Are the St. Louis Rams moving to Los Angeles or not? That's been the talk of the town this week, since the team on the field isn't giving fans much to talk about anyway. Hell, the Rams and their untenable lease situation with the Edward Jones Dome has been on ongoing thing for years now.
But this round of relocation talk is different. There's a more negative undercurrent to it. The Rams hit their out clause in their lease on the Dome in March (a cynical plank John Shaw was able to wrestle from the city and state in an already sweetheart deal the Rams got to move to St. Louis in the first place).
What's struck me more than the looming deadline and the flurry of relocation reports lately is the what I've heard from some of the long-time, most dedicated St. LouisRams fans I've come to know because of my work at TST. They're telling me in conversations that they believe it's a foregone conclusion that the team is as good as gone.
The NFL's been talking up the Los Angeles market again this season, in between fumbling and stumbling its way through the mess they created in the Ray Rice situation and a handful of smaller public relations brushfires. And there should be no question that the league has eyes for LA again. It's a big milestone toward Goodell's stated goal of a league pulling in $25 billion in annual revenue.
It hit home for Rams fans on Sep. 21 when Jason LaCanfora said this:
There are numerous people around the league more or less waiting for the Rams, whose lease in St. Louis also is up after the season, to announce an intent to move by the February deadline to do so.
Whether you choose to believe LaCanfora or not, it fits with a narrative that being the first team to LA has a distinct financial advantage, especially if the NFL is envisioning two franchises sharing a stadium.
101 ESPN host Randy Karraker fanned the flames at home with comments this week he made on The Fast Lane. Here's the crux of what he said:
"People that are in the know, multiple people, are telling me that the decision has already been made and that the team is moving."
That comment comes at the 10:35 mark of the segment, but the whole thing is worth listening to.
Karraker wasn't reporting this as fact, neither was LaCanfora. They were repeating informed speculation from people somehow connected to the Rams' situation. Karraker walked back his wording a day later, clarifying that point -- that it was just something he heard as well as his own belief.
The talking heads on that segment weren't especially favorable to Rams owner Stan Kroenke with their remarks. At one point, they speculate that owning the team is just an "investment" for Kroenke, and not something he's particularly passionate about when it comes to winning games and courting fans at the grassroots level.
101 is the Rams' official radio station. The team has A LOT of sway over what happens on the air there when it comes to the Rams. That's what made Karraker's remarks so shocking. Sponsors typically don't like it when the on-air talent speaks less than favorable about them.
Sure enough, on Friday morning, Jim Thomas said this about Karraker's report during an appearance on 920 AM.
From @jthom1: I've heard the Rams are not happy with the 101 report, but why not say something about the situation? Why not have a spokesman— Tim McKernan (@tmckernan) October 3, 2014
Bernie Miklasz echoed Karraker's sentiments a day later on The Fast Lane. Miklasz, who's been one of the more optimistic voices about the Rams' chances for staying in St. Louis, noted that the various people he talks to -- the same ones that informed his optimistic viewpoint -- had changed their tune. And now Miklasz himself is echoing the same prognostication, the team's all but gone.
"Unless something starts to shake locally, I think the Rams are very vulnerable," Miklasz said toward the end of the segment.
Listen to it here. The Rams/LA talk starts at about the 5:50 mark.
What's really going on?
Good question, one there is no answer to, not anyone outside whatever small circle surrounds Kroenke and the higher ups at the NFL. The problem here is that there's an information vacuum and just five months to go before the February deadline when teams have to notify the NFL of their intent to relocate.
Nobody's saying anything about the stadium, and the Rams still haven't managed to put together a winning football team despite a plethora a draft picks over the last three years.
The team stinks, attendance is still in the toilet and nobody knows whether or not the Rams have a future in St. Louis. All we're getting is Jeff Fisher complaining about the refs and a deluge of lame feel-good marketing stuff from the team.
Maybe that's all part of the plan.
From @jthom1: I think Stan Kroenke likes the whole Silent Stan mystique. It's his negotiating style. I wonder if he likes the gloom and doom— Tim McKernan (@tmckernan) October 3, 2014
The problem with that tactic is that it pisses off fans. These aren't disassociated, bandwagon fans I'm hearing doubts from, these are diehards. And I just don't think there are enough of those diehard fans for the team to comeback to and push the city and state to pony up a new stadium for the team.
Who are the sources for the relocation talk?
Another million, I mean, billion dollar question. But all of this is a good reminder NOT to take anything at face value. Information from those sources rarely leaks out without some ulterior motive behind the scenes.
Bernie's "unless something starts to shake locally" line suggests that this information could have been seeded behind the scenes partially as a negotiating tactic. It's not unlike when a free agent is close to signing with one team and then Schefter reports that they've got a visit scheduled with another one.
I have no idea if that's what's happening in this case. All I'm saying, is try to think critically about who might benefit and what might motivate that kind of information to get out to the media.
The Rams made the last move on the stadium issue, countering the CVC's offer for a small round of Dome renovations with an estimated $700 million proposal for a complete overhaul of the Dome. Arbiters rule in Kroenke's favor, and talks ended there. If the team's billionaire owner wants a public contribution to build a new stadium, or even a massive renovation on the old one, telegraphing a potential threat to move the team could very well be designed to spur action, or at least send up a trial balloon, for getting a public commitment.
Personally, I think it's up to the Rams to make a play here, or at least reach out to the state and local entities themselves with some kind of starting point. The loss of an NFL team isn't going negatively impact the city and regional economy any more than keeping a team is.
Will the Rams move in 2015?
Nobody knows, well, almost nobody, and even that small silent circle may not have made up their mind entirely.
We do know that Kroenke has been trying to get more involved in professional sports in Los Angeles. He tried to buy the Dodgers, remember. He bought 60 acres in Hollywood Park, and is reportedly trying to buy more.
If the Rams are going to relocate in 2015, they'll have to let the NFL know, and get the league's okay, in February, a month ahead of when the Dome lease lets them go. And for as much as the NFL is itching to make a move in LA, they're not going to let that happen until there's at least some concrete deal in place for a new stadium there. That could happen in time for those twin spring deadlines, but it seems unlikely. Not to mention the business of moving, whether it's a football team or your own apartment, is a nightmare.
From @jthom1: I think logistically, it would be awfully difficult for the Rams to move after this season.— Tim McKernan (@tmckernan) October 3, 2014
Anything can happen. But it's getting harder to ignore the likelihood of the Rams going back to Los Angeles.