Wednesday, January 14, 2015

New Blues Arena?

So let me see here? The leaders of St. Louis, (starting with Missouri's Governor) have deemed it necessary to build a new outdoor stadium next to the mighty Mississippi, to the tune of almost a billion dollars. This, in order to keep an NFL team playing here. (And, okay, maybe...possibly get a pro soccer franchise too.) The current stadium, the Edward Jones Dome completed in 1995, was part of a massive local effort to lure the Rams to St. Louis. I've got that all right, don't I?

The Jones Dome is now, for numerous reasons which most of us know, judged unworthy to continue as the market's pro football venue. So prominent citizens are put in place to avert the tragedy of losing another NFL franchise to some other city. Presumably, if this effort is successful, the ownership of that NFL team (Rams or otherwise) will be gifted with another sweeter-than-sweet deal to generate riches in the new facility.

Meanwhile, a local ownership group operates a professional sports franchise that plays in another facility in town...the Scottrade (originally Kiel, and then Savvis) Center. And, guess what? That building opened in October of 1994....before the Dome.

No...nobody is complaining about the atmosphere or amenities at Scottrade...yet. But it is getting older. It isn't offering some of the glitz and glamour of other indoor facilities hosting hockey, basketball and concerts these days. It certainly requires a heavy investment in maintenance that newer buildings do not. And those local owners need to pony up for that operational expense. Frank Viverito and the St. Louis Sports Commission folks could probably tell you that Scotty is getting harder to sell to those (like the NCAA) when they pitch St. Louis for events.

I can speak personally to the antiquated nature of the building's audio/video operation. One can take a short drive to Kansas City to see how much of an upgrade a new building with the latest features would provide. Fans who witness a game played at the Sprint Center (where the Blues played, and I announced for,
a pre-season game in September) are treated to all the newest bells and whistles. And, oh by the way, a KC group has been trying to land a hockey team to play in that market for a couple of decades. They really, really want a team.

I don't know if it crosses Blues lead owner Tom Stillman's mind every day, but I'm sure by now he must have thought that if Stan Kroenke can threaten to move the Rams to Los Angeles and get this sort of panicked and concerted reaction, should he do the same? What would happen if Stillman's team were to finally win the Stanley Cup for this hungry fan base...only to have him hint at relocating the team to K.C., or somewhere else? Or, even worse, sell it because the ownership can't, or won't, sustain operations. Would there be the kind of rallying by state and city leaders that we're seeing now?

The argument could be made that the Blues are just as important a civic asset as the Rams. The Note certainly has a longer history in the Gateway City, and there is no more fervent and loyal fan base. The Blues have 50 or so home dates per season that bring people into downtown St. Louis, a place in sore need of a more vital business and entertainment environment. The Rams play 10 home games per season. Who has the greater impact there?

Scottrade Center does not need to be replaced. But it certainly will sooner than later unless investment in the facility is made sometime soon. The Blues owners could use a better operating agreement with the city to help make such an investment happen. The building needs a more up-to-date operational infrastructure, and a good-and-thorough interior remodeling. Plus, it would just be nice to see some civic and state gratitude in an outward display (tax relief/rebates?) like we're seeing for the sake of pro football.

There are some considerable and prominent St. Louisans invested in the long-term success of the Blues in the ownership group. I'm sure they are observing the NFL stadium organizing frenzy, and the financing fury being mounted that would benefit one of the wealthiest owners in pro sports, with keen interest.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Strategy for Goodell

Since nobody is able to talk to the monastic Stan Kroenke, and only God knows his strategy for someone inhabiting the proposed stadium in Inglewood, here's a scenario that we think just might work for all concerned.

Kroenke has apparently been quoted as saying the L.A. project is a "real estate deal". He is a real estate mogul. And.. who knows?.. he may be trying to cash in on whatever team the NFL decides is OK to play there. The stadium situation in L.A., as is well documented, is confused with other proposed stadiums going nowhere fast and no teams in sight. At least Kroenke has managed to get land and come forth with a stadium plan that appears would work. Once his edifice starts going up in Inglewood, he will have clarified the stadium issue for the NFL, even if the Commissioner and the other owners are uncomfortable with it. (Reports have San Diego ownership ready to sue to keep Stan and the Rams out of LA).

We would propose a simple plan to satisfy everyone involved to a reasonable degree. It would require serious commitment and lots of delicate negotiating from the man charged with keeping peace among the rich folks who own NFL teams. It goes as follows...

