SBD/January 23, 2012/Franchises

Rams Insist London Games Not Part Of Plan To Move Team Out Of St. Louis

Demoff said playing in London is designed to improve Rams' standing in NFL
Rams Exec VP/Football Operations & COO Kevin Demoff is "aware of the collective nervousness of the team's fan base" following Friday's announcement that the club will play a game in London in each of the next three seasons, but he insisted that there is "no sinister plot to move the team out of St. Louis," according to Jim Thomas of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. Demoff said, "We are extremely aware and extremely sensitive to that, but we still have to make the decisions we think are best for the franchise. If there wasn't a lease issue out there, people wouldn't be trying to make one plus one equal three. Our goal is to build a winning franchise on and off the field in St. Louis. We view this (London) element as contributing to that goal long-term." In a "worst-case lease scenario, the Rams could be free to leave St. Louis following the 2014 season, which also is the year of the last London game." But Demoff said, "This isn't designed to move the team to Europe, or move the team anywhere else. It's designed to improve our standing in the NFL and grow our brand. And the stronger our brand is, the stronger our franchise is, the better that is for St. Louis." He added, "I don't blame the fans for our attendance. We've put a bad product on the field and there's been very little to be excited about. So if we had a full capacity at the Edward Jones Dome it might make this (London) decision slightly tougher, but I don't think so. This is a great opportunity for the Rams and for St. Louis." Meanwhile, NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello noted, "We have not said: 'We want a franchise in London. We have responded to questions about the feasibility of a franchise in London someday and our answer has been that's possible" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/21).

COMING OR GOING? Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Owner Stan Kroenke "reassured me they're going to do everything possible (to stay in St. Louis). ... My gut feel, and my hope, is that they get things worked out, because this is the place where this team needs to be." In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz wrote L.A. is "still the biggest threat to the Rams." Miklasz: "I'm told Kroenke has no desire to own an NFL team in London because it would be a logistical mess and an impediment to winning. ... He can make money in Rams-related deals in sponsorships and media rights, and gain popularity in his role as the generous American who's sharing his NFL team with his new friends and business associates across the pond. And Kroenke gets to pull this off without dealing with the inevitable headaches that come with having a full-time London-based NFL team" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/21). The ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH's Miklasz wrote the Rams can "spin it as they choose, but no sale." There is "simply no way to turn this decision into being perceived as a fan-friendly, pro-St. Louis move." Miklasz: "The bottom line: at a time when Rams fans are on edge and becoming increasingly paranoid about the team's future here, Kroenke is pulling a home game from the market for each of the next three seasons" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/20). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said it is “completely absurd" that the Rams will play three games in London. Kornheiser: “I don’t get this. But it indicates that there’s no juice for that team at all in St. Louis. The solution is to move the Rams back where the Rams belong, in Los Angeles” ("PTI," ESPN, 1/20). ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio said, “Rams fans are going to be even more nervous about a possible relocation. Owner Stan Kroenke has been very noncommittal. ... Even if the team stays put, there's increased anxiety about a relocation, not just to Los Angeles" ("NBC Sports Talk,” NBC Sports Network, 1/20).

MAKING UP FOR LOST GAMES: SI's Peter King cites a league office source as saying that a "major selling point to the teams playing overseas is if you give up a home game, the league will compensate the team with a payment above and beyond what it made for a regular home game." King: "That payment, I'm told, will be at least $5 million per home game lost. So if the Rams can pocket an extra $15 million to $25 million over the three years of the deal, they shouldn't have any excuses about paying out the kind of guaranteed money that some teams in the bottom quartile of NFL revenue -- which the Rams are in -- have to pay to attract and pay legit free agents" (SI.com, 1/23).

STAYING LOCAL: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said that the NFL approached his team about a "long-term commitment of games" in London, but he noted that they "weren’t willing to give up a home game." Still, Kraft "praised the support that the team has received from fans in" the U.K. (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/21). TrinityOne Sports President & CEO and former Patriots CMO Lou Imbriano "sees positives in the Patriots making the trip." He said, "They’re an East Coast team, so the travel is roughly comparable to flying to the West Coast. ... If I was running the marketing, I would love the exposure to the European market and to London. I’d want to become London’s team" (ESPN.com, 1/20). Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas noted the Buccaneers had "appeared ticketed for an annual overseas game," having played in London in October and in '09. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had said that the "Bucs had expressed interest in playing an annual game." But, "very quietly, Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said that interest had disappeared." Earlier this month, Glazer "let it be known that the Bucs had informed the league they didn’t want to 'host' London games in the foreseeable future." Yasinskas wrote when the Buccaneers "pulled out, I think they were quietly admitting they’re focusing on their local fan base" (ESPN.com, 1/21).

UNDER CONTRACT: In London, Ashling O'Connor noted Wembley Stadium has an "exclusive five-year deal with the NFL," which gives the league an option to "host more than one game a year" at the facility. All NFL teams were "asked to play at least one regular-season home game a year in Britain for up to five years." It is also "understood that there could be some interest in taking an NFL game to Ireland." News of the deal will "come as a blow to the ambitions of the Olympic Park Legacy Company as it seeks uses for the [US$756.6M] Olympic Stadium in Stratford after the Games this summer." Legacy officials had "expressed interest in hosting NFL games at the 60,000-capacity stadium, which will reopen in 2014 after completion of a [US$467M] construction programme to upgrade it from a Games venue to a commercial sports and entertainment arena" (LONDON TIMES, 1/21).
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