I seem to have touched a nerve with my blog post Thursday regarding the largely unreported fact that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is a friend and business partner of the leading candidate to bring a new NFL franchise to Los Angeles.
It turns out I’m Chicken Little, “an aroused writer in the blogosphere” concocting a conspiracy theory. So let me flap my wings and lay it out again, very excitedly.
To review, I suggested Rams fans should “be afraid” of the fact that Kroenke and “fellow Denver billionaire” Philip Anschutz have had long-standing business relationships, including a major joint venture formed just two years ago to operate the former Broomfield Event Center, among other dealings. Anschutz appears to be the front-runner in the effort to lure a team to Los Angeles.
With the St. Louis Rams one of the teams in play to become (once again) that franchise, it is undeniably a relevant fact that these two men have a long, and apparently positive, business friendship. As I said, Anschutz doesn’t have a done deal in L.A. and even if he did, it is hardly a certainty that he and Kroenke would strike a deal, but it is a significant element of this story.
It is an element that has gone entirely unmentioned and unreported in St. Louis. Not a word. This, despite the fact that the Post-Dispatch—specifically sports columnist Bernie Miklasz—held forth in depth just two months ago about why it meant basically nothing that Anschutz’s people had contacted the Rams about moving to L.A. He said there was no need to panic.
“Naturally the Rams are going to get a call from L.A.,” Miklasz wrote. “It would be more surprising if they didn’t get a call from L.A.”
I’ll give Bernie that much: It’s usually not surprising when one gets a call from his business partner.
Perhaps Miklasz was unaware of Anschutz’s partnership with Kroenke when he scoffed, “Why would Kroenke want to sell the Rams to Anschutz?” Or maybe he knew about the relationship, but somehow thought it wasn’t as significant as, say, Kroenke’s professed loyalty to Missouri because he hails from Columbia, Mo. (Yikes.)
Either way, Bernie doesn’t look so good. In the first instance, it would mean he purported to bring an authoritative voice to a complex business subject without knowing even the basics of the landscape. The second instance would be even worse, because it means he would have been withholding relevant information from the reader—and I do mean relevant—while displaying a stunning level of naivete regarding the business world.
No one should try to get inside the head of a shrewd businessmen like Kroenke, who is so good at keeping his cards in the hand, but if you must make the attempt—as Miklasz did—and you don’t think it’s worth noting that the party at the other end of Kroenke’s phone is his business partner, then you really don’t understand business.
Still, this isn’t about Bernie Miklasz. We’re not close friends, but I’ve known him professionally for a couple of decades in St. Louis, and I have also enjoyed his column, whether I agree with it or not. I think he’s a good guy, and have said so often, both privately and on television.
I didn’t attack him personally in the blog. I criticized a column.
So it was a bit surprising today to see him travel the Indignant Highway in response to my blog. Rather than lower himself to mention my name or to reference St. Louis Magazine, he said this:
“I'm seeing some silly Chicken Little 'Sky is Falling' pieces being written in the blogosphere. It's humorous to see an aroused writer trying to concoct conspiracy theories and piece together sinister threads that connect Kroenke to the Los Angeles group that's trying to attract an NFL franchise.”
Bernie added: “This isn’t an Alfred Hitchcock movie. And while I really do appreciate the entertainment value of a fine Chicken Little routine, the histrionics aren’t necessary in this instance.”
That’s what he added. What he didn’t add was any mention that Kroenke and Anschutz are business partners, keeping the Post’s perfect record of not letting its readers in on this inconvenient fact.
Now, I’ve certainly been called worse than an aroused writer in the blogosphere with a fine "Chicken Little routine" featuring “histrionics.” Actually, I kind of like it, having grown a little tired of “Commie pinko Socialist rat” over the years. And I’m always happy to be appreciated for my entertainment value, intended or not.
And while Bernie didn’t mention my name, at least he didn’t misspell it like his colleague did at Turf Show Times, a very nice Rams website where attention to such detail is apparently not essential when attacking someone.
But this also is not about me, it’s about the legitimate possibility—important to many in St. Louis—that the Rams may be bound for Los Angeles. And sorry, Bernie, this isn’t about “panic.” It’s about journalists including important facts when they’re writing a story.
Let me say it again: Chicken Little here is not predicting that the Rams are gone, only that the relationship between Anschutz and Kroenke is real cause for concern among those of us in St. Louis who would hate to see them leave.
Anschutz faces competition in the Los Angeles area from another aspiring NFL ownership group. He hasn’t cleared difficult environmental hurdles. He doesn’t have a team. He faces impediments.
