National Football League

Why the NFL Will Never Return to St. Louis (And That’s Okay.)

St. Louis will never get another NFL team.

With the one-year anniversary of the league ripping the Rams franchise from the region despite a viable stadium plan coming next week, the question of the NFL’s future here has been asked of me many times. And the answer I always give is, no chance.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says he never met Rams owner Stan Kroenke during the team’s 21 years in the city.

There are many reasons. Here are just a few.

Lots of political capital was expended to keep the Rams here. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay cashed in numerous chips to get the city’s Board of Aldermen to vote for St. Louis’ portion of the funding for a stadium. Slay pointed out to the NFL that he had never met Rams owner Stan Kroenke, despite the fact that Kroenke was a part owner and majority owner in St. Louis for 21 years.

After the move, Slay said the NFL’s “home cities and hometown fans are commodities to be abandoned once they no longer suit the league’s purposes.”

Indeed, commissioner Roger Goodell has consistently claimed that the league would prefer to keep teams in their home markets. Yet when given the opportunity to relocate two franchises…by keeping the Chargers and Raiders in California…they are going to abandon three markets, with the Rams leaving St. Louis and, presumably the Chargers bolting San Diego and moving to Los Angeles, and the Raiders departing Oakland for Las Vegas. (By the way, San Diego and Oakland never have come up with a stadium plan that matches the one St. Louis had).

The actions of the league speak louder than their words. It’s not about fans or cities, it’s about money. And as Slay leaves office in 2017, there doesn’t appear to be traction for the NFL here. “Why would anybody want to, in any way, even entertain any suggestions from the NFL after the way they dealt with St. Louis here?” Slay asked. “I mean, it was dishonest. They were not being truthful with us. There’s no appetite that I have to take another run at an NFL team.” If you were a politician and saw how Slay got burned, would you engage them?

In addition to Slay, Governor Jay Nixon was ready to unilaterally provide state funding for an NFL stadium. At his Super Bowl 50 press conference, weeks after the league voted 30-2 for a Rams move, Goodell said “I spoke to the Governor a couple of days after the Houston meetings (that allowed the relocation) and I told him ‘when things settle down and you’re prepared, let’s talk about the future of NFL football in St. Louis.’”

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon says he’s had no further talks with Commissioner Goodell about the NFL returning to St. Louis.

Goodell went on to say “if there’s something that can be worked out, that we could develop a stadium that would allow a team to be successful there, that’s something that we should consider.  And I told him that.”

When asked if he had spoken to Goodell since that statement when he joined us in The Fast Lane last week, Nixon said “we’ve not had any substantive follow-ups from that. I think that there’s a lot of distrust and a lot of concern. I mean, literally we put a great deal on the table, and it’s clear as you look back on it that they were really bent on leaving, and were not really exceptionally concerned about the fans and the people of this market which I think are great. It’s disappointing, but it seemed to be more about the money than the sport to them.”

Nixon’s successor, Governor Elect Eric Greitens, has gone on record as saying he’s against an MLS stadium in St. Louis if any public funds are required.

It’s hard to imagine the state government, or any politician, will want anything to do with an NFL stadium in the future.

If ANY public funds are going to be spent on sports facilities, it makes sense for the region to preserve what we have, as we tried to do with the Rams. That means upgrading Scottrade Center so that the Blues, a franchise truly committed to St. Louis, can continue to thrive, and so that the NCAA will continue to deliver big events that the St. Louis Sports Commission gets. At this point, it simply doesn’t make sense for the NFL to be a priority.

The NFL is not an entity that can be trusted. Obviously, the league consistently told Nixon and his task force to keep doing what they were doing in planning a stadium, even though it was a fate accompli that the Rams would leave. In addition to the Rams, there are myriad examples of the league’s dishonesty. Their handling of the concussion issues of their own players has been abominable. In an interview with CSN Bay Area, former 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, who retired after one year in the league, responded to an interview of Goodell with Charlie Rose, where Goodell said the NFL has never been more exciting and competitive, and has never been safer.

