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The Rams Didn’t Just Leave St. Louis; They’re Burning Every Bridge On The Way Out

Why are the Rams antagonizing their former home market to such a petty degree?

Middle finger to St. Louis Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

On January 12, the NFL and its ownership group approved the relocation plan for the Rams to move from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

It paved the way for the first relocation of an NFL team since the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997 marking a flurry of relocations in the previous 15 years:

* - The Raiders moved to LA despite the lack of approval from the NFL. It's a topic I highly suggest readers educate themselves on even if the precedent seems wholly out of order in the current NFL era.

Despite threats and microthreats and insinuations and microinsinuations for the next 20 years, no NFL team left their parent city until the Rams received their approval to move just five months ago.

In fact, the 21st century has been light on relocation for every major sports league in the United States save for perhaps the NBA. Major League Baseballs lone move this century was to see the Montreal Expos move to Washington, D.C., to become the Nationals. The NHL saw the Atlanta Thrashers head north of the border in 2011 to re-establish the Winnipeg Jets. The NBA has been the lone league of relocation activity since 2000 with the Grizzlies moving in 2001, the Hornets moving in 2002, 2005 and 2007 (yeah...) and the Seattle Supersonics moving in 2008 to OKC to become the Thunder.

So as the only major sports franchise to relocate in the last five years, the Rams were in a unique position to establish a precedent in the modern media age (see: Twitter) in how to tread the line between leaving a city and a fan base behind and how to establish a new base of operations and entice a new populace to embrace the franchise.

The Rams’ strategy in doing so?

Scorched earth.

The Relocation Filing

The first indication we had that the Rams were not going to leave St. Louis amicably was the relocation proposal statement the team offered a week prior to the owner meeting and vote that ultimately approved the move itself.

That proposal statement was three-pronged. One, it focused on the potential of Los Angeles as an NFL market and the readiness of the project proposed by Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Two, it detailed the legal argument that allowed the Rams to relocate. And three (and obviously here’s the relevant part here), it absolutely trashed the city of St. Louis beyond just being a poor market for the Rams. It made the case that the NFL had no business in St. Louis at all.

Now I think it’s first worth considering that for the purposes of the relocation, there’s fair reason to think that those first two prongs would have been sufficient to construct the argument that supported the proposal Kroenke and Rams COO Kevin Demoff made repeatedly to NFL owners. The Rams wanted to move to LA and the Rams had the right two. That likely would have sufficed. But the Rams went an extra degree to ensure that NFL owners and the league understood the Rams also wanted to move out of St. Louis. That’s a distinction that’s worth acknowledging here.

Here are the money quotes from the relocation proposal statement in that third prong:

Compared to all other U.S. cities, St. Louis is struggling.

The City of St. Louis ranks near the bottom of all U.S. cities of any size in terms of economic and population growth.

Despite the blatant cherry picking of selective data you need to conduct to make those statements (which is what happened), you need to make sure you’re sitting down for this one.

Stan Kroenke bought controlling interest in the Rams in 2010, and immediately made significant investments in the team. The Rams finished 7-9 in 2010, and the St. Louis media praised Stan Kroenke for investing in the team in 2011. In 2012, Stan Kroenke hired Jeff Fisher and was again lauded in the media. Before the 2013 season, Stan Kroenke’s financial investments in putting on a winning product on the field were again recognized "because of Kroenke’s commitment to winning. The current Rams ownership’s investment in the on-the-field Rams team has been significant. The Rams have consistently spent to the salary cap in each year under Stan Kroenke and have significantly increased the coaching and scouting budgets. These investments have resulted in a 52% improvement in winning percentage over the five years before Stan Kroenke became the controlling owner. To build and maintain fan interest, the Rams made the economic commitment to buy all unsold tickets so that all Rams home games could be televised in years when black out rules were in effect. Under Stan Kroenke’s ownership, the team was named "St. Louis Philanthropic Organization of the Year," the first time a sports team in St. Louis was bestowed the award and has performed over 12,000 hours of community service in the St. Louis community.

Despite these investments and engagements, Rams attendance since 2010 has been well below the League’s average. The combination of low attendance and the lack of pricing power as indicated by the CSL market study has consistently placed the Rams in the low fourth quartile in gross ticketing receipts generally between 60% and 70% of the NFL average per game for the regular season.

Yes, the Rams have lost since 2003 and certain media praised them in the process. And yet St. Louis didn’t come out in droves to support losing.

Imagine a similar statement from Georgia Frontier 22 years ago. It would have sounded just as ridiculous and for good reason. It’s logically inconsistent and clearly spurious (read: this some bullshit).

The point wasn’t just to convince the NFL and owners that the Rams could move and that they wanted to move to LA.

The point was also to prove that St. Louis sucked.

Leaping Over Legends

In early April, former Rams WR Isaac Bruce announced he would be coordinating a "Legends of the Dome" game to celebrate the Rams’ era in St. Louis which included their sole Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, the crowning achievement of the Greatest Show on Turf. Bruce went so far as to clarify that it was more than just a charity game - it was a thank you to the city and the fans that supported the Rams for years:

You know, for 21 years that's the place where we called home. So I wanted to make sure that we were able to say goodbye the right way. Give the St. Louis fans an opportunity to see what they were a part of and say goodbye. And it all worked out. So it's gonna be fun.

Two months later, the Rams announced their own charity game, "The Rams Legends Game Presented by Legends Community". This charity game features no less than nine former Rams whose entire careers were played in St. Louis: Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, La’Roi Glover, Orlando Pace, London Fletcher, Dre Bly, Dexter McCleon and Shaun McDonald.

To say that this was a dig at St. Louis is an understatement. And it’s one that didn’t go unnoticed:

St. Louis Becomes The Butt Of The Joke

Let’s not blow a joke out of proportion. Let’s just acknowledge that that’s what St. Louis is to the Rams franchise now.

A punchline.

Instead of taking the high road and playing it plainly, there’s a clear intent on behalf of the franchise to twist the knife they began twisting quite some time ago:

The question I have that I can’t answer is why?

Why treat St. Louis like this? What motivates this level of pettiness?

It’s beyond the occasional derogatory reference. It’s institutionalized. It’s part of the franchise modus operandi. And either it’s being done in reaction to something the city did to spite the Rams which even I, a pretty committed observer, haven’t picked up on, or it’s being done to drive St. Louis-area fans to other NFL teams of closer locale than Los Angeles.

Or it’s just petty for pettiness’ sake.

I’d like to think that’s not even a realistic option.