By Joe Sweeney
It’s hard to write about the Rams’ upcoming move to Los Angeles without feeling deep sorrow for what fans are experiencing—or a surge of anger at the costs inflicted on them over the past 20 years, only to be rejected by a relatively new owner.
News that Stan Kroenke had received permission from his NFL cronies to exit St. Louis was a personally bitter pill to swallow, too: In 1995, when I was publishing St. Louis Homes & Gardens, we joined the community bandwagon to bring the Rams to Missouri. More than 72,000 requests came for personal seat licenses (PSLs) that had to be purchased—cost: $250 to $4,500 each—just for the right to buy expensive season tickets. But we ponied up, just like tens of thousands of others, to support the Rams’ relocation from Los Angeles.
And now they’re going back. What a sad, wasteful, pathetic comment on all those involved in making this move happen. Chief among them is Kroenke, whom we’ve otherwise respected from a distance for years—even made him one of our 50 Missourians You Should Know in 2012. Consider that recognition revoked: Here’s a guy who never engaged the St. Louis community, despite buying a 30% share of the club to bring them to St. Louis, and has failed to produce a winning team in the seven seasons since he bought the remaining shares from the estate of Georgia Frontiere.
In fact, under Kronke’s watch, the Rams gave St. Louis four—four!—winning seasons out of 21. And he has the temerity to suggest that the city lacked the economic fundamentals to support the team.
He’s had his eye on the L.A. market for years, and he knew what it would take to make the argument for a move. As owner, he’s chiefly responsible for allowing the team to wallow in mediocrity, driving down attendance and creating a self-fulfilling argument. It was merely an act of piling on to denigrate the city on his way out the door, telling the NFL that St. Louis was unable to support three pro franchises.
And shame on the NFL for gunning down the stadium proposal offered as an inducement to keep the Rams in St. Louis—a $1.1 billion riverfront palace that Commissioner Roger Goodell deemed “inadequate.” Inadequate? It would have been better at its ribbon-cutting than substantially all of the stadiums in the NFL. No, it’s pretty clear what was going: Influential St. Louisans dedicated to the cause were being callously used by the league when they invested 14 months and a mountain of money to produce a plan for that new facility, a plan that likely wouldn’t have been accepted if the stadium were plated in platinum.
Well, the Rams may be coming home to roost, but the chickens will one day, too. Think back: Why did they move out of L.A. in the first place? Falling attendance was cited back then, with the final three seasons there netting fewer than 50,000 fans per game. This, in a market of nearly 20 million at the time, and a stadium with a capacity twice what they were drawing at the end. St. Louis, by contrast, was still pulling more than 52,000 last season, despite a ninth straight losing year, and in a market of fewer than 2.8 million.
The reason the Rams, like the Raiders, both high-tailed it out of Los Angeles after the ’94 season was that the quality of fan base had eroded completely, replaced in large part with thugs and hoods who made game-day experiences terrifying to long-time fans. Hell, I’ve worn Chiefs gear to a Chiefs-Raiders game in Oakland and never felt as threatened as I did attending a game at the Coliseum.
Stan Kroenke, who never really did his part as an owner in St. Louis, can build his shrine in Inglewood, and he can take the Rams there. He might even coerce a tenant in the San Diego Chargers, who are thinking about screwing their long-time fan base, as well. But he can’t control the mob of morons that make up today’s L.A. fan base. Here’s hoping they give him what he truly deserves.
On a personal level, it hurts to see Missouri removed from that list of states with multiple NFL teams; we were just one of seven to claim membership in that elite group. But we’d like our friends in St. Louis to know how Missourians to the west feel how unethical and unfortunate it is to lose this NFL franchise—one so many of us helped to initially fund and continued to support over the years, despite its dismal performance.
One last thought: If the NFL was so hell-bent to bring a franchise back to L.A., why wouldn’t they consider an expansion franchise, instead of allowing a disingenuous owner and an unethical commissioner to take a well-supported Rams organization from a major metro …and the Chargers away from their home?
Well, we’re past that point now. Kroenke joins the exclusive rank of being one of two All State Jackasses—the other of course being Bill Bidwell. All we have left now is a sense of betrayal by a fool and his money—or was it her money?
Looking back, you can’t help but feel as though an entire city were being used when the Rams relocated to St. Louis in 1995. In retrospect, these quotes from the front cover feature in the September/October edition of St. Louis Homes & Gardens reflect the poignancy and pathos of the team’s exodus from River City as the Rams head to LA:
“I think the welcome we got upon arriving here even exceeded our original expectation, and knew what the people of St. Louis did to get us here. It’s definitely nice to come to a place that truly wants you there.”
— Chris Miller, Rams QB (1995)
“We need to take advantage of the incredible enthusiasm of the fans here and provide a product on the field for them to be proud of and to continue to support us. That, of course, means winning and that’s exactly what we need and intend to do.”
— Rich Brooks, Rams Head Coach (1995)
“The rabid fans will definitely be an obvious plus, but we also understand that we need to put a consistent winner on the field.”
— Steve Ortmayer, Rams GM (1995)
And tell us if you don’t hear the “Twilight Zone” theme playing in your head as you digest this quote from Steve Ortmayer:
“The problem with the Los Angeles environment is there really is no civic pride and no civic community. The city is really just a conglomeration of an awful lot of different things.”
I launched and served as the Publisher and Editor of St. Louis Homes & Gardens in the ‘90s. So doing, our
organization was deeply entrenched in the civic fabric of St. Louis and Show-Me Publishing served as a conduit to help introduce the Rams to its fan base. The Rams had some interesting comments about their warm welcome to St. Louis. I thought Ingram’s readers, including 10,000 of them in St. Louis especially, would appreciate this look back to the Rams first month in St. Louis. — Joe Sweeney
Editor-In-Chief & Publisher