Silent owner holds the key to Rams’ future in St. Louis

Sports Commentary

The end of the 2014 NFL season is just more than 17 months away.

In other words, the St. Louis Rams may be the St. Louis Rams for only 17 more months.

With the City of St. Louis rejecting the Rams’ plans for a completely renovated Edward Jones Dome earlier this month, the team is free to break its lease and skip town faster than when it arrived from Los Angeles in 1995.

Your move, Stan Kroenke.

The fate of the Rams sits in the hands of the team’s billionaire owner. And he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in showing his hand.

There’s talk about moving the team to Los Angeles. Kroenke put a bid in to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team in 2012, but was unsuccessful. Instead, the Dodgers went to an investment group that included Magic Johnson.

There’s talk about a new stadium in the suburbs. That happens in almost every city when a team is negotiating a new stadium deal or hoping for renovations. Do you really think the Cubs are actually going to move from Wrigley Field?

But no one on the outside really knows what Kroenke is thinking. The man who owns the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, the Colorado Rapids of the MLS and the English Premier League’s Arsenal has the advantage. His son and former University of Missouri basketball player Josh Kroenke now has day-to-day control of the Nuggets and Avalanche because the NFL does not allow owners to control other teams not in the same market as their NFL franchise.

The Rams got a sweetheart deal when they came to St. Louis from Los Angeles in time for the 1995 season. The team signed a 30-year lease with the city to use the Edward Jones Dome, but it stated the dome had to remain among the top 25 percent of all stadiums in the NFL or the Rams could opt out after 2014.

It was a risky deal for the city to sign at the time, but I’m not sure they envisioned stadium-palooza would occur. Since 1995, 18 new stadiums have been built in the NFL. That doesn’t include major renovations to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, the Superdome in New Orleans and Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Vikings, 49ers and Falcons are both slated to get new stadiums within the next few years. Pretty soon the Edward Jones Dome will be one of the 10 oldest stadiums in the league.

While we don’t know what Kroenke is thinking, the city made its intentions clear when it rejected the Rams’ plans for a renovated Edward Jones Dome that was estimated to have cost more than $700 million.

That rejection surprised no one, especially considering that according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch taxpayers are still paying about $18 million every year on the Edward Jones Dome ($12 million from the state, $6 million from the city).

So what’s next?

At least on the football field, the Rams will play this season with a team that is on the upswing. That same team will come out and play next season.

But then...

Only Kroenke knows.

In a cover story about his life with Sports Illustrated in November, Kroenke opened up about several of his business ventures, but did not speak about the Rams’ future in St. Louis or anywhere else.

Only time and eventually Kroenke will tell the world where the Rams will be playing in the future.

Is it possible in a few years the only football that will be played in the Edward Jones Dome is the Missouri State High School Activities Association Football Championships?

Think about this. Billionaires typically don’t want to invest in losing business ventures. If there is more money to be made in Los Angeles or another city, would Kroenke jump at the opportunity? But on the other hand Kroenke is a Missouri guy, growing up in the state and graduating from Missouri.

The clock is ticking. Your move, Stan.

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