny, new, state-of-the-art stadium financed primarily by the taxpayers of Arizona.
BFC II & III involved failed efforts to replace the departed team. As jilted lovers often do, area movers and shakers sought to rebound by salving their wounded pride with a fresh spouse. They got their chance when the league decided to add two franchises in the early 1990s.
Applying for an expansion team is a lot like vying for the affections of a mail-order bride — you try to make your situation look as desirable as possible and hope for the best. In this case, the city that couldn’t finance a stadium while it had a team somehow found the wherewithal to build one once the team left.
Shifting alliances of well-intentioned dreamers, knaves, fools and charlatans competed for one of the coveted franchises, each claiming exclusive rights to a stadium under construction on the public dime. Toward the end of the process, it dawned on somebody that it might be a good idea to enlist a guy with a checkbook, which is why you, Stan, were invited to join the fun.
Of course, the confused situation in St. Louis turned off the powers-that-be in the league and the expansion franchises went elsewhere. That development left the city with a nearly completed stadium and no one to play in it — an awkward situation that ultimately landed the LA Rams on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.
The financial seduction of then-owner Georgia Frontiere (BFC IV) was a straight cash-n-carry affair. The deal was clinched when you agreed to write her a monster check for a minority interest in the team, leaving her in charge but with extra change in her pockets.
Back then, your gesture seemed inspired by civic generosity. It now appears that you were merely paying your initiation fee for membership in the billionaire boys’ club that runs the NFL.
Once you acquired full ownership of the franchise, rumors immediately circulated that you were planning to move it. Though you’ve not threatened to do so, you also have done precious little to reassure fans of your loyalty. Of course, the recent revelation that you’ve purchased 60 acres in the Los Angeles market has further fuelled the paranoia. My only question is why?
In matters of finance, I yield to your expertise. I have been called many things in my life but wealthy was never one of them. Yet try as I might, I can’t figure out how this deal adds up.
TV money is split equally among all 32 teams, so you could play in Sikeston or LA and still get the same take from the networks. And I don’t see how your net profit from the gate improves by moving.
California officials have made it clear that public money is not an option in their deficit-ridden state. Private investors may be willing to buck up but they’re going to want an ownership interest or, failing that, a reasonable return on their investment.
You don’t want to sell the team you just got and a reasonable return on a billion-plus dollar investment is going to be a hell of lot more than the $500,000 a year token payment you make here. That figure just about covers turning on the utilities and paying the ushers at the Edward Jones Dome. In effect, you’re playing here for free and nobody’s complaining – well, almost nobody -- about your publicly financed good fortune.
You could always build the new stadium yourself, but I don’t see how that makes sense in light of the sweetheart deal you already have. Besides, the era of football palaces may be drawing to a close.
The sport remains immensely popular on television but actual attendance appears to be waning. Official gate figures are notoriously fanciful, but it is known the league has relaxed sellout requirements for broadcasting homes games to avoid TV blackouts and had real trouble filling the stands for the wildcard round of last month’s playoffs.
The problem seems to be the number of fans who lack disposable income. If you don’t believe me, just ask your wife. I understand she’s an heir to the Walton fortune and should thus be aware that Wal-Mart is currently laying-off employees.
It’s not that members of the Great Unwashed no longer enjoy shopping; it’s that they’re out of cash. Turns out income inequality is more than an empty throw-away line in the State of the Union address.
Those out-of-work greeters and stock clerks are probably more inclined to watch the NFL on television for free than they are to skip a meal to buy a ticket. Maybe you one-percenters have finally managed to bankrupt your customer base.
Dude, I could be dead wrong in my fiscal analysis but I can guarantee you that most of us out here in the cheap seats are having trouble mustering sympathy for your plight.
St. Louis Rams
St. Louis Rams