Playing in London is not the same thing as moving to London. Nevertheless, today's news that the St. Louis Rams will be playing one fewer game in under the Arch in each of the next three seasons put an already anxious fan base on pins and needles. With deadlines looming and the rumor mill already working overtime, the specter of relocation has overshadowed the announcement of the Rams going international.
Starting with the facts is probably the most salient place to start. Huge shock, right?
Playing in London guarantees the Rams an appearance on a bigger stage. After finishing the season 2-14, they aren't going to get any prime time games in 2012, so a game in London means a nationally televised game on CBS in the Noon slot on Oct. 28. It isn't as high profile as a Sunday Night game, but it's a decent consolation prize when you throw in the additional media attention the game will receive. Kroenke said it was as much about the marketing aspects in the official release.
"This is a tremendous honor for our franchise, the city of St. Louis and our fans throughout the world," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said in the team's press release. "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."
Don't overlook an even more obvious reason for playing a game in London: games across the pond come with a revenue boost.
Facts aside, it's impossible to consider this news outside the context of the Rams stadium dealings.
The CVC, with involvement from the city, has until Feb. 1 to bring the Rams a plan for upgrading the Ed Jones Dome. That's 11 days away, for the non-math majors reading this. The Rams can counter with their own plan by May 1, and the two sides can head to arbitration to reconcile, if so desired.
If nothing comes of that, the Rams have the out clause in their lease following the 2014 season. The deal to play in London runs through 2014 as well. It's impossible not to juxtapose the two timelines with the discussion of a potential relocation.
"I think thinking the team is moving is jumping to a conclusion that is not there," Kevin Demoff said in his Friday morning interview on Fox 2 in St. Louis.
It is a leap to make that assumption based on the London news. However, rumors about relocation as a factor in the Jeff Fisher hire and the looming lease deadlines has created an atmosphere of heightened anxiety for St. Louis area fans.
Many expected some assurances from Stan Kroenke in Tuesday's press conference. Instead, they got: "We'll see how that process works out."
The truth is, there really isn't much the Rams can right now in the face of sensitive negotiations. Demoff echoed that in his Friday morning interview.
"We're not going tom come out before a lease process and tell people something they want to hear and then not do it," Demoff said. "We've shown we're committed to St. Louis. We hope that our actions in time will show that there is no reason for paranoia in St. Louis."
Jeff Fisher also offered some reassurances of his own unofficial variety making an appearance on the KNFS morning show on Friday. He said that relocation did come up in his interview, but that Kroenke put his concerns to rest and demonstrated a commitment to St. Louis, as reported by Tim McKernan. Fisher went on to warn people about trying to connect the dots.
It should also be pointed out that the CVC can't and won't say much about the process either. There seems to be the assumption that the Rams have the ball here, but the CVC is making the first play this round. They could very well come to the Rams and say no dice, sending them off on their own to find a stadium solution.
There are considerable stakes and costs to these negotiations. Neither side can really say much in public that doesn't somehow put the whole deal in jeopardy.
What gets said on Feb. 1 and beyond is what will matter.