In the virtually empty offices on West Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim,
the pervasive silence is broken only by a receptionist, a temp,
answering the occasional phone call thusly: ``Thank you for
calling the Rams Football Company.'' She does not say ``Los
Angeles,'' and she dare not say ``St. Louis.'' If she were to omit
the word Company, she might be more precise. The Rams are a
football -- political and economic -- and a loose one at that.
In St. Louis, football fans who reveled en masse on Jan. 17 over
what they thought was the successful, if overly lavish, wooing of
the Rams, now wait in uncertainty as the team's transfer plan
heads toward a vote by owners at the NFL's winter meetings in
Phoenix next week. Some observers doubt the move will ever happen.
Others are confident it will, though not without strife. And there
are rumblings that there might not be a vote in Phoenix if owners
believe that they need more information on the most aberrational
transfer scheme in league history -- from the second-largest TV
market in America to the 20th.
If approved, the Rams' departure would leave pro football in Los
Angeles at the mercy of the NFL owners' most-feared peer, Al
Davis, who, to complicate matters further, says he is
contemplating moving the Raiders yet again. That is but one reason
why some owners doubt that moving the Rams from their home area of
49 years, just because they've had five lean seasons, is in the
best interests of the NFL.
Central to those interests are TV revenues. Fox -- which holds
the rights to NFC telecasts, including most Ram games -- likely
would ask for rebates of as much as $400,000 a year per team in
return for losing the L.A. market.
The Rams need the votes of 23 of the 30 franchises for
approval. That may be a tough total to attain, especially since
traditionalist owners agree with Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh
Steelers, who says, ``Moving should be a last- ditch option when
there's no other way to make a franchise work. It's up to an
organization to do everything it can to make it work -- not to do
everything it can to move. You have an obligation to your city, I
believe. You just can't run off at the first sign of tough
times.'' The vote, adds Rooney, ``is going to be close. You only
need eight votes out of 30 to kill it.''
But even a nay vote by the owners might not stop the Rams from
moving. At first glance Davis's court victory over the NFL, which
allowed the Raiders to move from Oakland to Los Angeles without
league approval in 1982, would seem to provide legal precedent for
the Rams' transfer. But the NFL has since instituted new
regulations on franchise transfers that the league believes the
courts will find acceptable. Opponents of the move to St. Louis
claim the Rams have not met these stipulations. Whether the new
rules will indeed stand up in court -- and whether Ram owner
Georgia Frontiere or NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wishes to
test them in court -- remains to be seen.
Those who object to the transfer cite two of the league's eight
``factors'' for evaluating proposed moves as possible grounds
for blocking the Rams' relocation. Factor number 4 says the NFL
can make its decision to approve or disapprove a move partly on
the ``degree to which the ownership or management of the team
has contributed to any circumstance which might otherwise
demonstrate the need for such relocation.'' In other words, if
the owners decide that a franchise has brought its troubles on
itself, they might not let it go.
Factor number 6: ``The degree to which the team has engaged in
good-faith negotiations with appropriate persons concerning
terms and conditions under which the team would continue to play
its games in such community or elsewhere within its current home
Many opponents of the move don't even argue that point; they
merely cite factor 4 and argue that Ram management is responsible
for whatever problems it may have. Plus the Rams claim to have
lost $6 million in 1994 and that their profits totaled $7.6
million in the four previous seasons. Numbers compiled by the NFL
for '90 to '93 and disseminated to all teams indicate the Rams
made $38 million in that span.
Save the Rams is a group in Orange County co-chaired by Leigh
Steinberg, one of football's top player agents, who happens to
be 2-0 at orchestrating the salvation of lost sports-franchise
causes in his state. He helped arrange new ownership that kept
the San Francisco Giants from moving to St. Petersburg in 1992
and was a primary consultant to Oakland's successful drive to
keep the A's last year.
``I would argue,'' says Steinberg, an Orange County resident,
``that the Rams have attempted, in a fairly methodical way, to
scorch the earth here; that this process began four or five years
ago [the Rams last made the playoffs in 1989 and have had losing
records since, including 4-12 in '94]; that they consciously
allowed their marketing and community outreach programs to
As for factor 6, Steinberg says: ``Save the Rams has made a
series of proposals that were never responded to.'' He adds that
the group has offered the Rams a new stadium, a new training
facility, guaranteed revenue for close to 50,000 seats per home
game and guaranteed sales of all luxury boxes.
Save the Rams financial specialist Wayne Wedin met with the NFL
finance committee in Dallas last week and came away encouraged
that even if Save the Rams can't match the generous inducements
St. Louis has promised the team, ``it has not been indicated to
us that this is going to the highest bidder. To the contrary. We
have been told that there is abiding interest in what's best for
What's best for the NFL hasn't always been what's best for St.
Louis. The city lost its Cardinals to Arizona in 1988 and lost
the 1993 expansion race to Charlotte and Jacksonville.
This time around, with former Missouri senator Thomas Eagleton
spearheading the effort to attract the Rams, St. Louis's leaders
and commonfolk have given and pledged till it hurt. They have
offered about $120 million in up-front cash ($60 million from the
sale of personal seat licenses, or PSLs, and $60 million from
Columbia, Mo., financier Stan Kroenke for 30% of the franchise),
plus a projected $20 million in annual profits for the Rams over
30 years from a sweet stadium deal.
From a taxpayer-funded, $260 million domed stadium now near
completion in downtown St. Louis, the Rams would take 100% of
concession revenues and 75% of advertising income -- 90% in any
year the ad money totaled $6 million or more. And a local
corporate group called Civic Progress, which includes
Anheuser-Busch and McDonnell-Douglas among its members, has
guaranteed that, in effect, 85% of the luxury boxes and club
seats will be sold for the first 15 years. For all this the Rams
would pay a minuscule rent and a small portion of stadium
``I wouldn't say St. Louis has sold its soul to the devil, but
the Rams have gotten pretty much everything else,'' said St.
Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz last week.
The fear in St. Louis is that in exchange for approval, the NFL
may ask to share the $60 million being generated by sales of
personal seat licenses, each one of which gives a buyer the
right to purchase a season ticket. League rules allow a team to
keep only 60% of its ticket receipts; the other 40% must be
given to visiting teams as part of the revenue-sharing system.
But neither the Rams nor their St. Louis suitors, a group called
FANS Inc., want to give the NFL any PSL money, let alone 40%.
They say they need it all to consummate the deal -- including a
payoff of the Rams' $27 million bond debt at Anaheim Stadium,
$13 million in relocation costs and $21 million in FANS Inc.
The Rams had demanded that St. Louis sell 40,000 PSLs before they
would move. By last Thursday, Fans Inc. had orders for 74,000
PSLs. That huge total shattered skeptics' claims that St. Louis
isn't a football town; in fact, it represented 11,000 more fans
than the new stadium will be able to accommodate.
The PSLs had been priced from $250 to $4,500 according to seat
location. As the offering became oversubscribed, the buyers at the
low end were bumped out, which didn't sit well with some.
The new stadium ``is coming out of the taxes of the average Joe,
just as much as it's coming out of the millionaires' taxes,'' said
St. Louisan Christopher Flores. ``But the average Joe can't even
afford to buy a ticket. That's what turns off people in this
corner'' of a bar-restaurant virtually in the shadows of the new
dome. Still, Flores considered getting the Rams a necessity --
``without them, we're a cow town.''