Rams are here to stay, for now, I think
I’ve got good news and bad news for local gridiron fans. The good news is that our NFL franchise figures to stay put for the foreseeable future. But given the team’s recent history of unparalleled futility, that could also be bad news for people who enjoy competitive football.
The Rams have won exactly 15 of their last 80 games, giving them a winning percentage of .188 — the worst five-year record in the history of the league. Post-Dispatch sportswriter Bernie Miklasz reports that opponents outscored the male sheep by 922 points during the period. Our adopted squad thus scored an average of 11.5 fewer points a game than their adversaries — and that figure includes those rare, precious victories.
But let’s leave the vagaries of the team’s on-field misadventures to the sports page and concentrate instead on a topic of interest to fan and non-fan alike — namely, the money we owe on the Edward Jones Dome.
Add the actual cost in 1995 dollars for site development and construction of the existing stadium to the interest that must be paid to retire the debt and the total comes to about $720 million. If you live in Missouri, you owe 50 cents of each of those dollars. Residents of St. Louis city and county owe an additional 25 cents.
One of the many sweetheart provisions of the deal that prompted then-owner, Georgia Frontiere, to move from sunny Southern California to the banks of the Big Muddy was an agreement that the facility would remain in the “first tier” of NFL stadia. If the Dome doesn’t meet this criterion by the end of 2014, current owner Stan Kroenke is free to move his team anywhere he chooses.
Although just what constitutes a first tier stadium has never been clearly defined, everybody agrees the present structure — now entering its 18th season — doesn’t qualify. Local alarmists have all but written off prospects that the team will remain. Some have even argued that the Dome would be more profitable if used as a full-time extension of convention center adjacent to it.
Q: If the stadium doesn’t need a team, why were the people who built it so desperate to lure the Rams to play there? And when was the last time you attended a convention in a building that consisted of 66,000 tiered seats situated around a 100-yard field with goal posts on each end of it?
Setting aside the metaphysical question of when a football stadium isn’t a football stadium, allow me to make two assumptions about Stan Kroenke, whom I’ve never met or spoken to.
Let’s assume that he does not harbor a deep-seated animosity toward the St. Louis region. That belief seems reasonable because had he not made a significant investment of his own money in the project, the team would not have moved here in the first place.
Second, let’s stipulate that he probably understands business at least as well as I do. To the extent that he’s a multi-billionaire and I’m waiting for payday, that proposition seems plausible.
Given the above stipulations, we would expect Kroenke to make a rational economic decision about his team’s future home with St. Louis being one viable alternative.
Until recently, the two most frequently suggested destinations for the franchise were London and Los Angeles. The former option now seems to be off the table with the team’s announcement that it was canceling games scheduled for the venue in 2013 and 2014, which leaves us in competition with Los Angeles.
LA is the nation’s second-largest TV market. That fact won’t do much to improve Mr. Kroenke’s bottom line, however, because the NFL splits television revenue evenly among all 32 teams.
Whether the Rams play in LA or Potosi, the TV money remains the same.
Under the very generous terms of the existing lease, the Rams pay $25,000 a game to play at the Edward Jones Dome. At 10 home dates a year (two preseason and eight regular season), that comes to $250,000 annually. If we were to retire our $720 million debt solely with Rams’ rent, it will take us about 2,880 years to break even. Where else can Kroenke get a deal like this?
California is running a budget deficit estimated at $16 billion to $19 billion, depending on who’s doing the estimating. Whatever the correct number, there figures to be little appetite to spend public money to attract a team that left once.
And what private investor is going to front 1+ billion for somebody else’s team when it will take him 3,000 years to get his money back? Some fat cat may be willing to build on his own dime if he could acquire the team, but Kroenke has made it pretty clear that the Rams aren’t for sale.
Of course, the Rams owner could build his own stadium anywhere he wants to, but for that option to make economic sense, he’d have to clear more than a billion dollars in extra revenue from the venture. As he’s already attracting sold-out crowds to a facility he plays in for a pittance, that feat would be difficult to accomplish.
In truth, a stadium in and of itself doesn’t generate that much revenue. Most people go to the movies to see the show, not the theater. Stan may be California dreamin’ but when the alarm clock goes off, I’ll bet he wakes up in St. Louis.