After the shock wave-causing announcement that the St. Louis Rams would play an annual "home" game in London, England from 2012 through 2014 at Wembley Stadium in the same city where owner Stan Kroenke owns Arsenal Football Club, Rams' chief operating officer and vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff spent the day explaining the London news and upcoming lease negotiations on sports radio and participated in a chat with Rams fans here.
In the aforementioned chat, Demoff addressed various topics related to the organization's commitment to St. Louis and the Rams long-term home address, as concern levels escalated with the London development. In response to various inquiries about the London situation, Demoff stated that:
Nobody should apologize for our fans being worried about the team leaving, I would feel worse if this was met with apathy. We have great fans who are passionate about the St. Louis Rams, and right now, they could care less about growing our brand globally or increasing our footprint.
I'm sure if we announced in March that we had reached an agreement with the city for a 30 year lease extension our fans might warm up to the idea of growing our brand more. But today is a shock and seems like we are being disrespectful. I see it as quite the opposite, this is us doing everything we can to make sure our brand grows and remains viable in St. Louis.
We knew the news today would provide a mixed bag for our fan base. We view London as a powerful tool to build our fan base regionally, nationally and globally for the long-term. But we also knew that in the short-term, many of our best fans would be upset by the news.
To wake up and find out that we are playing a game in 2012-2014 in London and not St. Louis is a shock, and certainly given fan angst over the lease situation, it likely appears more ominous than it actually is. Our thinking is we need to find a way to grow our fan base and this is a way to leverage the power of the NFL to do so.
Growing our fan base globally allows for revenue streams beyond St. Louis that reduce the pressure on St. Louis to deliver those revenue streams. Additionally, the larger the global brand, the more the TV networks and advertisers see our club as one they want to work with and the better that is for our visibility.
People say that we just don't get PR and if we did we wouldn't do this. Our goal isn't to win the PR battle today, our goal is to make the best decisions for the long-term interests of the franchise in St. Louis and we all believe we did that with the International Series. If we have to trade a week of bad press for more opportunity for a long-term agreement in St. Louis, that's an easy trade for us to make.
I realize people think I'm being disingenuous when I say this is a good thing for St. Louis, but here is why I think that: One, the league is placing its faith in the St. Louis Rams and now has a vested interest in our success. That means potentially a better schedule, a possible prime time game, things like that.
Two, this is a unique opportunity to showcase St. Louis globally and especially in the UK. For multinational businesses like AB, Monsanto, Enterprise, Emerson, Purina, etc, this provides a platform that combines their local roots with international reach.
Three, the bigger we can make our brand nationally and globally, the bigger it makes our "effective market size". If you look at Buffalo playing yearly in Toronto, they are applying the same concept to grow their fan base while still being a regional and local team.
Although this may well be true, it is still tough for fans to stomach that 12.5 percent of each of the next three season's home games will be played overseas in London.
As for the potential of the London situation to impact ticket sales in 2012, Demoff said:
We all care if St. Louis buys tickets this year. If we didn't, we wouldn't be hosting sessions like this, going on radio and TV today to explain our thinking or sending an email to season ticket holders before the news was announced. We realize this will be an educational process with our fan base as we have had longer to think about the pros and cons than our fans have.
As for the lease, we are excited to being the process this month and resolve the situation. I know how difficult the lease issue is on our fans and how much it pains them to have be in this position again, it's not something we enjoy either.
When asked about Kroenke's silence regarding the lease process, Demoff attempted to reassure fans saying:
I know our fans want to hear more from ownership, but as Stan said on Tuesday, this isn't necessarily the most appropriate time to discuss the topic before we start talking with the city. Our goal is to build a winning organization on and off the field in St. Louis, and that continues to be the goal for the next year, three years, 10 years, 20 years.
Believe me, nobody would be happier than me to announce a long-term agreement to keep the team in St. Louis. We want this team to be successful and win for our fan base that has been loyal to us for so long, including some terrible stretches of football.
However, we also realize that we can greatly improve the fan experience for all of our fans and season ticket holders and that those changes, in addition to playing better football, can make the experience in the Edward Jones Dome better for all fans. Our goal is to tell our fans positive news once we have positive news, and we all hope that is the outcome. But I think it would be lousy of us to pay lip service to what you want to hear just to score quick PR points. I hope our fans understand that.
Our goal is to build an emotional connection with all of our fans, and we recognize our fans want to embrace us but get the sense that we aren't "all in". Nothing could be further from the truth. We spend all of our days trying to make the St. Louis Rams a better organization and better football team.
