Oh boy. This subject just isn't going to die for the next few years. For now, let's take a look at where things stand with the news and rumors of a potential Rams sale or, gulp, move.
Are the Rams for sale?
All this talk started yesterday when Yahoo!'s Michael Silver reported that former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo said the Rams were "definitely in play." DeBartolo's statements were backed by other unnamed league sources according to Silver. Rams ownership quickly issued a statement noting that they had no intention of moving the team from St. Louis, saying nothing about a potential sale. Later, in an email to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rosenbloom said: "We are not shopping the team."
The Rams owners have yet to explicitly deny that the team is for sale, and the most recent statement does not preclude listen to and discussing offers. Getting into all of this nuance might be a little bit of guardhouse lawyering. However, the statements issued by the Rams owners since Silver's story surfaced have been very carefully worded, and they mostly gone to great lengths to note that they "have every intention of keeping the team in St. Louis."
The Rams are valued at more than $900 million, according to Forbes. And with the passing of Georgia Frontiere, whose children Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez inherited the team, it's not out of the ordinary that potential buyers would start asking around.
Will they sell the team?
People will make offers, official or not, and they'll listen; they'd be fools not to. They'll also be looking at a substantial estate tax bill in the wake of Georgia's passing; however, Rosenbloom, as the PD pointed out, said earlier this year in responding to similar questions about the team's for sale status, they're not in a place financially where they have to sell the team.
Tune your attention to this part of Rosenbloom's statement from yesterday:
"We've been approached by several people. We plan on using the season to show that the performance on the field will be exciting and to honor my mom. And while we deal with her estate I can assure you we have every intention of keeping the Rams in St. Louis and will have no further comment on this article."
The continued emphasis on keeping the team in St. Louis, as we speculated yesterday, wouldn't rule out selling the Rams and including a provision for keeping the Rams in St. Louis for a set amount of time as part of the deal. Also note the emphasis on the coming season, tuning up a 3 win team with young players under contract could help up the value. Getting a better team on the field will bring in more fans, i.e. more revenue, which will make keeping the team in St. Louis easier or luring a potential buyer willing to accept a clause to keep the team in STL in the face of a looming CBA battle and a big empty market in a little place called Los Angeles...or Las Vegas for that matter.
Will the Rams move?
Not in the immediate future. Whether "Georgia's kids" sell or not, the Rams have a lease to stay in the Edward Jones Dome until 2015. At that time, the Rams can opt out if the deal if the facilities don't rank among the top quarter (8 of 32) in the league. At that point in time, it's unlikely the Dome will meet those standards, based on the comments made by the Chairman of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, to the PD. Even with the $30 million infusion for upgrades, it likely won't be enough as new facilities spring up around the league.
So what happens in 2015?
The magic 8-ball isn't so clear on this. The ownership situation and a new CBA will have a lot to do with what happens at that point. Assuming the league, the owners and the players union work out a deal that remains at least somewhat friendly for small market teams, there would at least be incentive to stay in STL, where the Rams franchise can make a profit. You can bet there'll be clamoring for a new stadium though from owners, the Convention and Business Bureau and other interested parties. New stadiums mean more money, and that's particularly true when local taxpayers kick in at least something to pay for it.
The bottom line is this: if the Rams are going to stay in St. Louis, they'll be asking for a new stadium. And with LA or Vegas interests begging the league for a team, the Cardinals trick of threatening a move across the Mississippi River won't even be necessary...and quite frankly wouldn't matter as much to the league and fans as it would the City of St. Louis itself.
Can the Rams opt out of the Ed Jones Dome lease before 2015?
They can try, but you can bet it won't go down without a fight. The city and the dome's owners have a vested interest in keeping the team here through that date; they do generate revenue you know. The parties could always work out a settlement, and the CBA madness might make give the team a good argument that they just plain can't afford to honor the lease. Leases that fill three large binders are bound to have a few sticking points each side's lawyers could latch on to.
Whatever happens, there's nothing out there to suggest that the Rams will be leaving St. Louis in the immediate future. So, the best thing to do for us fans is probably to focus most of our attention on the 2008 season, while maintaining a keen awareness of whether or not we need to start printing those "future fans of a St. Louis NFL team" t-shirts that filled area sports bars from 1988-1994.