St. Louis Rams: The Latest on the Lease from the Rams' Perspective
In a lengthy interview with Tim McKernan on the "ITD Morning After" show on January 4, St. Louis Rams Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Football Operations spoke in detail about the Rams long-term future in the Edward Jones Dome.
Demoff reasserted the same sentiments that he shared in Monday's press conference following the firing of Steve Spagnuolo by saying that:
"Our entire focus is on building a winner in and for St. Louis."
If the Rams organization had eyes on leaving, please explain why they have went out of their way to ensure that the Rams were televised in St. Louis this year on multiple occasions when they could have suffered blackouts?
Wouldn't blackouts make a case to leave look better? And why invest in a temporary market if you plan to relocate?
Why did the Rams expand their preseason market this year, under Kroenke, into all of Missouri for the first time and into other new markets that now include five states, all of which border the Show-Me State? Why would you invest in this region if you are about to skip town for another one?
Why would Stan give up partial ownership, something that would likely be a prerequisite, to go to L.A.? Stan has never done this with any of his sports franchises.
As for Missouri, a bill will be brought back to the table that would aid the state and St. Louis in attracting Final Fours, Olympic trials and more to the city.
Governor Jay Nixon, a major supporter of the Rams, understands how vital sports and major sporting events can be as an industry and an economic catalyst and will push for this bill to pass.
Speculation has abounded regarding the future of the franchise and if it will indeed remain in Missouri permanently. The first of what could be several deadlines for the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Convention arrives February 1.
"We have some decisions this year that are going to speak to our commitment to St. Louis. We are excited to sit down with the city and see what they have to say. We always talk about building a great organization on and off the field, what we mean by off the field is always improving the fan experience... making the Edward Jones Dome a great place for our fans to come and not just for the 10 days we play at the Edward Jones Dome, we want the Edward Jones Dome to be a great destination for everybody in the region for the other 355 days a year. A place to have concerts, Final Fours, Frozen Fours, political conventions, soccer games, Mizzou and Illinois, Bowl games.. that's our vision for the building and I think if we can work with the city we can make that happen. And if we can make that happen for the citizens of St. Louis I know it will be good enough for us (the Rams)."
A couple of things stand out here.
One, he pointed to making the Edward Jones Dome a place that is a major event center for the region year-round by upgrading the dome, just as Atlanta did with the Georgia Dome, as one example. By making the venue attractive for Final Fours, political conventions and so forth, the CVC can help elevate St. Louis as an elite site for major regional, national and international events while, at the same time, putting a jolt in the arm to the city's image, economy, and tourism industry.
One thing that is becoming clearer is this: it appears the Rams are focused more on renovating the Edward Jones Dome for a long-term fix rather than seeking a new stadium anytime soon.
Secondly, Demoff pointed to soccer games. This is something that should not be overlooked or taken lightly.
St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke owns the Arsenal Football Club of the English Premier League and it has been speculated that he would be interested in bringing exhibition soccer matches, among other things, to St. Louis.
As for the fan experience at the Edward Jones Dome specifically related to a St. Louis Rams game, Demoff went into great detail:
"I think we look at the fan experience from A to Z and the way look at the fan experience is from the moment you go to your closet to put on a jersey to the moment you come back home, what the experience of going to a St. Louis Rams football game is like and that involves parking, tailgating, the concessions, what it's like inside.... it's a day in the life of the fan and we look at that everyday for our fan experience. Stan pointed to it involving us being a better organization and putting a better product on the field week after week but a lot of this is how do we look around and see what we want this building to become."Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
"Since the Edward Jones Dome was built there have been 21 new stadiums built and four stadiums have had $300 or $400 million in renovations and there are a couple of projects that are one the way. We look at all those and it's not just that it's saying oh what is the best stadium of what is the sixteenth best stadium but to us it's look at all the improvements of going to an NFL game and look, our fans want to go where they can track fantasy stats and see out of town scores. There are lots of different little things that we look at to improve the fan experience and I think we need to take a comprehensive look at all of it."