Yesterday we performed our January Day of Service with the Urban League, the 30th consecutive month we have performed a day of service. We care about St. Louis and care about getting it right here.
Nothing would make us happier than to have a lease initiative finalized before May 1st, not because of season ticket renewals, but because it would provide great relief to an anxious fan base.
We have great fans who are loyal and want to find ways to stay on board. Have patience and see the plan unfold, and judge us by our actions over the next year and not just the news cycle today. We want to build a winner in St. Louis for our great fans who have stuck with us through tough times, and you have my pledge we will do everything we can to be successful in St. Louis.
Finally, as for those veterans fans who dealt with the St. Louis Cardinals leaving in 1987 holding enhanced concerns regarding the Rams' commitment to keeping the franchise under the Gateway Arch, Demoff responded saying:
I can't tell you how many times I've heard that exact sentiment from our fans. We don't want that feeling again for our fans either, which is why we are trying to be proactive and solve our issues. This is a great sports city and a passionate football fan base and the last thing we want to do is let our fans down who have been so loyal to us.
Earlier in the day Demoff visited with Tim McKernum and the crew of the ITD Morning After on insidestl.com.
Within that interview, as can be read in full here, Demoff went into much further detail and explanation regarding the seized London opportunity and the lease situation. I would recommend taking a look at it.
Finally, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke addressed the subject today saying that:
This is a tremendous honor for our franchise, the city of St. Louis and our fans throughout the world. We are excited about the opportunity to reach new audiences globally. This is a great platform to showcase the city of St. Louis to London and the UK.
We’ve seen first-hand the increased popularity of the NFL not only in London but throughout Europe. To play a role in that growth over the next three years will be incredible and is a testament to the many good things happening not only in the NFL but also in the St. Louis Rams organization.
As many of you know, I am confident that the Rams and the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission will ultimately work out an extension to the lease.
St. Louis' Dan Dierdorf, an NFL legend and current NFL analyst for CBS Sports, told Tim McKernan:
What I’m hopeful of, over the course of this negotiation going on between the two sides, it will probably be the CVC and this region doing more than they would like and the Rams probably taking less than what they are entitled to by the structure of the lease.
That’s what I’m hopeful for, that the two sides can work something out that will keep the Rams here for a long time. I really do think Stan Kroenke wants to stay here. He seemed proud of the fact that he has been involved here for 20 years.
I believe that the Rams and the CVC will come to an agreement that will bring significant (but not radical) upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome that will enhance the fan experience and add revenue.
Options being discussed by the CVC have included the purchase of parking garages around the CVC, (with money earned from home games going to the Rams), larger dome concourses, humongous new flat screens, new digital technology to enhance the fan stadium and, potentially, the utilization of the NFL fund that offers low interest loans up to $200 million for teams seeking to upgrade their home stadium situations, among other options.
While I do not believe whatever enhancements are eventually offered will be good enough to make the dome a permanent venue, the Rams will ultimately accept an agreement with the CVC in exchange for a commitment to a new stadium plan potentially on land given to master developer Kroenke.
Kroenke could then construct a commercial development at that site while a state of the art War Mart Field or Sam's Club Stadium goes up, ultimately bringing benefits to all parties involved.
Again, I believe that both the Rams and CVC will ultimately come to terms. In almost all negotiations, neither side gets exactly what they want.
However, I am convinced that a deal will be struck to keep the organization in St. Louis in the Edward Jones Dome for now while a big picture plan is structured.
Even those not directly affiliated with the Rams or the CVC have begun to share potential solutions that could ultimately help retain the Rams while also helping to enhance the city and region, like this one.
As for the London developments, I was highly upset initially.
Who wants to lose a home game three consecutive seasons? Not me.
And I am not worried about losing out on seeing the Patriots in 2012, as some are. Nothing wrong with that, but I hate it because I am missing out on one of eight chances to see the St. Louis Rams play at home in front of their exceptional fans.
However, whether right or wrong, I now feel that the European road trip could indeed be beneficial to the overall growth of the Rams and their extended viability in St. Louis.
Although I hate losing a home game three straight years, likely benefits to be derived include the attainment of a larger global brand, new revenue and revenue streams and the potential of a more prestigious organization in the United States and internationally, among others.
Others take a different view stating that the London excursion could be initial steps towards a permanent home across the home or back in L.A.
I do not believe, however, that London is a legitimate option for an NFL team due to travel, the fact that their national sport is futbol, not football and the competitive disadvantages that would come to a team traveling halfway around the world over a 17-week season.
