Welcome to the Dark Side

darth-vader-stan-kroenke-stlouis-rams-1140x483The recent theatrical blockbuster Star Wars reminds us one of movie’s all-time greatest villains, Darth Vader. Whether you were a fan of them or not but in the Star Wars prequel movies we learn about the evolution of Anakin Skywalker, from the hope of a universe into the most hated man, Darth Vader. As I sit here I realize there are many parallels between Darth Vader’s evolution to the Dark Side and the NFL and Stan Kroenke’s move towards the Dark Side (greed).

Stan Kroenke grew up in Columbia, Missouri and graduated from the state university. He went on to make his money in real estate and by marrying into the Wal-Mart family. Kroenke appeared to be the bright new hope to bring football back to St. Louis. He was among the group that tried to put a proposal together for an expansion franchise back in the 1990’s. When that failed he jumped on board with the Rams organization, buying into the ownership and helped lead the team to St. Louis and his home state. At the time Kroenke was the golden boy bringing the NFL back home. As the years moved on however Kroenke’s golden boy image deteriorated. Much like Anakin’s lust for power and respect, Kroenke’s love of money grew. Kroenke took over majority ownership of the Rams in 2010 but not before waiting until the last minute to reject Shad Kahn’s proposal to take over the team. From that moment on St. Louis should have known the fix was in. Kroenke knew that an out clause existed at the Dome that would free the Rams. With L.A. looming on the horizon Kroenke began his plan of attack to leave town. Rejecting a renovation proposal of the Dome, simply maintaining status quo of a below average team on the field, drastically reducing fan engagement, oh and forcing the dome to carry RC Colas as its soda provider.  His letter to Roger Goodell in which he verbally assaults St. Louis was like watching Anakin take his light saber to the young Jedi students; killing all hope.

Roger Goodell is not innocent in this fiasco either. Goodell, playing the role of the Emperor, tried playing it cool like Palpatine with the Senate before truly revealing his identity as a man at the helm of a group of men intent on only their desires. Goodell, and the rest of his staff, blatantly lied to St. Louis fans. St. Louis’ efforts were never a matter of importance to them. They were simply playing a role in a story that was written a long time ago.

Of course I have seen this entire scenario play out from St. Louis, so I may be biased. But how this entire situation unfolded was the final dagger. It want a city unwilling to support a team, as Kroenke wants you to think. We wanted an owner present and willing to win. It wasn’t a city causing the team to loose money. This was a team working with the league to simply leave one city for another to make more money, something specifically stated against the rules in the NFL’s own guidelines.

This situation has killed my love of the NFL. Anything the NFL said during St. Louis efforts was complete B.$. It has always been about the money. As I have written about before the NFL is on a dangerous tipping point in league history. They have had way too many missteps and may have reached their peak. I asked the question back in 2014 whether or not the NFL has “Jumped the Shark” Funny thing is Mark Cuban in essence said the same thing three months later when he said “the NFL will implode”. (CUBAN STORY) Now you may not believe me, but when a billionaire business man says the same points…might be worth considering.

“I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule number one of business.” – Mark Cuban, March 2014

The NFL was at the height of popularity at the beginning of the decade. Their sport was designed for television and the ratings were soaring. The league was able to bring fringe fans in because of the explosion of interest in fantasy football. The game was exciting and the league was booming.

Now six years later despite still having strong television ratings, NFL stadium attendance is down across the league. Why spend $100 per person each Sunday when you can sit in comfort of your home to watch a game that is a made for TV sport? You may say who cares the tv numbers are great. But lower attendance means lower actual fan base. You are simply addressing the fantasy football players and not engaging your core fans. And what happens if the government continues its crackdown on fantasy sports gambling. The NFL looses or has a diminished fantasy crowd and has alienated their core fans. Combine that with the increased concern over player safety. Concussions have become a topic of concern. Youth football participation numbers are down. That means the future fans and players won’t be growing.

The league has seen its share of despicable public relations moments. From the Ray Rice incident to Adrian Peterson. The league has lost the aurora of power as well after going after one of their star players (Tom Brady) and losing in court when trying to uphold a suspension. Let’s not also forget the apparent sweeping under the rug of HGH use in the league, Rodney Harrison suspended four games and not a peep from anyone about it.

And finally we have this year’s relocation fiasco. What other league has ever pulled a team from a city willing to spend money on a second stadium within 30 years. What other league has left three fan bases in limbo for the intention to go to a city where the NFL has already failed?

This was the final nail in the coffin, watching the league turn their focus from the fans towards money. The NFL has abandoned core fans by changing their rules to better fit the fantasy game. Now the league is abandoning a city willing to build a stadium for one of the worst owners in all of professional sports simply for the dream of being in L.A. Relocation has never been about the fans, it has been about a multi-billion dollar organization looking to increase profits for billionaire owners. Yes a team will make more money in L.A. than in St. Louis but the assertion that the Rams franchise or any franchise would be financially ruined by being in St. Louis is absurd. The tv contract alone guarantees that.

As someone who considers football my favorite sport to watch and follow, someone who played the game growing up…this pains me to say but the NFL is dead to me. I have had it with their greed. I know professional sports is no longer purely an entertainment but a business. However the NFL’s greed has taking the sport entertainment aspect out of their agenda completely and is focused solely on the business aspect. They are worried more about getting more fantasy players, new revenue streams, and growing globally than they are about their actual game and fans. For me this is the end. The NFL now stands for No Fan League for me. Now my only question is, how do I spend my Sundays from now on?

Maybe this is good. Maybe it’s time for me to be greedy. I get my Sunday’s back. I get no more heart break losses. Maybe I will find something else to put my passion into. I do know one thing, my Sunday’s won’t be spent on the couch watching NFL games for hours on end. Gone are the days of pouring over draft coverage and planning my weekends around games. Good riddance to greed. Stan Kroenke and the NFL, welcome to the Dark Side.

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