Balzer: What's Next For Kroenke And Rams?

Stan Kroenke (AP/David Zalubowski)

The news Wednesday that Stan Kroenke had been unanimously approved by NFL owners as the new majority owner of the Rams was certainly anti-climactic. It had seemed to be a fait accompli for a few months, and there were no surprises.

Of course, now comes the hard part, filled with even more questions than before.

What changes, if any, will Kroenke make in the organization? How much will that depend on the team’s performance on the field this season? What does he think of Kevin Demoff … and Billy Devaney … and Steve Spagnuolo?

Obviously, Kroenke has been privy to the decisions that have been made in the 31 months that Chip Rosenbloom managed the organization, but he wasn’t in charge. Soon he will be after the financial transaction is complete.

Having been involved in sports ownership for a long time, Kroenke understands the lay of the land. He has observed as the current plan was put in place that turned the third-oldest team in the NFL at the end of the 2008 season into the third-youngest by the time the next season had begun.

How will Kroenke evaluate any progress this team makes on the field this season? Does he want his “own guys” in charge? Those answers are certainly months away from being known, but it’s no revelation to figure out that every person in the organization knows they will be under Kroenke’s microscope.

Still, the elephant in the room and the biggest question concerns the team’s future in St. Louis. Kroenke is close with Rams senior adviser John Shaw, and it was Shaw, who at the last minute in negotiations to bring the Rams to St. Louis, got the clause put in the lease with the CVC (Convention and Visitor’s Commission) that mandates the dome be in the top 25 percent of the league’s stadiums at each 10-year interval of the 30-year lease.

The Rams gave the CVC a pass at the 10-year mark in 2005, and the CVC paid for $30 million in upgrades to the dome. But there won’t be a pass this time.

When asked Wednesday about keeping the team in St. Louis, Kroenke said, "We are going to work really hard. I know this is an interesting question. I have been around St. Louis and Missouri for a major portion of my life. We worked hard to bring the club to St. Louis and in the expansion process in 1993 where we weren’t successful, but we stayed in there and got an NFL team back into St. Louis. It is not our desire to lead the charge out of St. Louis. That is not why we are here. We are here to work hard and be very successful in St. Louis.

“The realistic part of that is that everybody knows we like to be competitive. Our teams we think are competitive. To be competitive, you have to have revenue. And so we are going to work really hard to have a model that produces revenue where we can be consistently competitive. Anybody can be competitive in the pro sports business every so often, but the real challenge is to be competitive every year. The guys from Denver can tell you, we have been in the playoffs between 70 to 80 percent of the time in Denver. That is the harder part."

Shaw, of course, lives in the Los Angeles area and Kroenke has a home in Malibu. Kroenke also serves on the NFL’s Los Angeles Stadium committee.

That might not mean anything. It also might. The reality is that Kroenke didn’t become a billionaire by making bad business decisions. He is becoming majority owner of the Rams at a time when the economy is still struggling and with a new CBA being negotiated between the league and players. The flipside is that he got the remaining 60 percent of the team for a fraction of what it was probably worth a few years ago.

Having said all that, the clock is already ticking on the CVC to work with Kroenke on what happens next. It seems a long way off, but by Feb. 1, 2012, just 17 months from now, the CVC is required to have a plan for improvements to the dome. The Rams must reply by March 1 in either accepting or not accepting the proposal.

If they don’t like the proposal, the club has until May 1 to respond with their own plan. It’s not out of the question that could include a new stadium, since financial experts believe it will take at least $300 million and perhaps twice that to upgrade the dome and bring it to that top 25 percent.

Once the Rams submit their plan, the CVC has until June 1 to respond with acceptance or rejection. Should they not accept it, arbitration is next, which would begin on June 15. That process must be concluded by the end of the calendar year.

Should the CVC elect not to abide by the arbitrator’s decision, the Rams would be free to move after the 2014 season. It would also be likely the team would seek to leave sooner, rather than be in a lame-duck situation for two seasons.

It’s likely Kroenke doesn’t want things to come to that. He has the money and real estate acumen to virtually build a stadium himself, although a certain amount of public support is also important. There are already rumors he has a bid on the land in Fenton, Mo., where the closing Chrysler plant is located. Another set of rumors has him interested in the land where the Gateway racetrack is now located in Illinois, only minutes from downtown St. Louis.

A stadium with development around it like Patriot Place in New England is a possibility that makes a project more viable than a stand-alone stadium used only 10 times a year.

Amid all these questions and speculation is one thing we do know: What Stan Kroenke wants he usually gets. Whether it’s the fortunes of this team or its future home, Silent Stan’s actions will speak much louder than his words.



Howard Balzer is the Editor/writer for GridIronGateway Magazine. For subscription information visit GridIronGateway.com (reduced online rate of $39.95) or call 888-501-5752. You can also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/HBalzer721

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