Stan Kroenke…From Savior to Satan

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What a week for St. Louis Rams fans. It started with the announcement that Stan Kroenke, owner of the Rams, had agreed on a partnership with developers to build a new football stadium and entertainment complex in Los Angeles. Five days later St. Louis officials countered with their own announcement of a proposal to build a new stadium along the river front. Where does that leave us? Well, honestly who knows. For all of the talk this week about the Rams moving or staying this much is clear, nothing is set for sure. One thing we do know however is that Stan Kroenke is enemy number 1 for any St. Louis Rams fan.

It has been quite a fall for Kroenke, who at one time was hailed as a savior for bring professional football back to the Gateway city. Kroenke first got involved in bringing football to St. Louis in the failed NFL expansion bid in 1993. But in 1995 NFL owners approved Kroenke’s purchase of 30% of the Rams from Georgia Frontiere. This purchase gave Frontiere the physical money that was needed to hand over to the NFL as part of moving the Rams to St. Louis. All seemed wonderful. Kroenke was born in Columbia, Missouri; attended the University of Missouri; and founded the Kroenke Group and THF Realty which is based in St. Louis. He had plenty of wealth on his own but added to it when he married into the Wal-Mart family. Here was a Midwestern boy, with DEEP pockets, bringing football back home.

Kroenke added to his stake in the Rams two years later when he increased his ownership to 40%. Then in 2010 Kroenke became the majority owner when the Frontierre family was forced to sell the team due to inheritance taxes after Georgia’s passing. This moment would be the first chip in Kroenke’s veneer. It was obvious the family would be forced to sell. So people wondered what would Kroenke do? In stepped Shahid Khan, another Midwestern business man. Khan agreed to purchase the remaining Rams shares from the family in February of 2010. But with 40% of the shares Kroenke had right of first refusal. Kroenke had long positioned himself to take over the team whether it be after Georgia’s death or in a buyout at some point. So it should have been simple right? Kroenke takes full ownership. Well no, it wasn’t. Kroenke waited until the deadline, a full three months after Khan’s offer to refuse the offer and take control. This should have been the fans first clue as to who Kroenke really is…..a businessman.

It was noted by reporters at the time why Kroenke waited including an excerpt from David Leon.
“Why didn’t he just attempt to buy outright? One word: Strategy. He wanted the market to set a low price in accordance with the financial distress our nation is going through at the moment. There is also the cross-ownership rule which needs to be gotten around. Kroenke wanted to see what sort of ownership interest the Rams might scratch up, and see whether the owner’s club might prefer Kroenke to own the Rams.”
But at the time no one thought any better of it. Just as a man weighing his options. Now we see though that from the very start this was never a hometown boy bringing a sport he loved home. It was a businessman with eyes on the profit margin.

The latest news just further hammers home the point. Yes the original Rams stadium deal was a horrible one by the city. But during this time Kroenke has made it obvious he would rather move the team to L.A. than stay in St. Louis. Kroenke made that abundantly clear on Monday when he said he would finance the stadium build in L.A. Why wouldn’t he, or why hasn’t he, ever said such a thing about here in St. Louis? It is because of the allure of L.A., the BIG market. I won’t get into the whether the NFL would work in L.A. or not, that is besides the point. The point is that the value of the team would automatically increase and that is what Kroenke is focused on.

And I don’t want to hear people say well St. Louis stole the Rams in the first place. That argument is off base. The NFL was in a different level back in the early 1990’s. The league did not have the billion dollar profits. Teams were moving all over the country and added through expansion. The Rams in L.A. had drawn fewer than 50,000 fans for their final five years. The city refused to build the Rams an updated stadium. Here, now, the Rams fans continue to fill up the dome at 60,000 plus every game despite having the second worst record in the NFL over the last decade. The city is willing to build a new stadium.

The stadium announcement in St. Louis last Friday was nice news, showing that the city wants a team and is willing to provide a new stadium. And I am glad they have made the point of saying the stadium is not just for the Rams but for any professional football team. Is Kroenke pleased the city finally offered to build a stadium? Who knows he won’t talk but I can assume he is not for multiple reasons. First and foremost he wants to be in L.A. Secondly a the stadium here in St. Louis would be owned by the city and not Kroenke. If you look at his other teams that he owns (Colorado Avalance, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids) he also owns the stadium/arena/land those teams are on; which would not be the case here in St. Louis. So even though he would get his new stadium it wouldn’t be under his conditions, full control, that he likes.

Kroenke has burned bridges here in St. Louis. Even if the NFL forces him to stay the fans will never embrace him. Through his silence Kroenke has alienated the fans. True winning will overcome any sentiment towards the team. But any public appearance would no doubt be filled with boos. If Kroenke is allowed to continue bullying the NFL and leave for L.A., well then it is obvious he will go down as the next Bill Bidwell here in St. Louis.

Kroenke has shown us through this process how the sports world has evolved. There are very few organizations run by families any more or even for the love of the sport. The Rooneys (Pitsburgh Steelers) certainly come to mind as one of the few remaining. Rather sports is a business now. The sad thing is that Kroenke was in the perfect position to join those in that esteemed level. The other two owners of professional sports teams in St. Louis certainly could have provided a good example. Tom Stillman, a local businessman, who bought the Blues and the DeWitt family, born in St. Louis, who own the Cardinals. The DeWitts are the prime example of the ability to run a professional sports team as a business yet maintain an atmosphere that involves the fans. They are visable, talk of tradition, and improve fan’s experiences all while competing and increasing revenue.

Unfortunately Kroenke is part of the new era of business thinkers. The ones who only care about their portfolio and increasing revenue streams at any cost. If it were up to me as a St. Louis fan, my ideal situation would to have Kroenke somehow purchase the Denver Broncos (thereby not having to fulfill the NFL cross-league ownership rules which he still has not abided by) and have Kroenke sell to a group in St. Louis. However here in St. Louis we have seen the large corporations leave town, chasing the revenue stream as Kroenke has done (even Anheuser-Busch is no longer headquartered here). But this is the world we live in now. Where businessmen run our sports teams for revenue and not for the fans. Unless any fans want to jump in on a kickstarter campaign with me to purchase the Rams we are simply at the whim of a businessman.

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