The Clock is Ticking on Rams and City Officials

As the Rams and the rest of the football world await a collective bargaining agreement between ownership and the playeres, the Rams have more negotiations to look forward to. After the new CBA is reached, Kevin Demoff and his staff will head into free agency to fill out their roster, get their draft choices signed and then make sure that their top-tier talent like Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola are taken care of.

In just over seven months, right before the Super Bowl is scheduled in Indianapolis, the Convention and Visitors Commission will present a financing plan to the Rams to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome. Per terms of the contract that was agreed to when the team moved here, the Dome is required to be in the top 25 percent of all stadiums in the NFL at the 10- and 20-year plateaus of the lease. As John Shaw cut back on his day-to-day involvement with the team, he agreed to waive the top 25 percent provision in 2005. Then, with owner Georgia Frontiere gravely ill in 2007, the Rams agreed to various improvements, with the knowledge that more would be needed in the future.

The future is almost here. With the lease opening up after the 2014 season, the CVC has until Feb. 1, 2012 to make an offer to the Rams to upgrade the Dome. The Rams have a month to either accept the offer, and if they reject it, they have until May 1 to present a counteroffer.

Rams executive vice president/COO Kevin Demoff joined us on The Fast Lane Tuesday, and talked about the situation. While the Rams have thought about and had discussions about what’s forthcoming, they know the league has to have its house in order before anything can be done.

“We need to get a labor agreement so that we know our fiscal future and what we need out of a stadium agreement,” Demoff told us. “Our viewpoint on a stadium is very simple. We want to get a stadium solution that works for the citizens of this region that makes this city competitive for Final Fours, for political conventions, for bowl games. We want a global solution. Not just what the Rams need, but what is needed to move St. Louis forward as a region and as a city. If we’re going to have a 65,000-seat stadium downtown, let’s make sure it works for all parties involved. If it works for everybody, it should work for us.”

There has been much speculation among fans that owner Stan Kroenke would buy a plot of land and build his own stadium, just like Patriots owner Robert Kraft did in New England. However, with the hopes of getting NCAA Final Fours and political conventions, it would appear that the Rams want to have a building with a roof. And they want to have it downtown.

There’s also a belief that the Rams will hold strong to that top 25 percent codicil. But Demoff says, “I think there are a lot of ways to look at the top 25 percent. There have been 18 stadiums built since the Edward Jones Dome was built, and there have been four that have had more than a $300 million renovation in that period. Obviously, there’s been a lot of work done. I don’t think it does anybody any good to lay out guidelines for exactly what it is that meets the criteria.

“I think the criteria need to be what makes St. Louis a better place for our citizens, and a better place for everybody long term. As long as we use that as our guiding principle, how we can work together, how we can build something meaningful for everybody involved, then it shouldn’t really matter where it ultimately ranks.”

The St. Louis market is ranked as the 21st television market. Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Baltimore are ranked 23rd through 26th, respectively. Yet, according to Forbes magazine, the Rams were 29th in NFL revenue in 2009, while Pittsburgh was 17th, Carolina was 12th, Indianapolis was 11th and Baltimore was eighth. To catch up to Pittsburgh, the Rams would have to generate $20 million more, and to get to Baltimore’s area, they’d have to make $32 million more.

The Dome isn’t too far behind those new stadiums in general revenue generating ability, except for several items. Those teams all have the ability to generate money through parking, while the Rams don’t. A parking facility that provided the Rams 100 percent of the revenue generated would help the bottom line significantly. Those franchises all have excellent corporate bases that purchase suites and club seats, and all of those stadiums provide excellent income from signage.

The infrastructure is in place for the CVC to offer a parking garage and even more signage revenue. Beyond that, it’s up to St. Louis’ corporate community to step up and buy the suites and club seats so that the Rams can compete on a level financial playing field.

Demoff and the Rams appear to be sincere about trying to make St. Louis a better place to live and to run a business. Like any other company, they shouldn’t be expected to compete, but not have as much cash to do so. If St. Louis wants to be like Indy, Charlotte, Pittsburgh and Baltimore on a football front, it’s important to be reasonable with the region’s NFL franchise when negotiations on stadium improvements start next year.