ST LOUIS (Reuters) - After losing two professional football teams – the Cardinals and now the Rams – many leaders and fans in St. Louis are done with the NFL.
The National Football League’s approval on Tuesday of the Rams relocation to Los Angeles was the last straw after years of bitter stadium negotiations in St. Louis. The city had offered $400 million to help build a new venue for the Rams on the riverfront, near the city’s famous Arch.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay – who supported the stadium plan and attended keep-the-Rams rallies – said he’s in no mood to go courting another NFL team. The Cardinals left the city for Arizona after the 1987 season.
“Why would anybody want to, in any way, even entertain any suggestions from the NFL after the way they dealt with St. Louis here?” the mayor asked in a press briefing Monday. “They were dishonest.”
The NFL team owners voted 30-2 on Tuesday to allow Rams owner Stan Kroenke to move the Rams to Los Angeles – 21 years after the franchise had moved from LA to St. Louis.
The NFL also opened the door for the Chargers to move to Los Angeles from San Diego, contingent on the Rams and the Chargers working out a deal to share Kroenke’s planned palace of a stadium in Inglewood, a suburb southwest of Los Angeles.
Following the NFL’s decision at a special meeting in Houston, Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff said he understood the city’s frustration with both the stadium process and the Rams losing record on the field. The team has not had a winning season since 2003.
The decisions, Demoff said, came down to money: The stadium plan for St. Louis “would result in sub-par economics.”
“I always believed that Stan wanted to stay,” he said of Kroenke. “I know it hasn’t been easy for him.”
Kroenke said in a statement after the vote that the move was “bitter sweet” but in the long-term interests of the Rams. “The move isn’t about whether I love St. Louis or Missouri. I do and always will.” He said the city was “known for its incredibly hard-working, passionate and proud people.”
AN NFL spokesperson declined to comment on the criticism it faced in St. Louis.
Kroenke – a Missouri native who is also the majority shareholder of Arsenal, the English Premier League soccer club – is the target of those angry with the decision in St. Louis.
The Rust Belt city’s pride was bruised in 2008 by the sale of Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser, to Belgium-based brewer InBev. The loss of an NFL team was another unwelcome blow to prestige.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week published a dartboard with Kroenke’s face on it and launched a hashtag – #Kroenkecomplaints – which thousands of readers used to vent rage at the billionaire developer. Fans ire boiled over after the Rams trashed the city’s stadium proposal and its economy in its relocation application.
One fan tweeted: “The worst thing about all this is that Stan Kroenke was literally named after Stan Musial,” the Hall of Fame outfielder and first baseman for the Cardinals baseball team.
Kroenke has built an empire of sports properties. As well as the Rams and Arsenal, he also owns Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids and – after a move last year to get around the NFL’s rules limiting cross ownership of sports franchises – a family trust owns the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche and the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.
While the NFL’s billionaire owners were meeting in Houston to decide the team’s fate on Tuesday, St. Louis’s NHL team, the Blues, were playing at home – and hearing loud chants of “Kroenke sucks.”
Fans seemed to direct as much anger at the league, which dismissed the city’s stadium plan – and its $400 million contribution – as insufficient.
Rams fan Dennis Roberts, sitting in a downtown bar watching a Blues game, recalled watching the St. Louis Cardinals football team depart 28 years ago.
After this latest blow, he doubts the city will chase another team.
“I am not sure how much of a will there is left in St. Louis,” he said. “Personally, I really don’t care anymore.”
That sentiment goes to the top of the city’s leadership. Mayor Slay said: “The NFL sent a loud and clear message: Their home cities and hometown fans are commodities to be abandoned once they no longer suit the league’s purposes.”
The city has cause to be angry – and other cities courting the NFL should learn from the St. Louis experience, said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts who has studied sports business.
The city’s original agreement with the Rams allowed the team to bail if the St. Louis stadium did not rank among the top tier of league venues, he said. Moreover, the lease was shorter than the payback period on bonds used to build the Rams current stadium, the Edward Jones Dome.
“They had a terrible, terrible contract with the Rams,” Matheson said. “No one in their right mind should have ever signed a contract like this.”
St. Louis has a rich sporting tradition. It hosted the first summer Olympic Games held outside of Europe in 1904, and the Cardinals baseball team, among America’s oldest, has won the World Series 11 times.
In 2000, the Rams - with a passing attack known as “the Greatest Show on Turf” - won the Superbowl.
While many city officials are enraged, some left the door open just a little for an NFL owner that wants to come calling on St. Louis.
“I don’t think we are going to be out there hunting for an NFL team,” said Alderman Scott Ogilvie. “But if we end up in the position that LA has been, with other teams wanting to be here, I can see us working with an owner – perhaps.”
Reporting By Simon Evans, Robin Respaut and Ruthy Munoz; Editing by Brian Thevenot and Martin Howell
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