January 25, 2016

SHATZMAN | Stan Kroenke, the NFL and Deception

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In April 2010, the late sportswriter Bryan Burwell wrote a foreboding column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Rams were for sale and Shahid Khan —a businessman with a rags-to-riches story who was perceived to be trustworthy — and Enos “Stan” Kroenke were both interested in purchasing the franchise. Burwell’s blistering piece, titled “Rams minority owner not to be trusted,” referred to the latter of the two. Kroenke, who already owned the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, had a reputation as a cunning businessman whose every move was done only to benefit Stan Kroenke.

Despite the fact that Kroenke was a Missouri native with three degrees from Mizzou and is named after St. Louis Cardinals’ legends Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, the prospect of Kroenke owning the St. Louis Rams was unnerving. Burwell, warned in his now prophetic essay, “Kroenke has already clearly and dramatically demonstrated that he cares about two things — himself and his money. Everything else is negotiable.” So when Kroenke declared, “I’ve been a Missourian for 60 years. People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy,” time would prove to be the determining factor that would reveal the real Stan Kroenke. Was he the greedy, self-interested man whom Burwell depicted — one who wouldn’t blink before stealing a franchise from its loyal fanbase? Or was he the trustworthy Missourian he claimed to be?

Earlier this month, the NFL approved the St. Louis Rams’ application to move to Los Angeles effective immediately. Stan Kroenke had not spoken publicly about the Rams since 2012. His lack of transparency suggests that he bought the Rams with the intention of moving to the team back to Los Angeles, where the Rams played from 1946 to 1994.

He and his associates worked behind the scenes, preparing a plan for relocation, never once addressing St. Louis or Rams’ fans. Ultimately he emerged from the shadows for some celebratory words in Los Angeles, to fans who, to Kroenke, are nothing more than ticket stubs and jersey sales. Bryan Burwell knew what was coming. But in order for Kroenke to execute his relocation plan, he would have to receive the approval of the NFL — a league that, over the course of the relocation process, proved itself to be corrupt. The NFL is to organizations what Stan Kroenke is to human beings.

Article 4.3 of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws states, “… no club has an ‘entitlement’ to relocate simply because it perceives an opportunity for enhanced club revenues in another location.” Section A of the league’s Policy and Procedures for Proposed Franchise Relocations affirms that, “…clubs are obligated to work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories.” When the league and franchise owners approved the Rams’ move to L.A., the policies stated in the league constitution were blatantly disregarded. So, then, why have a league constitution at all? The St. Louis Stadium Task Force, established to work in “good faith” with the NFL to ensure the Rams’ future in St. Louis, proposed a viable stadium plan. The plan included $400 million of public funding from St. Louis, which would have been the “… 5th highest public contribution in the history of the NFL.” The Rams’ application to move to L.A., authored by Kroenke’s people, is full of statements that are utterly incorrect.

These falsehoods are addressed in detail in the ‘Response to Rams Application to Relocate to Los Angeles,’ authored by the Stadium Task Force. Kroenke’s insistence that St. Louis cannot support the Rams is simply not true. From 2007-2011, the Rams’ 15-65 record was the worst five-year stretch by a team in NFL history. During that span, the Rams’ Edward Jones Dome was 89 percent full on average, including 95 percent full in 2007. This was in the worst span by a team in NFL history, mind you. In Major League Baseball, St. Louis has been ranked second in attendance each of the last three seasons. Cardinals’ fans are widely considered to be the best in baseball. But according to Kroenke, St. Louis cannot support an NFL franchise, despite no evidence to back such a claim, and a plethora of evidence to argue otherwise. In fact, the statistics show just how faithful Rams’ fans were during a period of unprecedented losing. Rams’ attendance over the last ten years in St. Louis was greater than the Rams final ten years in Los Angeles — 1984-1994. Despite far fewer wins in St. Louis and a much smaller city and overall smaller market compared to L.A., St. Louis sports fans are loyal, no matter the number of wins. Stan Kroenke should know a lot about purported low fan support, seeing as his Denver Nuggets currently sit 30th of 30 NBA teams in attendance. Over in the NHL, his Colorado Avalanche aren’t much higher.

While I needn’t list each and every statistic that proves how and why St. Louis is a suitable, loyal football city, I refer readers to the aforementioned response by the stadium task force that critically details all of them. The point is that Stan Kroenke moved the Rams to benefit financially; and in approving his plan, the NFL shamelessly disregarded its own policies so that it, too, could benefit. Although NFL franchises have historically fared poorly in Los Angeles, it makes sense why the league wants to occupy the west coast hub. But the victimization of a city full of passionate fans by a two-faced billionaire is tragic for the city of St. Louis, and the authorization of the move is a disgraceful act by the National Football League. Actions speak louder than words, and St. Louis was cooked from the beginning. Stan Kroenke lied. The NFL ignored its policies. Together the two formed the snake that ultimately bit the city of St. Louis.