Does the NFL have a future in St. Louis? We'll find out this week.
After more than a year of twists, turns, deal-making and uninspiring play on the football field, NFL owners will take a vote determining the future of professional football in St. Louis.
The leaders of the league’s 32 teams are scheduled to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston. They’re slated to take up proposals from the St. Louis Rams, the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders to move to the Los Angeles area.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke provided a big hint that he wanted to bolt from St. Louis last year when he unveiled plans to build largely privately funded stadium in Inglewood, Calif. He confirmed those intentions last week when the Rams filed for relocation, complete with a scorched-earth application that trashed St. Louis’ ability to field a NFL team.
But Kroenke’s LA dreams have been severely complicated by a competing proposal from the Chargers and the Raiders to build a stadium in Carson, Calif. It’s been widely speculated that the only way for Kroenke to get the votes to move is to make a pact with the Chargers. And that is difficult to imagine, especially since Chargers owner Dean Spanos cited Kroenke's Inglewood overtures as part of his reasoning to partner with the Raiders. (Though it's also quite possible Kroenke could have the votes to block the Carson proposal as well.)
We know that many, many words have been written about this saga (which you can check out by clicking here). But this reporter thought it would be worthwhile to revisit some of the big questions posed about the relocation drama late last year.
Oh, we’re going to use gifs to illustrate certain points. Why? Because we can.
Do the St. Louis Rams even want to be here?
There was some ambiguity about this back in November, since Kroenke had remained tight-lipped about his intentions. But there was a pretty strong sense the answer was no, especially since a lot of time, effort and money was put into planning the Inglewood stadium.
Well, it’s fair to say that the Rams' 29-page rationale for relocating confirmed those assumptions. And for St. Louis residents, much of the documents resembled a pro wrestling sneak attack.
The document not only played up the Inglewood facility as the latest and greatest facility to host a NFL squad, but it also denigrated efforts to build a new stadium on St. Louis riverfront and dismissed St. Louis’ ability to support a NFL team.
The reaction to the statement of reasons was swift and brutal, and much of the ire was directed at Kroenke. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay issued a rebuttal to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the league’s owners. And responding to the Rams’ idea that the new stadium would lead a team to financial ruin, Gov. Jay Nixon issued the sweetest of sweet burns: “When you talk about financial ruin, you generally don’t think about NFL owners. They seem to have risen to a position to take that away as a life risk.”
How will St. Louis’ stadium proposal affect the owners’ thinking?
It’s hard to say definitively since that would require taking a poll of 31 very busy and very rich individuals. (And while Green Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy is probably very well compensated, that team is publicly owned.)
From a cursory glance, the St. Louis proposal seems further along in terms of planning and funding than ones from San Diego and Oakland. Oakland didn’t even submit a financing plan and San Diego’s proposal depends on the result of a citywide vote later this summer.
But when he was in St. Louis last year, NFL executive Eric Grubman stressed that a viable stadium plan needed to be attractive to a team. And even the most optimistic person would be hard-pressed to believe that the Rams like the plan, since they declared (literally) in bold terms that “no NFL club would be interested in the … New St. Louis Stadium.”
And if that isn't enough, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had deemed the St. Louis stadium proposal to be insufficient. Goodell said that the St. Louis plan asks for too much money from the league and is dependent on shaky state funding (more on that later).
Grubman went onto say last year, though, that it will be up to the owners to make that determination. And if nine owners believe St. Louis did enough, that’s all that’s needed to scuttle Kroenke’s proposal.
If owners reject Kroenke’s bid to move, does that mean the new stadium gets built?
Back in November, the answer was no.
And now that we’re into January, the answer is still emphatically no.
Kroenke is under no obligation to agree to the funding plan that goes along with the riverfront stadium. And since the public financing of the facility won’t become active until Kroenke (or another owner) agrees to pay $250 million and enter into a 30-year lease, it’s far more likely that he’ll simply stay in the Edward Jones Dome on a year-to-year lease if his relocation bid is rejected.
But even though that scenario would keep the NFL in St. Louis, it wouldn’t exactly create less anxiety. That’s because nothing is stopping Kroenke from trying to move again in subsequent years – and possibly to Los Angeles if only the Chargers or the Raiders get the OK this time around.
As the most ardent stadium proponents noted, policymakers here had to come up with some sort of a plan to even stay in this zany relocation game. The question in the case of Kroenke getting rejected: Is it worth it to throw money at somebody who obviously didn’t want to stay in St. Louis?
What’s the status of the state’s funding for the stadium?
Even before the Rams’ application became public, the state funding was a bit shaky.
Now, you could argue it’s on life support – at best.
Before the Rams’ document was released, lawmakers from both parties were raising alarm about Gov. Jay Nixon’s office issuing state bonds for the project without a statewide or legislative vote. That included key lawmakers who control much of the legislative process, including House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, and the leaders of the House and Senate budget committees.
Now Kroenke’s “love letter” to St. Louis presents a greater likelihood that the legislature will act to stop that type of action. Stadium task force co-chairman Dave Peacock has said that no bonds for the project will be issued until a NFL owner agrees to the deal. And since it’s very, very, very, very unlikely that Kroneke would agree to those terms, there’s now plenty of time for the legislature to pass (and override a veto) requiring some sort of vote before the stadium bonds are issued.
In fact, it may become a source of pride to some lawmakers to make absolutely sure no state money goes to help Kroenke – especially after he told St. Louis to effectively buzz off.
So will the Rams stay in St. Louis?
I would love to provide a pinpointed, accurate answer to this question. But the truthful answer is I have no idea.
To paraphrase Alderman Jack Coatar, this reporter cannot view what's inside the hearts and minds of the league’s billionaire owners. And even if I had that magical power, all the assumptions and predictions in the world could blow up when those powerful individuals haggle in Houston.
But make no mistake about it: No matter what happens, this week’s meeting will provide some closure to a harrowing process.
That is, unless the three teams deadlock each other so that no team gets to LA, which would ensure a whole lot more ink spilled on this topic.