It will be interesting to see if the Rams will consider utilizing the NFL's reinstated funding program that makes low interest loans available to teams seeking new stadiums or stadium enhancements. The program was phased out in 2006 after being utilized for renovations at Arrowhead Stadium by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Would the Rams consider contributing to renovation costs via this program or from Kroenke's own deep pockets?
There are numerous questions that are unanswered at this point but will be revealed as the lease negotiations begin on February 1 including:
Will the city demand that the franchise chip in significant amounts of their own financing to upgrade the dome?
What are the limits to improvements that can be made to the facility?
Could clear roof panels replace the opaque roof that is currently in place? (The answer appears to be yes.)
Would the structure possibly support a retractable roof addition? (Indications are that it may not, however, I am unsure if that is true and will dig for concrete information).
In analyzing all 32 stadiums around the NFL, including the new venues and renovated ones, it is vitally important to point out what Demoff stated this year regarding the much ballyhooed top 25 percent clause in the lease:
"I think there are a lot of ways to look at the top twenty-five percent... I don't think it does anybody any good to lay out guidelines for exactly what it is that meets the criteria. I think the criteria need to be what makes St. Louis a better place for our citizens, and a better place for everybody long term. As long as we use that as our guiding principle, how we can work together, how we can build something meaningful for everybody involved, then it shouldn't really matter where it ultimately ranks."
People continually get hung up on the top 25 percent clause, however, the Rams themselves said clearly that "it shouldn't really matter where it ultimately ranks".
Now, if Stan Kroenke and the Rams had any intentions of using this clause as a gun-to-the-head type of leverage piece in negotiations with the city of St. Louis, those words would have never came out of Kevin Demoff's mouth.
As for the number of fans declining for Rams game at the Edward Jones Dome towards the end of the season, Demoff said that:
"Especially after the magical run the Cardinals had where you see a World Series and then you come back and you really struggle, I think fans have a right to check out and be disappointed. And the truth is when you go 2-14 you're going to lose attendance and the fans are going to check out. I think they will come back with great enthusiasm. To me it's not about winning the press conference and winning the offseason it's about winning football games and winning in December and January. And I'd rather win next January than this January if that makes sense. We've got to find the right people to lead this franchise for a very long time."
As Demoff continued, he shared some of the greatest insight yet as to the Rams vision of their future in St. Louis and whether a new stadium is coveted or if the Edward Jones Dome could merit as a long-term solution:
"I'm not worried about fans showing up the first two games of 2012 I'm worried about the Edward Jones Dome being filled in 2016 and 2018 and 2020 and 2028 and building a winning tradition in St. Louis year in and year out."
"You get the right guy and I know the fans will show up. This city has a great passion for football. You only have to look back to August and September when we were doubling the Cardinals ratings on television for preseason games and the Edward Jones Dome was electric against Philadelphia. These fans are starving for a winner and we haven't given it to them. That's our fault and we'll do our job and get that fixed."
It is obviously interesting to see Demoff detail a vision of the Edward Jones Dome as a possible long-term solution and home for the Rams.
As for the St. Louis Rams connecting with the fanbase:
"In 2010 we were named the philanthropic organization of the year in St. Louis, the first time a sports team has ever won that award here. We had the highest season ticket renewal rate in a decade this year and the most new season tickets sold even in St. Louis since the team arrived. I think it's job of all 125 people in the organization to be ambassadors to the community. There's a reason we shut our doors down once a month and perform community service... Now, can we get some people to be more engaged, more involved with the community who maybe have greater ties? Sure, and that's why we started an alumni program for each game and have them sign autographs for the game and walk around and talk to fans."
"It's why we are going to do more events during the year and the offseason. It's why we do the draft day parties. It's why we hold the draft talk with our GM before the draft. There are a lot of ways we can touch fans and connect with them to go beyond a face. I think a face is a pretty easy concept because fans gravitate quickly but I think if it's just a facade then that's all it is. It's gotta be the spirit of the organization to prove we care about the city that we care about St. Louis... I think the problem is when you go 2-14 everybody views you through the lens of your record and says it's a bad organization and their not doing their job but there are 125 people here who come to work every day and work hard. I think we're just beginning to build the foundations of a pretty good organization."