“It’s dishonest, and I don’t think it’s responsible to say that the game is safer. I think that’s just not true. The players themselves on the field, they know. They’d scoff at that. That’s not accurate.” Borland told CSN.

Throughout the Patriots’ Deflategate episode, the league was exposed, even in court, for their misleading statements. The NFL’s opulent Park Avenue offices were described by themselves as “non-profit” until 2015, and so the league office didn’t pay taxes. The league said it requested a Ray Rice elevator video after his domestic abuse of his then fiancé, but that it wasn’t available to them. TMZ, however, did get one. We can come up with dozens of examples of NFL dishonesty. It’s not a good syndicate to do business with.

The NFL is not going to expand. The 32 owners get a cut of all national league revenues, and they’re getting pretty much everything they can out of America. They don’t want to split it 34 ways. These guys are happy with the club they have. They aren’t going to expand to London, or Mexico City or Toronto.  Or San Diego or Oakland. The league will remain at 32 teams, probably for as long as any of us live.

Following the Rams’ move to Los Angeles, Forbes listed Stan Kroenke’s Rams’ value at $2.9 billion.

Every owner that buys a franchise is going to spend at least $1.4 billion. Kroenke got an amazing deal, investing about $500 million in a property that is now worth north of $3 billion. But Terry and Kim Pegula had to pay $1.4 billion for the Buffalo Bills. Jerry Jones built a $1.6 billion stadium, and Arthur Blank is financing a palace in Atlanta.

These owners are making major investments, and want the value of their franchise to be as high as possible. So if any teams beyond the Chargers and Raiders DO move, that relocation is going to be to a spot like London, where the league can generate more revenue. That’s just not available in St. Louis.

There is no public appetite to vote for stadiums these days. As we saw in San Diego, public votes for stadiums are tricky. The laws here call for public votes on any tax supported sports facilities.

For new stadiums in Santa Clara, Minneapolis, Atlanta and Las Vegas, the public wasn’t given a voice on funding. It just doesn’t seem like there’s a desire by voters in the USA to pay for a stadium owned by a billionaire.

And as far as I’m concerned, once NFL owners rejected public money from St. Louis and Missouri, they told EVERY city “we don’t need public money. We can build on our own.” Indeed, the Rams are funding their stadium in Inglewood, and the Falcons, Giants and Jets, Patriots and Lions all have absorbed at least 75% of stadium costs.

With no expansion on the horizon and little likelihood of public funding of a stadium, St. Louis would need; A) someone with a franchise or with money to buy a franchise that can get out of their current stadium lease, and be willing to move the franchise, and B) that someone to have enough interest to build a stadium.

A stadium is going to cost at least $1 billion, and a team is going to cost $1.5 billion. That’s before any relocation fees and litigation. The Jaguars’ lease that runs through 2030, as an example, requires about $100 million to get out of. Owner Shad Khan has invested about $100 million of his own money in stadium improvements in Jacksonville, and was critical of St. Louis after the vote to move the Rams. It’s highly unlikely that Khan would move his team here, or that anyone will spend at least $2.5 billion to set up shop in STL.

St. Louis has moved on.  Many former fans here say the NFL is dead to them. Dave Peacock and the region’s private leadership are invested in bringing MLS to St. Louis and upgrading Scottrade Center. Those leagues have younger demographics that perhaps better mirrors St. Louis’ status as one of America’s top business startup cities. We have great, committed franchises and ownerships in the Blues and the Cardinals, and they provide a great product that covers all twelve months of the year.

Unfortunately for the NFL, they simply don’t have a consistently strong product right now, especially the 4-12 Rams. So St. Louis isn’t really missing it.

We aren’t getting another team, but with what the NFL is and what we have, St. Louis is, and is going to be, just fine.

More: Three NFL Head Coaches Rumored to Be Vying for the Rams Job