ST. LOUIS – With the National Football League’s preseason underway this week, the 2016 season will mark the first time since 1995 that the St. Louis Rams will not have a preseason game.
Instead, the franchise will play in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future after owner Stan Kroenke decided to move the team. Kroenke himself has become something of a curse word in the Gateway to the West. But as other teams hope to reach into the St. Louis market to attract fans, many are curious if St. Louis will simply list along without professional football in the city.
When the move was first announced, many feared that it would put a massive hole in the city’s economy. The St. Louis Regional Chamber believed the departure would cost the city about $80 million per year. Others argued the city could actually benefit from the team’s move because it meant not succumbing to a clause in the original lease that would force stadium rebuilds. And investment in sports may not prove as profitable as common knowledge would believe.
Kroenke continues to push his exploitative business practices in other parts of the nation, but St. Louis officials seem upbeat about its future. Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for Mayor Francis Slay’s office, notes that the city has seen an added construction value of $1 billion in the past year. A $45 million aquarium will be built in Union Station by Fall 2018 as part of a revamp of that area, and the city has seen increased interest from conventions.
That added convention traffic may prove key in St. Louis. The city of Seattle has seen greater profits after the Supersonics left town to become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. They made more money off of concerts in KeyArena than with a then-struggling sports franchise (the Rams certainly fit into that mold).
Crane says that 25 million visitors came to St. Louis through conventions last year, even with the Edward Jones Dome and America’s Center only readily available for six months out of the year.
“That was one thing we’ve been championing all along… even in the press for a new stadium,” Crane said. “That was one of our selling points to say, even if we put the Rams in their own stadium and keep our dome open, that opens it up to more revenue options by bringing in more bigger and better conventions.”
No longer mad, just disappointed
So if the economic woes do not befall St. Louis, surely the emotional toll wrought from the departure of the city’s third most beloved sports franchise has devastated citizens.
Businessman Dave Spence, one of the key figures in pushing to keep the Rams in St. Louis, says not so much. He has yet to hear from anyone around St. Louis heartbroken that the Rams will not play in St. Louis this year.
“There’s some people that are sad about it,” he said. “There’s some people that are still NFL fans, but I don’t hear anybody that’s a Rams fan.”
Spence himself has moved on from the NFL entirely. Even if the league showed signs of expanding, he (along with Slay’s administration) would not welcome the NFL back. He thinks most people respect the two major teams St. Louis still has.
“We’re thankful to have the Blues and the Cardinals,” Spence said. “They know how to run an organization and work together to co-promote. The Rams were a terrible organization, with no loyalty with a deceitful owner.”
The real future of sports in St. Louis, Spence says, lies in Major League Soccer. Exhibition games and World Cup qualifiers at Busch Stadium have become the norm and typically bring large crowds. With a stadium cost at 1/10th the price of an NFL stadium, an (as of yet anonymous) lead investor tacked onto the project, and an avid youth and amateur soccer scene, St. Louis has a strong shot at getting an MLS team in the rapidly expanding league, which has added seven teams in the last seven years, with four more projected to join by 2020.