Are the Rams Leaving St. Louis?

For weeks, rumors have been lingering that the St. Louis Rams may be leaving Missouri.  While these rumors are the result of several theories, how much truth is there to them?

To understand whether the Rams may be headed out of St. Louis in the near future, one must first understand the two factors present for even raising the issue.

The first, and most critical factor, deals with the Rams’ current playing home, the Edward Jones Dome.  Currently, the Rams are parties to a lease for the Edward Jones Dome with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.  The Rams entered into the 30-year lease with the CVC in 1995, when they moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis.  On the Rams’ part, the lease requires the team to pay the CVC $500,000.00 each year and also, reportedly, to play all of its games at the stadium.  As for the CVC, the lease requires it to maintain the stadium as a “top tier” stadium.

Since the lease is not a public document, it is unclear how “top tier” is defined within the lease.  Large-scale media outlets have reported that in order for the Edward Jones Dome to be a “top tier” stadium, it has to be considered one of the top-eight stadiums in the NFL, as judged by various factors.  However, better guidance as to what “top tier” means was arguably provided by St. Louis mayor, Francis Slay.  On his blog, Slay noted that “top tier, “is not about how the entire Edward Jones Dome compares to the many football stadiums constructed after the Dome.  Rather, it is about how a dozen or so elements or features in the Dome as defined in the lease compare to those same features in the rest of the league.”  Thus, it appears that in order to comply with the terms of the lease, the CVC will have to work to ensure that the Edward Jones Dome is on par with other teams’ stadiums with respect to certain elements, say for example, jumbotron display screens and concourses.

Whether the Edward Jones Dome is a “top tier” stadium plays a critical role as to whether the Rams remain in St. Louis.  As noted above, the Rams originally entered into the 30-year stadium contract with the CVC in 1995, meaning that it wouldn’t be set to expire until 2025.  However, the lease also contains a clause which allows the Rams to exit the lease every ten years if the Edward Jones Dome is not a “top tier” stadium at that point in time.  This is relevant, because the argument has been made that the Edward Jones Dome is not a “top tier” stadium, thus providing the Rams with a possible out of their lease agreement and subsequent ability to relocate elsewhere.

On February 1, 2012, the CVC set forth plans for $124 million worth of improvements to the Edward Jones Dome in an effort to ensure that it is a “top tier” stadium and hence, hold the Rams to their lease and keep the team in St. Louis.  Notably, the plan would require the Rams to pay for 52 percent of the improvements.  The remaining portion of the improvements would be funded by taxpayers.  However, before taxpayers could pay for the remaining 48 percent of the improvements, a voting measure would have to be placed on the ballot and approved by voters.  Given this, work on any improvements to the Edward Jones Dome could be delayed.

Additionally, the Rams do not have to accept the offer set forth by the CVC.  The team has until March 1 to tell the CVC whether it accepts or rejects the offer.  If the team does not accept the offer outright, it may propose a counteroffer.  If a plan is not agreed to by June 15, arbitration begins.  Finally, if by the end of 2014, the Rams can assert that the Edward Jones Dome is not a “top tier” stadium, then they can break the lease and likely begin the process of relocating out of St. Louis.

If the Rams and the CVC are unable to reach an agreement as to what sort of improvements the Edward Jones Dome must undergo, or if taxpayers do not agree to fund their portion of the improvements, it is very likely that the Rams will be leaving St. Louis.  However, this move would not occur until the end of 2014, and as such, it is likely that a resolution of the stadium issue could be reach by then.

The other theory circulating as to why the Rams may be leaving St. Louis centers upon their owner’s bid to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, has made a name for himself as a sports owner.  Not only does he own the Rams, but he also owns the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets and English soccer team Arsenal.

However, because of the NFL’s cross-ownership rule, Kroenke had to surrender control to the Avalanche and the Nuggets to his son, Josh.  Eventually, he will have to transfer ownership of the teams, as well.  This is because the NFL’s cross ownership rule does not permit owners of NFL teams to own other teams which play in cities in which another NFL team is present.  Thus, because the Broncos play in Denver, Kroenke could not own an NFL team in St. Louis and other sports teams in Denver.

Reports have indicated that Kroenke is pursuing a bid to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Additional reports have indicated that if he is successful in purchasing the Dodgers, that he may be forced to move the Rams to Los Angeles due to the NFL’s cross-ownership rule.  Such analysis of the NFL’s cross-ownership rule is incorrect, because it only applies when there is an NFL team already present in the city.  Los Angeles is not home to an NFL team, and hasn’t been since the Rams left there in 1995.  Thus, if Kroenke purchases the Dodgers, he will not be forced to move the Rams to Los Angeles, although it may provide him with the  incentive to do so.

Therefore, Rams fans should care most about whether the city can fund improvements to Edward Jones Dome, rather than whether Kroenke ends up purchasing the Dodgers.

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