St. Louis savors chance to keep Rams
ST. LOUIS (AP) Sellouts are rare for the St. Louis Rams, but a public hearing on the team’s effort to relocate is drawing a capacity crowd.
All 1,500 available seats for the hearing Tuesday night at the Peabody Opera House were snapped up last week. The NFL is hosting similar forums this week in the other two cities that could potentially lose their teams as early as next season – Wednesday in San Diego and Thursday in Oakland.
The Rams are at the bottom of the league in home attendance, drawing on average fewer than 52,000 fans to the 66,000-seat Edward Jones Dome. That isn’t a complete surprise given that the Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003, and owner Stan Kroenke wants to abandon St. Louis for a proposed $1.8 billion stadium in the Los Angeles suburbs.
Owners of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have proposed sharing another new stadium in another L.A. suburb.
The league is hosting the meetings as part of the process to decide which team or teams get to relocate to the nation’s second-largest market, which has been without a franchise since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995.
As far as what is said at the hearing in St. Louis, ”That’s up to the fans,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
”The purpose is to help the 32 clubs better understand the dynamics of those three markets before any decision is made about potential relocation,” McCarthy said.
The NFL capped the number of participants at roughly 1,500 for each market, partly because the venues in Oakland and San Diego are smaller than the ornate 3,100-seat Peabody.
The majority of the 1,500 participants are season-ticket holders. Those who speak will have up to three minutes. No signs will be allowed.
League officials, including Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice president who has been the point person on relocation issues, will be on hand to answer questions.
McCarthy said none of the three teams has officially applied for relocation, and aren’t expected to until the regular season ends. Three-fourths of owners, or at least 24 of the 32, must approve relocation.
The Rams have had their glory days in St. Louis, including a Super Bowl win in 2000 and a return to the Super Bowl two years later. Those ”Greatest Show on Turf” teams played before sold-out crowds so loud that opposing teams complained their players couldn’t hear the quarterback’s signals.
In fact, the Edward Jones Dome was sold out for every game from the team’s arrival until December 2006.
Bad play and bad vibes resulted in a downward spiral.
The Rams haven’t had a winning record since 2003. The 20-year-old dome became outdated by NFL standards and a less-than-enticing venue. When the Rams and the dome operators couldn’t reach agreement on a renovation plan, Kroenke looked West, further souring relations with fans who feel jilted and fear becoming two-time NFL losers – the Cardinals bolted for Phoenix in 1987.
Over the past year, a St. Louis stadium task force appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon has laid out plans for a new $1 billion open-air stadium along the Mississippi River near the Gateway Arch. The project would be funded with a combination of public money, funds from the NFL, and from the owner. Kroenke and the Rams have not commented about the viability of the project.
Organizers have said the goal is to keep the NFL in St. Louis – if not the Rams, some other team.