So you wake up one day to find yourself the proud owner of an NFL franchise?
What do you do first? Well, for me, since it had to be a Genie granting me a deep seeded wish and not the $1.83 in my 401K that gave me ownership of, let's say, the St. Louis Rams, I'd hope I don't crack my head open when I faint.
When I woke up, I'd make sure a mistake wasn't made and check the "Genie wish" documents to make sure they spelled Morrison right and hadn't mispelled Murdoch or Trump. If everything checks out, I'd get the kids next door to throw a wash on the Yugo, because NFL ownership is all about image...
The thing about anyone who owns an NFL franchise, is that ownership comes from a determined effort and having vast quantities of money, not wishing. The NFL is a $12 billion a year business club where only the UBER financial elite can hope to become members. The member of the "club" for the St. Louis Rams is none other than Enos Stanley Kroenke. The Rams' owner is famous for not being famous. This is a man with extensive holding in real estate, and vast property development expertise. He also has one of the more impressive sports franchise empires on the planet. He owns not only the Rams, but also two professional soccer teams (the Colorado Rapids in the MLS and a confusing majority of shares in Arsenal in the Premier League). His holdings also include a NBA team (Denver Nuggets), an Arena Football team (Colorado Crush), an NHL team, (Colorado Avalanche) and even a professional Lacrosse team (huh?) in the N.L.L. (National Lacrosse League).
Stan has soooo many sports teams it is either bordering on a fetish or a pure recognition of the immense profit that can be made from owning a professional franchise of any kind. The fact that Stan is considered one of the five wealthiest owners in the NFL, speaks volumes as to why the league allowed him to own professional franchises in other sports. He convinced Rodger Goodell and the other NFL owners that there would be no conflict of interest. They agreed, and on August 29, 2010 he became the full owner of the St. Louis Rams. He retained Chip Rosenbloom (who has a thing for Beagles) and Lucia Rodriguez from the previous ownership in emeritus positions for the most part. To satisfy the NFL, he placed his Colorado sports teams under his son Josh Kroenke's control. Then Stan did what Stan does best: He fled the limelight and media.
The Rams owner has gained a reputation for leaving his teams and their management alone. The fact that he spoke to head coach Steve Spagnuolo earlier this season really doesn't say as much as Twitter and sports-nics tried to read into it. In fact, based on how private a man Stan Kroenke appears to be, the best way for anyone that works for him to piss the boss off is if Stan hears or reads what he says to an employee in the press. It's not that he doesn't play well with others, it's more that he doesn't talk about afterward. Here in lies the rub... Fans expecting Stan to mug for the cameras a la Jerry Jones have got the wrong idea of who Kroenke is at the most base of levels.
That Stan Kroenke buys teams as investments, I have absolutely no problem with at all. He leaves his team's operations to the professionals he's either hired, or kept after the purchase, to run things. Again, I have no problem with this either. Maybe he learned after watching Dan Snyder flounder when he bought the Washington Redskins and tried to buy a Super Bowl? For whatever reason (and I'd love a chance to interview Mr. Kroenke), Stan has basically left the Rams to what will be. Now before you get the wrong idea, I've done a bit of checking in the financial world and I can't seem to find anyone who is mad at Stan. By all accounts, this is a genuinely nice guy with a love for the art of the deal.
If anyone thinks Stan Kroenke is going to come stomping into Rams headquarters any time soon screaming for heads to roll, you may want to think again. The shortened off season, injuries and incredibly tough schedule are enough to satisfy Mr. Kroenke that providence is just not on the Rams' side this year. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe Stan is a competitive guy who likes a winner. He is also the kind of guy that will interpose himself in the financial aspects I wrote about yesterday regarding the salary cap. But when it comes to the players on the field? I think he'll act like a fan just a little, and accept what Steve Spagnuolo explains to him and rightfully so. Only to a point that is... Ba-Jillionaires are all about trust because, more often than not, they conduct their business from afar. Feed them a line of bull and the whole Jekyll and Hyde thing comes to mind. I wonder why there hasn't been a monster movie featuring a Billionaire as a fanged, hairy demon?
What I can see Stan Kroenke doing in the short term is calling into question the position coaching staff and lower management. Everything I've learned about Stan Kroenke tells me that he is all about "building forward". He'll examine who does and did what, then establish corrections or reward. Successful businessmen look at both design and implementation with equal values. Materials questions bring in a new paradigm, and how much control is truly the responsibility of those in charge of the project at hand. Therefore, what is right and what is best can often be juxtaposed.
What complicates the entire process is what I touched on earlier in this article: The many sports franchises Stan Kroenke owns. Anyone who thinks someone so drastically spread across the sports globe can allocate his time and resources without misstep, is in serious need of a dose of reality. While the Rams do have problems (understatement), I'm not really all that sure if I'd want a jet setting billionaire to wing in, fire people, then head off to Monaco in his private plane. Quite simply, Stan Kroenke isn't that guy in my opinion. He will intercede at some point, but what that point is I have no idea.
If anything could drive a reaction from Stan, it will be ticket sales at the Edward Jones Dome. Cash is always king, and with the extreme overhead an NFL team, I can guarantee Stan doesn't see an empty seat; he sees a huge minus symbol in the ledger where there should be a plus. Debits and credits are the real players at every NFL game for the team's owner. Which brings up a final observation on a subject that gets bandied about: Moving the St. Louis Rams to L.A.
First, based on what a very knowledgeable friend told me, it ain't going to happen; not with the Rams anyway. My friend explained in detail why, from a financial prospective, the Rams don't make good monetary sense for the AEG investment group. Ironically, if the Rams were winning, the formula would shift. My friend points out a couple key reasons to support his analysis. He started by explaining the vast amounts of money involved before an L.A. team ever steps foot in the proposed stadium: $2 Billion+... The key to a return on investment will be local T.V. revenue, so a solid team, versus a weak team that could take time to become good, is very high on agenda. While some might think buying a bad team would be cheaper, in this instance that logic doesn't work. Good old supply and demand rules this situation. Not a whole lot of NFL team willing or in drastic need of moving.
Second, he points out that there is concern about the long, and somewhat shadowed, history the Rams have with L.A. since the move to St. Louis. If even 1% of Rams fans from L.A. still hold a grudge, the overall effect on the available consumers willing to pay literally thousands of dollars for season tickets year in and year out make the "Bad Meter" go Woop! Woop! The tickets for the game, let alone parking, are projected to be some of the priciest in the NFL. All this in an area with an unemployment rate of 12.5%. That 1% is starting to look bigger isn't it?
Lastly, and this is where Stan Kroenke comes back into the picture, the investment group was created by telling investors they will OWN any team that comes to L.A. Stan isn't the selling kind of guy. Would he move the team if they gave him the stadium to move his team. HELL YES! Jerry Jones would take a deal like that for crying out loud! Not going to happen though, so the list of NFL owners willing to sell their teams shrinks to teams in financial fuzzy-land. My friend says San Diego is literally the only team that makes sense, and I have to agree, though he tells me the Oakland Raiders could be had for the right price. I personally can't imagine Al Davis selling, but my friend seems more than sure of himself... Hmmm?
Stan Kroenke has the capacity to be a great owner. He's been a part of the Rams ownership situation for quite some time as a minority share holder. His NFL knowledge "chops" are unclear to me at this point, but I don't see him being a slow learner. I can guarantee he knows what he's doing from a financial prospective. Can he build a winning Rams team is both the larger question and the elephant in the room.
Tomorrow in Part 4, we'll take a look at the players. It is going to be interesting to say the least...