The NFL sparked the surprise decision last week that the St. Louis Rams would not play “home” games in London in 2013 and 2014, with the league worried about the team’s standoff with local authorities over terms of its lease, sources said.
While the team made the ultimate decision, the sources said, the league made it clear to the Rams that the long-running lease dispute could threaten the league’s long-term London initiative.
|Uncertainty over their stadium lease will keep the Rams from playing “home” games in London.
The NFL did not want the Rams’ increasing stadium standoff with St. Louis authorities to interfere with the league’s larger overseas plans.
The Rams disputed that they did not fully drive the decision.
“We initiated conversations with the NFL in recent months about withdrawing from future games in London in order to focus our attention on the [lease],” said Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer. “We believe in the NFL International Series and its objectives and worked closely with the NFL on this decision.”
The league is now looking for another of its teams to take the two games, with speculation falling on the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings will be in their last campaigns in the Metrodome in the coming years, with plans for a new stadium proceeding. Team President Mark Wilf did not respond for comment. Other clubs are under consideration, as well.
The NFL has played a single game in London since 2007 but wants to add more. As importantly, it wants one team returning regularly, to become akin to London’s team. The Rams were to be that team, with the announcement earlier this year that the club would play games in each of those 2012-14 seasons in the city.
The Rams will still play this October in London, with a source saying the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission ceded this year’s game. The Rams’ lease with the commission requires all home games to be in the Edward Jones Dome. The lease expires in 2014 if the facility is not considered in the top quarter of all NFL stadiums, which it is not currently.
It’s unclear why the Rams announced plans for three London games if the lease provision was a sticking point. The two sides have exchanged proposals for upgrading the stadium, and the issue is now in arbitration. The commission has 60 days from the arbitration decision to accept or reject that result.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to more than double league revenue over the next decade, and international is a big part of that. More overseas games mean more sponsorships, licensing and TV fees. Whether that means an actual home team in London is much less certain.