The Rams have “canceled” their planned ‘13 and ‘14 games in London and will “instead play them in St. Louis,” according to a front-page piece by Logan & Thomas of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. Rams Exec COO & VP/Football Operations Kevin Demoff said that the move is “designed to soothe fears that the Rams are looking to leave St. Louis, even as negotiations that are key to their future here heat up.” Demoff: “I hope at future points we'll be able to play in London. This was just not the right timing for our organization and for our fans.” He added that the team “made the decision -- with the agreement of NFL officials -- because it wants to send the right message: that the Rams are serious about finding a solution to a stadium upgrade in St. Louis.” Logan & Thomas note amid the stadium talks, the “prospect of the Rams playing three ‘home’ games over three years in Wembley Stadium in London … rankled some fans in St. Louis, who worry [Owner Stan] Kroenke might bolt for a bigger market if he doesn't get his way on the Dome.” Demoff and CVC President Kathleen Ratcliffe said that there was “no direct connection between the lease deal and canceling the London games.” Ratcliffe said that this is “not a quid pro quo” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/14). NFL Senior VP/Int’l Chris Parsons said, “We appreciate the Rams support for our international growth strategy. We are currently working to add a second game in the UK, potentially for the 2013 season, in response to the growth in popularity of our sport. We hope to finalize these plans in the months ahead” (SBNATION.com, 8/13).
PULSE OF THE FANS: Demoff said that the Rams’ decision “wasn’t made in an effort to spur ticket sales.” Demoff: “We had a very good renewal rate (on season tickets). That wasn't the issue. The sponsors have come up; we have greater sponsorship numbers this year than last year. This was not based on any feedback we got at the box office, or fiscally.” He added, “This was based off of really taking the pulse of our fan base and understanding that they were confused about why we were going to London for multiple years.” In St. Louis, Jim Thomas notes the Rams had “sold about 40,000 season tickets” as of the start of training camp. Demoff said of the timing of the announcement in relation to the team's lease deal and First Tier stadium process, "We're not as far along in the first-tier process that we had hoped. ... From everything I hear we're on track for an arbitration that'll start sometime kind of in the middle of the season” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/14).
HITTING THE RESET BUTTON: In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes the Rams' playing in London "just wasn't worth the time, aggravation or expense.” Issues included the "potential loss of ticket sales from some skeptical season-ticket holders who are nervous that their team might be short-timers in St. Louis, plus the added expenses of paying local stadium workers for missed wages for that one lost home game.” This was a “strategic re-boot philosophically for the Rams, because in terms of their overall business plan, everything leads us to their ultimate goal, which is finding the best way to put this football team in a new state-of-the-art stadium in the near future” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/14). ESPN.com’s Mike Sando wrote, “This was a good move for the team on the field." The decision also was "helpful in countering perceptions that the Rams, currently mired in a stadium arbitration process, had one eye on the horizon and a foot out the door” (ESPN.com, 8/13).
While the A's and Giants are both enjoying success on the field this season, the two teams “sit at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the fan experience at the ballpark and their viability in their market,” according to a sports section cover story by Jorge Ortiz of USA TODAY. The teams have co-existed in the Bay Area since the A’s moved to Oakland in ‘68. But at a time “when the Giants are enjoying, by several measures, an unprecedented level of popularity, the A’s inability to flourish at the box office as they do on the field has perhaps never been more pronounced.” The teams’ “disparity of more than 21,000” in their average attendance ranks as the “largest by far among baseball’s five two-team markets.” The Giants have drawn “at least 2.8 million fans every season” since opening AT&T Park in ‘00, selling out their “last 142 games through Sunday, the second-longest active streak” in MLB. By contrast, the A’s “surprising run at a playoff spot has been witnessed by the second-smallest average crowd in the majors." Subtracting the two crowds “of more than 43,000 the A’s drew as the home team in their season-opening series in Tokyo, their attendance at the Coliseum ranks last in baseball.” A’s Owner Lew Wolff, who has been pushing for MLB to approve the team's relocation to San Jose, said, “The destination we want is to have an exciting, modern, baseball-only venue that doesn’t get interrupted by pro football. We need all the things other teams have -- sponsorships, a significant number of season ticketholders, just the normal things.” Ortiz notes A’s attendance has “shrank every year" from '03 to '09. The team’s “flagging support, unsettled stadium situation and small payroll … makes it all the more remarkable that they have stayed in the wild-card race” (USA TODAY, 8/14).
In Detroit, Tony Paul writes the Tigers’ “inability to take control” of the AL Central “could mean bigger business for the club.” The Tigers have eight more home series this season, including four "against playoff contenders.” The Aug. 31-Sept. 2 White Sox series “should do huge business, as in late July, when 128,741 fans took in a three-game set.” But the Tigers “could be battling the Orioles, Angels and A's for a wild-card spot, so there'll be interest in those series, too.” It is a “near-lock the Tigers will top 3 million fans for the third time.” And while the season attendance record of 3,202,645 in '08 is "out of reach, a stretch-drive pennant race has the 2012 Tigers in position to finish runner-up, ahead of the 3,047,139 mark of 2007” (DETROIT NEWS, 8/14). NUMBER ONE FAN: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner profiled Guggenheim Baseball Management, which owns the Dodgers, and wrote Basketball HOFer and team investor Magic Johnson’s responsibilities “are vague but vital in a city where image matters.” Johnson said, “I’m selling the Dodgers everywhere I go. When I went on the ‘Today’ show, everybody had a Dodger hat. When I went on ‘The View,’ I gave all the ladies a Dodger hat. I was on a little boat in Italy and I gave the whole crew Dodger hats and shirts. So I am promoting the Dodgers everywhere, and I think that’s a part of my job” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/12).
BAD YEAR FOR BOSTON: In Boston, Nick Cafardo writes Red Sox Owner John Henry and Chair Tom Werner have been “clobbered by fans and media all season, but when you are in Baltimore, or Pittsburgh, or Kansas City, you gain some perspective.” Cafardo: “Boy, are we spoiled around here.” Something “nobody wants to hear is the Red Sox are just having a bad year.” But that is a “reasonable statement because organizations just don’t win every year.” One AL team owner said of the Red Sox, “They’ve had a heck of a run at the top. We’d all kill for that” (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/14).