Rams owner Kroenke rips St. Louis market as he seeks LA move

Jim Salter - Associated Press

Jim Salter

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Calling their hometown market economically stagnant and plans for a billion-dollar new stadium a recipe for financial disaster, the St. Louis Rams on Wednesday released a withering list of reasons they want to leave for Southern California that brought immediate condemnation from the governor and fans alike.

The team said moving the Rams to suburban Los Angeles gives the NFL its best opportunity for success in the nation’s No. 2 market and leaves behind a market that may not be capable of supporting three pro sports franchises. The team’s 29-page relocation application, first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was provided by the Rams to The Associated Press.

Gov. Jay Nixon responded by calling St. Louis “one of the best sports cities in America, with strong fan support for its professional teams.” Mayor Francis Slay was preparing a letter to the NFL correcting what he saw as exaggerations and flat-out falsehoods — evidence, he said, of owner Stan Kroenke’s desperation.

“He doesn’t feel real confident in his efforts to move this franchise to Los Angeles,” Slay said. “What he’s attempting here is a Hail Mary pass.”

Kroenke, a real estate billionaire and native Missourian, has proposed a $1.8 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, with plans to put the Rams back in the market they left to move to St. Louis in 1995. The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders want to move to the Los Angeles area, too, proposing to share a stadium planned in Carson, California. League owners meeting Jan. 12-13 in Houston could make a decision on relocation.

The Chargers and Raiders did not respond to requests to release their applications. The Rams, meanwhile, lauded the Inglewood site and said it would offer far more than just a home for a sports team.

“The stadium serves as the epicenter for a NFL retail and entertainment district that includes a 6,000 seat theatre and up to 8.5 million square feet of office space, hotel retail and dining options,” the application reads.

The team cited data indicating a lagging economy in St. Louis, and suggested an indifferent fan base is more interested in baseball’s Cardinals than pro football.

Many Rams fans were angered by the application.

“Was it really necessary to do that to a fan base that supported you all those years?” asked Brad Wesselmann, a 48-year-old IT business analyst. “What could you possibly have to gain by alienating an entire city?”

John Vrooman, an expert on sports economics at Vanderbilt University, said the Rams’ application is “more exaggerated and loosely fabricated than a custody battle in a messy divorce” because NFL bylaws require teams to justify why they want to move.

“Rest easy, St. Louis sports fans,” Vrooman said. “These cold-hearted claims are not personal and more importantly, they are not true.”

The application said attendance at Rams games is well below the league average despite Kroenke’s “significant investments” since taking control in 2010. The team sold out every home game from its arrival until 2006, but attendance in recent years has been near the bottom of the league. The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003 and fans endured one 15-65 stretch that was the worst five-year record in NFL history.

“Given how bad they’ve been, I think attendance has been fantastic,” said Brian McAfee, who manages a sports bar near the Edward Jones Dome, a publicly funded stadium that opened the year the Rams arrived.

The unusual agreement between the dome authority and the team requires that the dome remain among the top tier of all NFL stadiums. Instead, it is generally considered among the worst, the Rams said, and 12 years of negotiations to rectify that were unsuccessful.

Last year, a task force appointed by Nixon developed plans for a $1 billion stadium along the Mississippi River near the Gateway Arch. Plans call for public money and personal seat licenses to pay a big chunk of the cost, but for the owner to pay a share, too.

The Rams said the stadium is doomed to failure, noting the “rent and operating structure are 20 times what the Rams pay now.”

“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,” the Rams’ application said.

The application cited two NFL-commissioned studies of the Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis markets. It says one study characterized the California markets as vibrant and growing, but said St. Louis “lags, and will continue to lag, far behind in the economic drivers that are necessary for sustained success of an NFL franchise.”

The studies “demonstrate that Los Angeles is a strong market with great opportunity, while St. Louis is a market that will in all likelihood be unable to sustain three professional sports teams,” the application said.

Leaders of the stadium task force defended their plan, and their region.

“St. Louis is a viable NFL market and a good market from an economic standpoint,” task force co-chairman David Peacock said. He pointed to a deep base of corporate support in a region with 18 Fortune 1,000 companies, putting St. Louis among the top 15 NFL markets in that category.

“We feel confident that St. Louis deserves to keep the Rams,” Peacock said.

Jim Salter

Associated Press

AP reporters Jim Suhr in Kansas City, Missouri, and Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

AP reporters Jim Suhr in Kansas City, Missouri, and Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.

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