'Not a 3 professional team market.' Why the Rams want to leave St. Louis

Jan 6, 2016

Updated with reaction from officials. When it became public knowledge that the St. Louis Rams had applied for relocation to the Los Angeles area, the team provided a brief statement that didn’t reveal much about their rationale for leaving.

Well, the Rams elaborated on their reasons for relocating on Tuesday night. And the team’s decision not to pull punches about why they want to leave St. Louis may have massive consequences — even if their bid to move is rejected.

The Rams supplied a 29-page “statement of reasons” to St. Louis Public Radio and, presumably, other local and national media outlets. In essence, the document lavishes praise on St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s plan to build a largely privately financed stadium in Inglewood, Calif. And it also trashes a roughly $1 billion stadium proposal on the St. Louis riverfront and the Gateway City’s ability to retain a NFL team.

(Click here to read the Rams' document.)

Bolstering the Inglewood project is a necessity for the Rams to secure the 24 votes from NFL owners needed  to move, especially since the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders have a competing proposal in Carson, Calif. (A vote on the matter could come next week.) The Rams’ statement says the stadium would be the largest in the NFL, with additional facilities built for the league’s media officials and for its annual draft.

“The Inglewood stadium project has more general admission seats, suites, club seats and premium spaces to provide greater revenue opportunities to the two clubs and the NFL,” the document reads. “More specifically, the economic upside for the NFL in hosting Super Bowls at the Inglewood Stadium is far superior. The Inglewood stadium can host an additional 30,000 fans on a standing-room-only basis, which allows for much greater shared ticketing revenue for regular season, post season and Super Bowl.”

As the document goes on, the Rams contend they made a good faith effort with state and local officials to revamp the Edward Jones Dome. The team proceeds to accuse policymakers of trying to wriggle out of a clause in a lease that requires their stadium to be “first-tier,” which has a been a topic of controversy ever since the Rams moved to St. Louis.

The document then turns its ire to the roughly $1.1 billion riverfront stadium proposal, which includes funding from the NFL, the Rams, the state of Missouri and the city of St. Louis. In bold letters, the Rams state unequivocally: "No NFL Club Would Be Interested In The RSA’s New St. Louis Stadium."

(The RSA, by the way, is the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, the public entity that oversees payments and maintenance on the Edward Jones Dome.)

Among other things, the document highlights that the NFL and the Rams would be on the hook for the majority of financing and that the public contribution is less than what was advertised by a two-person task force late last year. It also criticizes how the plan shifts stadium operations and capital expenditure costs for the stadium to the Rams and also hikes the team’s rent.

“Putting the Rams’ contract rights under its current St. Louis lease aside, even the most cursory analysis of the St. Louis financial proposal makes no economic sense for an NFL team,” the document states. “Any NFL club that signs on to this proposal in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin, and the league will be harmed.”

Citing a 2015 St. Louis Business Journal article, the document openly questions whether St. Louis can support three professional sports teams. They also point to the region’s less-than-stellar population fluctuations compared to Oakland and San Diego. And the document points to how attendance at Rams games is low, even though the team has “significantly invested” in players and personnel since Kroenke became owner. (The document doesn't mention that the Rams haven't had a winning season since 2003.)

“The Rams’ efforts to secure their First Tier stadium rights in St. Louis over the past five years has no doubt impacted Rams’ attendance,” the document states. “But the Rams should not be penalized for seeking to enforce its contract right to a First Tier stadium for the Rams and the Rams’ fans. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote at the time the arbitration commenced, “Don’t Blame Rams Owner Stan Kroenke, he did not write the Lease.”

Dave Peacock, a member of the governor's two-person task force, has been the public face of the new stadium effort.
Credit File photo by Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Furious reaction  

Reaction to the Rams' document was swift and very, very angry.

The two-person task force that’s worked on the stadium proposal over the last year released a statement on Tuesday night contending that the team’s “assessment of their experience in St. Louis after 21 seasons of remarkable support by fans, businesses and the community is inaccurate and extremely disappointing.” 

