The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission formally rejected a proposal that would have dumped $700 million in public financing into stadium upgrades at the city’s Edward Jones Dome, the home of the NFL’s St. Louis Rams. “It was a no-brainer,” Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, told the Associated Press last week. “There was nobody in St. Louis who thought that the Rams proposal was a good idea, other than the Rams.”
The negotiations are now either ongoing or totally stalled, depending on which side is asked. But a deadline for renovations or a new stadium is approaching, since the original lease the city signed inexplicably allows the Rams to opt-out of the agreement in 2015 if the city doesn’t maintain the dome’s “first-tier status” — i.e., if the Edward Jones Dome isn’t one of the nicest eight stadiums in the NFL, the Rams can end the lease and use the Dome on a year-to-year basis.
That’s already fueling speculation that the Rams might seek a new home after the 2015 season, even if the team hasn’t said as much itself. That speculation pitting two cities against each other isn’t uncommon, but in this case it ignores a major problem: the Rams don’t seem to have anywhere to go.
The city that always pops up first when an NFL team plays stadium roulette with its current city is Los Angeles. But the Rams franchise already tried Los Angeles once, the city it called home from 1946 to 1979. It left LA for Anaheim in 1980 and left southern California altogether for St. Louis in 1994. There’s no question the NFL wants to go back to Los Angeles, but the city hasn’t shown much willingness to finance a new NFL stadium or major renovations to its 80-year-old Coliseum when other teams have used it as a bargaining chip in the past. It certainly doesn’t seem a logical option for a team that already left it once.
While it looks increasingly possible that the next NFL team to make a substantial move will head across the pond to London, it’s hard to believe that will happen by the time the Rams’ lease ends, and even if it does, league insiders say the Jacksonville Jaguars are the most likely team to make the jump because they have struggled to gain a foothold in northeast Florida. As for other American cities, I’ll believe speculation about Portland and Oklahoma City whenever it rises above Facebook campaigns and blog fodder. The other top-50 cities without NFL teams either have teams located nearby (like Milwaukee and Columbus), have obvious problems (like Las Vegas), or don’t want the NFL and wouldn’t be seriously considered if they actually did (like Louisville, Richmond, and Birmingham). And as long as the Bills are in Buffalo, there won’t be a team in Toronto. The only city that seems logical is San Antonio, where the New Orleans Saints played immediately after Hurricane Katrina, but even a move there would require negotiations about either a new stadium or major renovations to the one that already exists.
All that is to say that St. Louis is in a unique position in these negotiations. Franchises that want new stadiums are fond of holding other cities over their current home’s head as a bargaining chip. But dumping money into a project city officials admit they can’t afford to keep a team that doesn’t have many obvious options elsewhere would only lead to the types of problems cities like Minneapolis are now facing because they played, and lost, the same game.