There’s also the possibility—actually the most hopeful one for St. Louis—that another franchise such as the San Diego Chargers or the Jacksonville Jaguars could be purchased by Anschutz. I thought everyone knew that.
On the other hand, you should be aware that the NFL wouldn’t mind two teams sharing a state-of-the-art, $1 billion-plus stadium in the nation’s second-largest media market. So even if, say, the AFC’s Chargers make it up the freeway to L.A., it doesn’t end the prospect that the NFCs Rams would be next.
And there’s the little detail that the powerful Anschutz virtually rules the Los Angeles sports scene and that he and his stadium plan are viewed favorably enough that he did receive a rather convincing 12-0 L.A. City Council endorsement. A writer for the Los Angeles Times termed Anschutz’s NFL success “increasingly likely” this week.
We’ll just have to watch the story unfold. And while there’s nothing any of us can do about it, we don’t need to be wearing a blindfold. To ignore Kroenke’s relationship with Anschutz—or to insist there’s no way the Rams could leave St. Louis before 2014—is to do just that.
This brings us to the truly absurd part of the analysis by Miklasz and Turf Show Times: their insistence that I’m clueless about the timeline since Los Angeles wants a team right away, one that could play in the L.A. Coliseum as early as 2012 while waiting for a new stadium to be built.
“If Chicken Little did some homework, he’d know that the L.A. stadium deal won’t go forward unless the group has a commitment from an NFL franchise," Miklasz wrote. "And as the Los Angeles Times reports, the L.A. group wants to get that commitment by early 2012."
Really? I just don’t understand that the Rams are locked up until 2014 and they are therefore essentially out of contention to move?
Well, Bernie, let me help you with your homework. Let me help you understand how this might unfold in the real world.
Let’s say Kroenke can’t get what he feels he needs in the way of a major stadium upgrade in St. Louis—a likely scenario—and he reluctantly makes a deal to move the team back to Los Angeles. But it’s early 2012 and he needs to do it right away and his lease isn’t up until 2014.
Presumably, there’s no escape clause in the lease, and if the Rams tried to break it, St. Louis could probably obtain an injunction to force them to play here for the next three years. Game over, right?
I believe Mr. Kroenke’s representatives would have a chat with the powers-that-be in St. Louis that would essentially lay out our town’s two options:
1) You can force us to stay here as a lame-duck team, playing 30 miserable “home” games over three years featuring awful attendance, raucous booing and general misery—all dutifully covered on national TV as St. Louis is featured as a sore-loser, hypocritical city in decline. And then we leave after 2014; or
2) You can accept this very large check of $XXX million to your community (and perhaps your stilted PSL owners) as an early-departure settlement penalty. We’re sorry this didn’t work out, and we’ll go to bat for you if you ever build a new stadium suitable for an NFL franchise. Good luck.
If St. Louis would choose Option 1, it would have three years of the hell it “enjoyed” in 1987 after Big Red owner Bill Bidwill announced in midseason that the team was leaving. (Miklasz should remember this: He covered football for the Post at the time.) In this scenario, St. Louis permanently bans itself from consideration for an NFL team, and after 2014, has nothing.
In Option 2, St. Louis gets a bundle of money, doesn’t need to go three years of emotional torture and may well be portrayed as an injured party with some slight glimmer of hope (very slight) of stealing another NFL team some day based upon its market size and erstwhile support of the Rams.
If you’re a journalist who doesn’t think Kroenke would be tough and smart enough to buy his way to freedom—with hundreds of millions (or more) at stake—or if you think he’d let the timing of a little lease blow it all for him, then you really should stick to covering the games, and not the business of the games.
Also if you believe this is some speculative bizarre scenario, you might want to check out what happened in Seattle in 2008 when ownership of the NBA's Sonics gave up on getting a new arena and decided to move to Oklahoma City. Seattle sued to keep the team from breaking its lease, which ran through the end of the 2009-10 season, and guess what happened?
A settlement for $75 million happened, and off the team went to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, to the amazement of many in the sports press.
This is precisely what will happen if Kroenke decides he needs to move the Rams in early 2012. St. Louis would have to be insane to turn down the money, and just as foolish to cling to a team that would be leaving less than three years down the road.
So much for Miklasz’s assertion, today, that “the Rams can’t leave until 2014.”
Yes, they can.
Wait, I think I see the sky falling!
SLM co-owner Ray Hartmann is a panelist on KETC Channel 9’s Donnybrook, which airs Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Commentary by Ray Hartmann