You can find almost any sliver of evidence you want to put the St. Louis Rams on the road to Los Angeles. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan might have found the thinnest reason yet to yell "fire" in a crowded auditorium full of fans finally feeling its dedication reciprocated by the team. And what did the veteran newspaper columnist use to punch the ticket to L.A.?
Call me a Chicken Little, but I go back to something beat writer Jim Thomas wrote in January, when the Rams signed head coach Jeff Fisher. Thomas wrote that "the Rams asked Fisher several questions about what the experience was like when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997. Fisher was head coach of the Oilers at the time."
There you have it, death by job interview.
The real issue, hints McClellan, is the cost, specifically how much the Rams would have to pay to renovate the Dome. His evidence to suggest that the team would not be willing to pick up part of the bill is just as thin, well, actually, it's non-existent. He then goes on to question his fellow columnists, Bryan Burwell and Bernie Miklasz, who at least cited sources in recent columns suggesting that the Rams will remain in St. Louis.
Maybe we're underestimating McClellan's intuitive sense of individuals and their motivations, a skill set pointed out in a 2009 profile in area lifestyle publication St. Louis Magazine:
One Post editor, the late William Woo, said you have "an intuitive sense of the totality of people's lives." What's your take on that? I think it's very well stated, but I'm not quite sure what it means. I think I have a lot of empathy for people, and also I'm just interested in stuff. One thing I've never lost is my enthusiasm.
Alright, we could go through the list of outdated modes of newspaper opinion folks all day, but let's get back to the Rams.
McClellan does throw fans a bone, predicting that the Rams will make the playoffs this season. How does he know that? Because talking heads in the media were wrong! Oh, the irony.
He leaves out the NFL's G4 stadium loan program, which can cover a significant portion of these projects. McClellan also chooses to overlook the team's other efforts to cull a local fan base, things like expanded their regional broadcast network for preseason games, hands-on charity work throughout the state, and bringing fans further into the process of building a team. I don't recall Georgia Frontiere's staff making themselves available for question and answer sessions with the fans.
Oh, the team has also invested quite a bit into finally building a winner, hiring a bona fide head coach instead of a wide-eyed coordinator and stockpiling draft picks to keep the roster stocked with talent.
I'm not so naive. All of this effort at reconnecting with the local fan base also happens to be very good business, a way to ensure ticket sales return with the wins. It also doesn't hurt to have a little support from the grassroots when asking for public stadium money.
Until the situation with the Edward Jones Dome is resolved and as long as there are two viable stadium projects in Los Angeles, there will always be the possibility of the Rams relocating there. Nobody should be foolish enough to deny that. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business, and like all multi-billion dollar businesses, it will make decisions based on maximizing profits.
Overlooking that fact is as egregious as overlooking the team's recent efforts to grow its brand footprint in St. Louis.
Watch the Dome situation play out and see what happens, something Bernie Miklasz has said all along. Trying to divine the machinations and motivations of the CVC, Kroenke and everyone else behind the scenes is entertaining, but is not going to reveal anything about what Sundays in the Dome will look like come 2015.
Ginning up a controversy out of those tiny shards of detail, or thin air in McClellan's case, adds nothing to what should be an important discussion about public investment and the value of professional sports in a community.