The NFL gives its blessing to Kroenke's Inglewood stadium project if he agrees to the following-

1) The NFL would negotiate with the Denver Broncos ownership the sale/transfer of that franchise to Kroenke. (essentially a trade of teams)  Kroenke agrees to keep the Broncos in Denver. Kroenke will be "landlord" of the Inglewood stadium in partnership with the NFL. 
  • The Broncos ownership situation is a bit tenuous because of the failing mental health of majority owner Pat Bowlen. Bowlen (right) was removed from decision making in 2014 because of his battle with Alzheimer's. There have been rumors that the Broncos may be sold sometime soon anyway. 
  • Silent Stan's other teams (NBA Nuggets, NHL Avalanche) are in Denver and we presume Kroenke wouldn't mind having most of his family's pro sports assets in that market. It would, on paper, be an NFL upgrade for Stan in market size, tradition, and recent success. 
  • We would assume those currently working for the Broncos wouldn't mind having the second richest owner in the NFL. 
  • Kroenke has yet to satisfy the NFL's rules for cross-ownership. If he were to own the Broncos, it would become a non-issue and couldn't be leveraged against him anymore. 
2) The NFL takes control of the Rams, temporarily, until new ownership can be vetted and approved. 
  • This would be dependent on the announced riverfront stadium plans going forward. The Dave Peacock/Bob Blitz team would need to get quickly to a point at which the NFL and it's owners are comfortable that St. Louis will remain "NFL-worthy". A reasonable deadline for that would be agreed upon. 
  • If the St. Louis new stadium efforts fall short, or apart, the NFL would be free to find a new home for the Rams. We would assume they could come to some agreement with Kroenke for the use of his Inglewood digs. 
  • If the league decides the Chargers or Raiders are also to be an LA-based operation, they then could have two teams work out of the Inglewood stadium (a la the Jets and Giants in NY). 
That's obviously more than a two-step process. But it identifies the two major accomplishments for the league, Kroenke and St. Louis to make everything workable. It would be a big job for Commissioner Roger Goodell's office, for sure. Particularly the Denver transfer. But that's why he gets paid the large bucks. Right?

With the league taking control of the Rams, the "lame-duck, who cares" 2015 season would be much more likely to actually sell some tickets for games at the poor-old Jones dome. As is, nobody will want to put money in "Stan-the-Van"'s (as in moving) pockets. 

Of course, if Kroenke has a different plan in mind, and an "I'll do what I want" attitude about it, then you can throw this idea out with the recycling; and the league will have much bigger fish to fry. We'll all find out what his thinking is some day in the next few years. Until then, we can only guess...just like his fellow team owners. But here's a blueprint for Mr. Goodell to work from in the meantime, free of charge. Let's see if his stable of attorneys go to work on it. 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Response to SoCal Stan

And we all thought it was a good thing when Stan Kroenke took control of the Rams after Georgia died. It appeared he was a Missourian.

If Kroenke wants an NFL team to play closer to his Malibu home, I say fine. But I would suggest he doesn't get to keep his current team. Follow me on this.

The other 31 NFL owners, and Commissioner Roger Goodell, (who will eventually have to sign off on whatever happens) certainly understand some basics about this situation. Namely;

  • That an NFL team in Los Angeles will happen again in the near future
  • That the Rams used to play there (which makes them more attractive as that new L.A. team) 
  • That Kroenke has the financial wherewithal to do whatever he wants, but not their guaranteed approval
  • That St. Louis has demonstrated that it is a good football market (certainly at least as good as several others currently operating) with a problematic stadium
  • That Kroenke is ready to abandon a fan base in St. Louis in an effort to seize control of the "NFL Los Angeles scramble". 
  • That Kroenke has not satisfied the cross-ownership guidelines for NFL owners (which currently allows him to operate in St. Louis while he owns an NHL and NBA team in Denver)
  • That Kroenke's announced Inglewood stadium creates an ugly PR situation at the NFL office; and doesn't help them in dealing with Dave Peacock, Bob Blitz and those attempting to resolve the St. Louis stadium situation. 
  • That Kroenke is first and foremost a businessman; and is used to playing hardball to get what he wants.'s all about leverage.

Given the current landscape, I would suggest that the Commissioner consider this solution.

  • Add two NFL teams (they've talked expansion anyway). One in L.A. and one in San Antonio. 
  • Let Kroenke have the new expansion team in L.A. (he could even call them the Rams) 
  • Find a new owner for the current St. Louis team (hopefully someone who outwardly cares about the city and fans), 
    • This would be predicated on St. Louis coming up with a worthy stadium solution.  
    • St. Louis fans have shown amazing loyalty to a lousy team and shouldn't have to deal with an expansion team's issues for the next decade.
  • Find an owner for the San Antonio team...(There's lots of money to go around in Texas) 
Obviously, there would be collateral issues to deal with, but this would be a starting point. If Goodell is convinced that the St. Louis stadium people are coming to the table with a reasonable solution, and Kroenke's LA stadium proposal is simply an effort to improve his leverage, then Goodell, and the other 31 owners, could give Stan a "chill pill" with the announcement of such a plan (or at least leak the possibility); and while they're at it express an intention to make him fix the cross-ownership issue...or else. 

The fans in St. Louis deserve better...both on the field...and at the ownership level. Goodell should now come forth with some response that shows he knows this to be true.