By Will Basler
When the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis in 1994, Stan Kroenke, a local billionaire, bought 40% ownership in the relocating franchise. Since then, Kroenke has accumulated a few franchises in the Denver area, including the NHL’s Avalanche, the NBA’s Nuggets and MLS’s Colorado Rapids. He is also the majority owner of one of the world’s biggest soccer clubs, Arsenal FC in England. He is estimated to be worth over $6 billion by Forbes. He has gained much of this fortune through real estate purchases and marrying into money, as his wife is the daughter of Sam Walton, an heir to the Walmart throne.
When longtime Rams majority owner Georgia Frontiere died in 2010, Kroenke bought out her shares and became the new majority owner of the team. The team he took over was in the middle of one of the worst on-field stretches in American sports history. The team was just 27-69 in the six years before. With this abysmal record, excitement surrounding the team was at an all-time low. Attendance and any merchandise sales followed suit. Rumors of the Rams moving to greener pastures started to spring up around the area.
The Edward Jones Dome, built in downtown St. Louis in 1995, was built with public money, in hopes of luring an NFL team to the city. It was paid for with public money and is owned by the city of St. Louis. The municipal bonds that paid for the stadium will not be paid off until 2021. The Rams and the city have a lease agreement where the dome must be in the top 15% of all NFL stadiums, or the team is allowed to look at relocation. In 2012, Time ranked the dome as the seventh-worst professional sports stadium in the U.S. It cited a lack of atmosphere, affordability and parking as to why it was rated so badly. At this point, the Edward Jones Dome was definitely not in the top 15% of NFL stadiums, so the franchise started to weigh their options.
On Jan. 31, 2014, both the Los Angeles Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Stan Kroenke purchased approximately 60 acres of land adjacent near the LA Forum in Inglewood, Calif. for around $90 million to $100 million. As an NFL owner, any time land is purchased with the intent of building a stadium on it, the owner must notify the league office, and Kroenke did so. On Jan. 5, 2015, The Los Angeles Times reported that Stan Kroenke and Stockbridge Capital Group are partnering up in developing a new NFL Stadium on the Inglewood property owned by the Rams owner. The project will include a stadium of up to 80,000 seats and a performance venue of up to 6,000 seats while changing up the previously approved Hollywood Park plan for up to 890,000 square feet of retail, office space, residential units, a hotel and 25 acres of public parks, playgrounds, open space and pedestrian and bicycle access.
The construction of this stadium will cost around $1.86 billion and is planned to be built using no public funding. Kroenke and his partners at Hollywood Park Land Co. will provide much of the capital necessary to build the stadium. Even with this plan and the approval from local officials, there must be NFL approval to allow the team to move.
One thing the team will have to compete with in southern California will be sports teams and other forms of entertainment. For the Rams, especially after October, there are no real competitors for interest in the area. The Rams become the number one team in town from October until their season ends, which has recently been in December. In Los Angeles, the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum both house two historic college football teams. When USC and UCLA are at their best, they are competing for national titles and filling up their respective stadiums to the brim. With no major football programs in a two hour drive, this is something the Rams don’t have to worry about. Also in Los Angeles, there is an NBA presence that St. Louis doesn’t have, which will take citizens time and money away from supporting the Rams. The Lakers and Clippers have been in the city for years, and tickets can cost a pretty penny to attend games.
The race to Los Angeles does not come without competitors. The Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers, both upset with the way their home cities have treated them, have proposed building a stadium in nearby Carson, Calif. This offer has created some urgency on the part of Kroenke’s group, as time has now become of the essence.
Economically, the proposed stadium in downtown St. Louis on the riverfront makes a lot of sense. It is part of a revitalization of a dilapidated part of the city, the north riverfront. There are a number of old, rundown, inhabitable buildings that would be torn down in favor of a stadium complex that would include a huge parking lot for tailgating and game day atmosphere, both of which the stadium lacks currently. In the beginning of March, a group of economic officials told the Missouri House of Representatives that a new stadium in St. Louis could bring nearly $300 million in tax revenues to the state over the next 30 years. Taxes from NFL players alone in the state of Missouri were over $17 million – tax revenue the state would not see if the team moved away.
Relative to its Los Angeles counterpart, the St. Louis stadium would be built at a fraction of the cost. The new stadium, an open-air, 64,000 seat stadium would cost between $850 and $950 million, which is almost half of what its California rival would cost. A stadium task force, which was appointed by Missouri governor Jay Nixon, said there would be no new tax burden on the Missouri public. This plan would require about $200-$250 million from Kroenke, $200 million from the NFL’s G4 program (which is used to help fund new stadiums), and $300 million to $350 million from the possible extension of current bonds on the Edward Jones Dome which will expire in the next 10 years or so. This will be used along with the use of tax credits to build up the blighted area I referenced before, as well as the proceeds from the sale of personal seat licenses.
I think this team and the city of St. Louis have truly become synonymous over the last few years. The team hired Jeff Fisher, and with the hire, the team started to improve and play more exciting football. Attendance has responded, and this season the fans filled up the dome to 93% capacity. The Rams will compete for a playoff spot next year, and team support will follow. There is a huge movement in town to “Keep the Rams in STL” and the stadium plan turns doing so into a no-brainer for local citizens and legislators. The economics don’t lie, and the attendance and support that St. Louisans are throwing behind the team doesn’t either.