Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and St Louis Rams owner Stan Kronke shook hands on a three-year commitment to the NFL's plan to play games in London. The Rams agreed to give up one of their home games in each of the next three seasons, in return for getting a hefty paycheck (guaranteed sellout revenues from a stadium that seats 82,000+) and increased exposure.
It's good for the NFL, argues Goodell.
It's good for the Rams, argues Kroenke and team money man Kevin Demoff.
It's good for St Louis ... says no one.
The St Louis CVC officially responded to this by pointing out a clause in their lease agreement with the Rams, requiring that all of their home games be played in the Edward Jones Dome. This little story might devolve into an uninteresting little squabble between the city and the owner, and might even end with Goodell deciding it might be easier to make this same handhake with Malcom Glazer's Bucs instead.
However, this little squabble is just a tiny piece of a much larger tug of war between the CVC - which manages the 16-year-old Edward Jones Dome - and the Rams, who plan on taking advantage of another little clause in their contract with the city: one that lets them leave town in 2015 if their stadium isn't one of the top 8 in the NFL.
Considering the cash-cow stadiums that have opened just in the last ten years -- Jerry's World in Dallas, Gilette Stadium in Foxboro, the sparkling new Giants/Jets complex in East Rutherford, Ford Field, or Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis where the Super Bowl is coming to name a few -- this little clause puts the city in a very bad way if they want to keep the team.
Stan Kroenke has shown a strong commitment to the Rams this offseason, pursuing the rather pricy Jeff Fisher and giving him carte blanche to hire a very experienced -- read: expensive -- staff headlined by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. However, his commitment to St Louis has not been so apparent.
He appeared in front of the local press to introduce Fisher, and was predictably questioned about the team's status in the Loo. Here is Mr. Kroenke, putting his foot down and allaying all of the local populace's fears:
If that's Kroenke's poker face, it's worth noting that he currently holds all the cards.
The bet is to the CVC right now. It's their job to propose a set of improvements to the Dome that will raise it to top-tier status. Their proposal is due in just a few days, and if it fails, they have to contemplate a far more expensive proposition: ponying up tax dollars to finance a new building. Or, they have to contemplate letting the team walk. (I hear they're building a palace in Los Angeles, and just need a team to play there. Say, weren't the Rams from there once?)
While the locals sweat this out, Kroenke has unsettled St Louisans with little things -- flying coaching candidates out to Denver (where he lives) rather than St Louis -- and big ones -- openly courting the groups of buyers interested in the Los Angeles Dodgers. And the fact that the Rams' three-year agreement with London ends in 2014, the last year they are obligated to play games in the Dome, is lost on no one.
So the timing of this little spat between the CVC and Kroenke, with Goodell's London plans caught in the middle, is more than a little curious. It's telling. Perhaps the CVC is trying to exercise a little leverage in their negotiation. Perhaps they really want those extra three home games to stay in St Louis, where local vendors and businesses can benefit.
Or perhaps they are putting on their best poker face too. But a good poker face isn't much good to you when you only have one very small card to play.
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