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Government, Politics & Issues

We annotate Stan Kroenke's 'love letter' to St. Louis

Stan Kroenke at a 2012 press conference at the Rams practice facility in Earth City.
File photo by Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Stan Kroenke at a 2012 press conference at the Rams practice facility in Earth City.

As many of you are probably well aware, Stan Kroenke wants to move the Rams from St. Louis.

In a blistering letter, he cited almost every flaw he could think of with the city. The mayor of St. Louis fired back, noting "multiple inaccuracies and misrepresentations of St. Louis and our community's relationship with the Rams."

"I have been mayor of St. Louis since then [2002] and I -- to this day -- cannot ever remember meeting Stan Kroenke, much less engaging him in any conversations about the future of NFL football in St. Louis."

We decided to fact-check the letter ourselves. Some of the points, especially those about Kroenke's Inglewood project, we accept as true. Other evidence does show reasons for St. Louis to be concerned. But we also found a lot of cherry-picking of data and questionable methodologies.

"This is a sales document," Slay told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Wednesday. "When you think about what he’s trying to do, I think he is, in an exaggerated way, trying to make a case for his team to move to Los Angeles."

The power of the brand

In researching this project, we discovered that the Rams have the sixth-worst winning percentage since the 2010 season, the first with Stan Kroenke fully in charge. Only Oakland (which also wants to move to Los Angeles), Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Jacksonville have worse records than the Rams over those six seasons.

But four of those teams -- the Titans, Buccaneers, Browns and Jaguars -- consistently put more fans in the stands than the Rams do. So that got us wondering -- can brand loyalty overcome some of the economic weaknesses that Kroenke notes? That is, if "silent Stan" wasn't, would fans, and therefore the rest of the St. Louis community, be willing to step up?

The answer is sort of.

Sports teams don't have a lot of economic impact, said  Daniel Funk, a professor at Temple University's tourism and hospitality management school. They generate quite a bit of economic activity, but not new dollars. Sports are a form of entertainment and compete with other forms of entertainment for our discretionary spending. 

Loyalty would certainly increase a fan's willingness to spend those limited dollars on something related to their favorite team, Funk said, and it might inspire you to stretch your dollars a bit further. That loyalty can also inspire local corporations to stretch their dollars further via sponsorships and naming rights. But those dollars can only be stretched so far, he said. They cannot overcome fundamental economic weaknesses, some of which do exist in the St. Louis region.

And that loyalty has to be built at the team level, said Eric Rhiney, an assistant professor of management at Webster University's George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology. A loyalty to the sport -- that is, rooting for whatever NFL, or baseball, or basketball team is there -- doesn't help.

"You have to build the loyalty beyond the city," he said. "And that's very hard to do. It hasn't been done here. Kroenke hasn't even tried."

Rams fans line up with letters made by Jill Bauer of Columbia, Ill. on Sat. Nov. 14, 2015.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Rams fans show their support for the team at the first public hearing on a new stadium on Nov 14, 2015.

"There's not many strategies to build a brand where it's not a native brand and not successful," said Patrick Rishe, the director of the sports management program at Washington University. He said it is possible for the region to support three sports teams economically, but all have to be performing well, as happened between 1999 and 2003. But the Rams, unlike the Cardinals and to a lesser extent the Blues, are simply not a part of the city's social fabric. Therefore, when the on-field performance slips -- as it has -- any semblance of loyalty vanishes.

Are there enough dollars in St. Louis to support three teams? 

"I'm not sure," Rishe said. "It's not impossible, but it may depend on the teams."

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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