St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke was in the building on Tuesday to introduce his team's new head coach, Jeff Fisher. The day belonged to Fisher, but with Kroenke available to the press, someone asked about the elephant in the room: the team's lease on the Edward Jones Dome. Kroenke, not surprisingly, offered little information about his stance on the matter.
"The chronology of what occurs with the lease is public knowledge," Kroenke said. "I don't think for me to comment on that process is timely. I think the city has within its power, to present a propsal to us by Feb. 1. There's a team in place to deal with that."
That process starts with a presentation from the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission. They have until Feb. 1 to present a plan to the team to bring the downtown facility in line with the "top tier" of NFL stadiums. The definition of "top tier" is notably vague, which leaves for plenty of negotiating room.
The Rams can counter that plan with one of their own with May deadline. If no deal is worked out between the two offers, the Rams and the CVC can begin the process of arbitration, which could run through the end of the year.
Rams COO Kevin Demoff explained the arbitration process in an October communication with TST. "An arbitrator would decide whether to accept one plan or the other or come up with an alternative plan," Demoff said. "After the arbitration, the CVC can either implement the arbitrated plan or decline to implement the plan. If they decline to implement the arbitrated plan, the lease changes to year to year starting after the 2014 season."
If no deal is reached, the Rams' lease on the Dome becomes a year-by-year commitment after 2014.
"We'll see how the process works out," Kroenke said on Tuesday when asked about the team's plans beyond 2014.
Whatever the plans are for the Dome, or a potential St. Louis area replacement for it, public money may be hard to come by for the project. Missouri taxpayers are currently paying some $24 million a year for the Dome. Missouri State Senator Joe Keaveny of St. Louis told Maria Altman of St. Louis Public Radio that additional public money for the stadium would be hard to come by in the current economic climate.
Kroenke noted that the Rams will have been in St. Louis for two decades next year.
"Contrary to what has been reported I haven't taken a lot of jack out of the market,. I have put a lot of jack into the market," Kroenke said, citing his financial commitment to the city.
Kroenke's noncommittal response may have frustrated some, but it was really the only thing he could say given the sensitive nature of the process. The CVC and the City of St. Louis refused comment earlier this month. There really isn't much either side can say about the process, as both have to maintain a certain amount of negotiating leverage.
Fans of the team playing in either market, St. Louis or L.A., can point to any number of context clues, which are mostly just speculation. The one offering the most solace for fans around the Arch is the team's expanded role in the community, something Demoff talks about frequently, from the team's charitable work in the community to buying up unsold tickets to ensure games would be broadcast locally.
At some point this year, more will be known about the Rams future in St. Louis, at least their future in the Edward Jones Dome.