St. Louis leaders respond to Rams' 'cruel attack'
ST. LOUIS (AP) With NFL owners days away from potentially choosing which of three teams gets to move to suburban Los Angeles, St. Louis leaders are firing back after the Rams questioned fan support and the economic viability of the St. Louis market in pushing for relocation to California.
The Rams, Chargers and Raiders have all applied to move to Los Angeles. Owners meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston, and could allow up to two of the teams to relocate as early as next season.
The Rams' application, made public this week, highlights the potential benefits of owner Stan Kroenke's planned $1.86 billion stadium in Inglewood, California. And much to the anger of St. Louis fans and civic leaders, it cites a ''lagging'' economy in the Midwest city and dwindling attendance despite Kroenke's ''significant investment'' since buying the team in 2010. The application even questions whether St. Louis can support three professional sports teams.
In a five-page response sent to the league Friday, the St. Louis NFL Stadium Task Force wrote that it was not prepared ''for the cruel attack and false claims made by our local team owner, to his League peers, in an attempt to punish and embarrass St. Louis - a city whose residents and businesses have loyally supported the Rams for more than two decades.''
Messages seeking comment from the Rams were not immediately returned.
In a separate letter, Mayor Francis Slay questioned the Rams' claim that they've made a good-faith effort to stay in St. Louis. Slay said he's never even met Kroenke, despite repeated efforts.
Both letters cite what they call inaccuracies in the Rams' application, especially when it comes to painting a negative picture of the St. Louis economy. The task force noted that St. Louis has a strong corporate base, ranking 16th in the number of Fortune 500 companies, 14th in the number of Fortune 1000 firms, and 14th in the number of companies with over $50 million in sales.
Fans do and will support the Rams, the task force said, but it would help if the effort on and off the field improved.
''The Rams have contributed to current circumstances and resulting attendance and revenue levels by failing to put a competitive team on the field since 2003 and by not communicating and engaging the community,'' the letter stated.
The task force said the Rams' application was riddled with wrong information about the proposed $1 billion riverfront stadium near the Gateway Arch, a plan the Rams suggest would lead any team to ''financial ruin.'' The letter said the team overstated the owner's costs, including rent, while understating the amount of public funding for the project. The task force projected that a move to the new stadium would propel the Rams from 28th in the league in revenue to ''near the top half.''
Despite the war of words, both the mayor and task force wrote that Kroenke and the team would be welcomed with open arms if they stay.
''No irreparable harm has been done to our relationship or the potential to forge a true partnership that will serve the NFL, the Rams and St. Louis for decades to come,'' the task force wrote.