“We will remain in contact with league officials and team owners, as appropriate, in the days ahead of the meeting in Houston,” the task force statement read. “Otherwise, nothing has changed.  We have a spectacular stadium proposal that delivers the certainty the NFL has asked for, and we are and will continue to be an excellent home for the St. Louis Rams.”

By Wednesday, hundreds of people were making fun of the application on Twitter using the hashtag #kroenkecomplaints. And at a press conference in St. Louis County, Gov. Jay Nixon openly mocked the idea that the proposed riverfront stadium would lead to financial ruin. 

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was dismissive of the Rams' 29-page document explaining why the team wants to relocate to Los Angeles.
Credit Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File photo

"When you talk about financial ruin, you generally don’t think about NFL owners," Nixon said. "They seem to have risen to a position to take that away as a life risk. Most of them seem to be doing just fine to me under any objective standard. I don’t have the exact balance sheets of all of them, but they seem to have at least one extra comma in their net worth to pretty much everyone that’s here.

"We remain confident that with a full and fair hearing, the NFL owners are going to continue to recognize that St. Louis is a world-class city and NFL city for years to come," he added. 

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said in a statement that Kroenke's assertion "that the St. Louis area lacks the economic vitality to support a pro football team is demonstratively false." And during an appearance on St. Louis on the Air, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay contended that the document smacked of desperation. 

"When you think about what he's trying to do, he's trying to I think in an exaggerated way make a case for moving his team to Los Angeles," Slay said. "I'd rather blame the Rams for an unimaginative offense than to blame them for the harsh words of a sales document that we see in there. ... Based on the way he's approached this, his ability to move the Rams to LA is a long-shot. And this is his attempt at a hail Mary pass."

Ripple effects

Indeed, as of right now, it may be difficult for Kroenke to secure enough votes to relocate unless the Rams and the Chargers come to an agreement to share a stadium together. And, considering  that Chargers owner Dean Spanos cited Kroenke’s Inglewood overtures as a rationale for his team to apply for relocation, that doesn’t seem like a likely scenario.

These renderings show what it would look like in National Car Rental Field.
Credit Courtesy of HOK

But the bellicose nature of the application may have ramifications for the future of the proposed riverfront stadium – especially if Kroenke’s bid to move is rejected. (And that doesn't even get into whether fans of the Rams will be able to forgive Kroenke or the team for the way it's trying to move.)

To get built, the riverfront stadium would require $300 million from the NFL and $250 million from the team’s owner. While nothing is hypothetically impossible, it doesn’t seem like a realistic proposition that a team that just declared “no team would be interested in the RSA’s new St. Louis stadium” would turn around and agree to the proposal’s terms.

Here’s why that matters: Much of the state’s portion of the stadium funding comes from bonds that Nixon’s administration want to issue without a legislative or statewide vote. But members of the riverfront stadium task force have publicly stated that those bonds won’t get issued without a team signing onto the terms of the financing plan.

Meanwhile, roughly 140 members of the Missouri House and Missouri Senate have signed letters opposing issuance of state debt for the stadium without a statewide or legislative vote. And assuming Kroenke sticks to his guns and doesn’t sign onto the financing plan right away, there’s now plenty of time for the legislature to pass a bill (and override a veto) barring Nixon from issuing stadium bonds by fiat.

“I think there will be a lot of clarity if the NFL sticks to its timeline and makes a decision in January,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis. “If they push it off until May or June or July, I think the picture gets a whole lot more complicated. I do think, and I believe the governor when he says that the existing statute gives him the flexibility to issue bonds. I also think with the current General Assembly – they’re going to tighten up that loophole.”

For his part, Slay said it may be too soon to predict how the state legislature will respond if Kroenke's relocation bid is rejected. 

"There’s a lot of spokespeople on behalf of the state. So you have to be very cautious when you hear statements coming out of the legislature – whether it’s one person writing a letter or a few people making public statements," Slay said. "I can tell you this: Gov. Nixon has been a very staunch leader in this approach to do what’s right for the state of Missouri and for the city and the region itself to try to keep what I think’s real important: Having a NFL team in our city."

Durrie Bouscaren contributed to this article.