In short, playing in London would likely make it much tougher to produce a winner, something that new head coach Jeff Fisher believes Kroenke is all about.
Yet another wrinkle in the Rams to England games is the possibility, I believe legitimately, that this is another chunk of leverage that will assist Kroenke in getting the best possible deal to keep the Rams in his home state of Missouri, where he was born, raised and has resided for over 60 years.
In the end, I believe that the Rams retain a permanent residence in the Gateway City.
When Kroenke bought 30 percent of the Rams on the predetermined condition that the Rams move to St. Louis, I believe he had a long-term vision in mind.
When saying last year that he has always stepped up for pro football in St. Louis and would again, I believe it.
This is the man, after all, who has single-handedly done more than anyone for pro football here than anyone ever has.
Based off of track record alone, going back almost 20 years, do we have more reasons to believe he will do what he said or to believe that he will not?
In my mind, that answer is obvious.
Looking deeper, an obvious long-term investment was made when Kroenke greatly expanded the Rams preseason network and radio broadcasts after becoming majority owner in 2010.
After all, why expand to additional markets in Missouri and surrounding states if the plan were to leave?
When the Rams fell short of reaching sellout status several times the last two years he ensured that games would be televised by various means, sometimes in conjunction with local corporations like Anheuser-Busch. By doing so, he clearly showed commitment there, too.
Again, why make this commitment when headlines reading blackout would make a move look more reasonable? Why do so if there were no concerns for the market long-term?
Furthermore, if Kroenke was not concerned about staying in St. Louis and trying to get a good mutual agreement finalized with the city of St. Louis going forward, why remain so quiet about the upcoming process? And why are people not asking the CVC to speak up, too? It is a two-way negotiation, of course, and they committed to this lease and their thoughts should be just as coveted as Kroenke's.
I see it as a positive that both sides are keeping discussions under wraps and dealing with the nearing lease talks behind closed doors rather than in the public, where little good but a lot of bad could result from speaking out now.
I feel that making a clear verbal commitment to St. Louis right now would be the best way to make sure not to get the enhancements that would make for a permanent stay. If Kroenke were to make a bold promise that he was keeping the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis now, he would ensure nothing but a watered-down offer from the CVC.
And that would benefit nothing in relation to the Rams or St. Louis Rams fans.
Look no further than the former Seattle Sonics organization of the NBA, now the Oklahoma City Thunder, for validation of what empty promises can eventually lead to.
Although it would be terribly comforting to most in the short-term (including me) to hear those words from "silent" Stan, the only thing it would possibly accomplish for the Rams would be a lesser home stadium situation in St. Louis moving onward.
And that result would limit revenue,reduce free agent attractiveness, downgrade the outsiders view of the city and franchise and ensure that the best possible venue for an optimum game day experience for Rams fans would not materialize.
Many of the same fans that are complaining about Stan not speaking out are the same fans complaining about the state of the Edward Jones Dome. That is playing both sides of the fence and is counterproductive to the Rams future in St. Louis as well as the enhancement of the region as a whole.
According to Demoff, the London games have been well received from some of the bigger corporations that are headquartered in St. Louis.
If true, that would place these powerful companies as Rams allies' in negotiating with the CVC and that would have to be deemed a positive.
If these Fortune 500 type organizations go to bat stating that the increased exposure overseas could benefit their bottom line and thus the city's, the London plan could further benefit the overall cause of the Rams remaining in place here.
Conversely, would any of us trade an annual, permanent London game if we knew it would truly benefit the viability of the Rams in St. Louis and enable the Rams to be a better franchise overall?
I am not prepared to answer that question right now. Three years with one less home game is tough enough to swallow, but a longer commitment to London, even it one game a year, could cause my stomach to churn in earnest.
For now, the focus is squarely on finding an amicable solution that works for the city, the region and the Rams.
I am convinced that solution is on the way. Not likely before May, but on the way nonetheless.
Will "Silent" Stan one day be known as "King" Kroenke in St. Louis, the region and the state?
I absolutely believe that the answer will eventually be, for the vast majority of St Louis fans and citizens, a resounding yes.
Finally, at the end of a long day Friday, Demoff tweeted that:
Rams fans, we promise you today's news is solely about us exploring a great opportunity to grow the STL Rams brand and not a sinister plot. We are passionate about building a winning organization that STL can be proud of on and off the field and today's news does not change that.
Is is spin or is it sincere?
Call me naive, but I believe in Demoff.
In time, I am convinced everyone will understand why my expectations have remained unmoved.