In my estimation, the first major steps towards building the foundations of Stan Kroenke's St. Louis Rams took place on Monday when making the decision to move forward with a new head coach and general manager.
I believe as we look back on 2012, we will look back retrospectively as this being the year that the Rams began turning around the franchise and when the organization's future was cemented in St. Louis permanently.
Demoff is very bright and Stan Kroenke is intricately connected with the power-brokers, political leaders and civic leaders at the highest level in St. Louis and the state of Missouri.
It is always good to remember that Kronke was the lead investor for what would have been the St. Louis Stallions during the expansion process and then later only purchased the Rams on the precondition that the franchise move to his home state of Missouri. He had to know this day was coming.
Sure, Kroenke is going to remain "silent" as to not throw away his leverage in dealing with the CVC. He would be a foolish businessman not to, as his comments from 2010 show:
"There's a track record," Kroenke said. "I've always stepped up for pro football in St. Louis. And I'm stepping up one more time... "I'm born and raised in Missouri. I've been a Missourian for 60 years. People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy."
"I'm going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis, just as I did everything that I could to bring the team to St. Louis in 1995. I believe my actions speak for themselves."
Speculation will continue until the lease issue is positively resolved.
However, when it is all said and done, the Rams will be St. Louis' for a very, very long time and all of the Gateway City and this region will ultimately be better off with Stan Kroenke as the owner of the St. Louis Rams.
He will prove to be a great asset to this organization and to the fans in showing a commitment to winning.
In addition, he will prove to be a powerful ally and broker of change and prosperity for this city and region aiding by spurring growth therein.
And the end result will be even better than most of us would have ever dared to hope for.
The renaissance of the Rams is on the way, and this organization will eventually prove unequivocally what it has repeatedly asserted:
"We are committed to building a winner in and for St. Louis".
In doing so, the Rams will simultaneously help St. Louis city and the great people here also do more "winning" in a myriad of ways, too.
Just as Demoff said in 2010 as the Rams were in the process of being sold to Kroenke, I believe these words will be soon be fulfilled:
Demoff said he wants people to "...eventually realize that the Rams are St. Louis’ football team and will continue to be St. Louis’ football team."
In time, this will be clear for all to see.
Getting the lease issues positively resolved will be a beautiful and much deserved gift to the great fans of the St. Louis Rams, who have patiently endured the worst five year winning percentage in NFL history while simultaneously dealing with the sale of the franchise and living several years beneath this real or perceived 'lease cloud'.
The St. Louis Rams, just like the mighty Gateway Arch and the St. Louis Cardinals, will eventually prove to be timeless institution and a tremendous representative of St. Louis throughout the United States and the world.
50 years from now, names like Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Dick Vermeil, and yes, perhaps a Sam Bradford, will be etched into the fabric of St. Louis sports history like the names of Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Ozzie Smith are today.
Another name that will be carved into the granite of the collective memory and legacy of St. Louis sports fans and citizens in general will certainly be none other than Missouri's own Enos Stanley Kroenke, who will one day be remembered for generations as the man who cemented and sealed the legacy of NFL football here with a proud and great NFL franchise, the Rams of St. Louis.
This is "Silent" Stan's opportunity to be remembered forever as a champion for Missouri and a champion for St. Louis. It is Kroenke's opportunity, in his own way, to speak louder than ever. He will not pass on this opportunity. Ultimately, his voice will forever be heard.
Just watch and see.
Enos Stanley Kroenke, with the aid of his highly capable right-hand man Kevin Demoff, will make his mark.
It will be interesting to see if the Rams do indeed get the prized Bottle District property adjacent to the Edward Jones Dome. Perhaps elite developer Stan Kroenke would develop a "Ballpark Village" type area that the Cardinals have not delivered and help revitalize downtown and this city in the process.
And it will never be forgotten here in the Show-Me State, where, as "Silent" Stan Kroenke will indeed so prove, that actions do in fact speak much louder than words.
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