Ultimate Franchise Rankings: Rams are Number ONE! (hundred and fourteen)

ESPN tabulated their Ultimate Franchise Rankings for 2010 — always a fun excercise — and St Louis’s pro sports teams generally did pretty well. Those venerable Redbirds (#22 overall) ranked 7th among baseball teams, and the Blues (#41) ranked in the top half of their NHL brethren despite being one of the three or four teams unlucky enough to make the playoffs, which is another season unto itself. Even Bob Cousy’s St Louis Hawks (#44) fared well in the NBA poll despite just handing out the worst contract in the history of the game… What’s that? The Hawks don’t play in St Louis any more? I guess that’s what I get for not following the NBA.

In any case, our Rams didn’t do quite as well as their neighbors, ranking just a hair’s breadth above the defanged Oakland Raiders, and only the Toronto Maple Leafs rate below the Rams in “Bang for your Buck.” (An aside: what do the Leafs do that rates below winning only one of your last 18 home games, and heading into 2010 with AJ Feeley as your starting quarterback? Execute random fans? Serve only NA beer? Put hockey fights on pay-per-view?)

The Jones Dome. (Photo from missourinet.com)

Here’s part one of my dive into the rankings, with my reactions and quick fixes for the game-day experience. Also, for you lucky ESPN Insider subscribers, you can read some published commentary from yours truly and Jeff from RamsGab on the Rams’ in-depth ranking.

On Game Day

Bang for the Buck: #121 overall (#32 in NFL)
Stadium Experience: #114 overall (#29 in NFL)
Fan Relations: #110 overall (#28 in NFL)

I lump these three together, because the in-game experience was the real highlight of the Greatest Show era, and remains the best way to jump-start your standing in these types of rankings. The stadium was packed, and it rocked, becoming one of the loudest places in the league. (Granted, some of that was possibly thanks to artificial crowd noise, an old trick for dome teams.)

More importantly, the community of Rams fans that surrounded the Dome was lively and invested and hung together for perhaps the first time in the history of pro football in this town. Football fans here, long scarred from the losing ways of Bidwill’s Cardinals, are used to holing up in small enclaves. Given the team’s return to historic losing ways, and unstated mission over the past few years to cut ties with everything and everyone remotely related to the “Greatest Show” era, it’s not surprising to see old fans staying at home. Those that do attend are noticeably muted, and quick to leave.

The list price of Rams tickets may not be exorbitant, but it’s still awful high, especially if you actually want to see us win a game. Or even come close.

By my count, the Rams had one quality home game last season that was worth the price of admission — the thrilling 28-23 near-upset of the then-undefeated and eventual champion Saints — and that game was likely half-skipped or scalped by season ticket holders as a certain blowout. Sure, the 16-13 loss to Houston was closer, but neither offense was playing anything close to its A game.

This season should produce a home win or two, but that won’t re-establish the Dome as a place to be. The Rams would be wise to take a page from the Blues’ playbook, titled “How to win back the local fans.” They pulled out the stops with promotions. They invited the SLU student band to sit behind net and play during the breaks on weekend games (GREAT!). They introduced a furry blue monstrosity as a “fan-friendly” mascot (CREEPY!). They offer nights with cheap beer and food (AWESOME!). They really know how to retire a number, and they reconnect with their own team’s past as often as they can (A MUST!).

All this while going through some of the most painful rebuilding a franchise can do.

The Rams took a good step forward last year by opening up training camp practices to the fans after years of senselessly paranoid closed camps. But they badly botched the Deacon Jones retirement, moving it to pre-game at the last moment to clear their halftime schedule for a ladies football exhibition. The stadium’s empty seats outnumbered those that were filled by 10-1. Jones may be a franchise legend, but the local fans will be deeply invested in Isaac Bruce’s retirement (scheduled for October 31), and the Rams have to get it right.