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The Rams Hear London Calling. It’s Up To St Louis To Answer.

Rams beat reporter Jim Thomas reports that the Rams have agreed to play a home game in London for each of the next three years, helping Roger Goodell build a fan base across the pond and uniting two of Kroenke’s highest-profile business interests — the Rams, and the Arsenal Gunners of the English Premier League.

Stanley Enos Kroenke’s love of sports comes from his Missouri childhood, raised as a fan of the St Louis Cardinals and named after two of its all-time greats. But his business acumen comes from the Wal-Mart world, which is built on finding markets and seizing opportunities wherever you find them.

St Louisans cheered Kroenke’s bid to take over the Rams, hoping to celebrate him as one of their own. But now they are running up against his business side, and his perceived lack of commitment to St Louis, who may lose the team in 2015. How does this move impact our city’s chances of keeping the Rams?

The answer is complex, but for now it does not sit in Kroenke’s hands: the ball is in the City of St Louis’ court.

When Stan Kroenke personally introduced Jeff Fisher to St Louis as its newest football coach, he firmly deflected any questions about his team’s long-term commitment to the city, saying: “I don’t think for me to comment on that process is timely. I think the city has within its power, to present a propsal to us by Feb. 1. There’s a team in place to deal with that.

“We’ll see how it sorts itself out.”

Such talk presents Kroenke as a man waiting to take action, but his London announcement with the NFL shows that he has hardly been sitting still.

For the St Louis CVC, which manages the Edward Jones Dome and the convention facilities within, the difficult task of presenting a proposal for upgrading the Dome to make it a “top tier” facility now has additional political complexity. For the Rams to move to London and have nationally televised games three weeks in a row represents a strengthening of the team’s brand, but it helps the city little.

Economists have often debated the worth of professional sports to local cities, arguing that the limited job creation and recreational spending that are generated by pro sports are just borrowing from other jobs, other spending, that might be done on other local entertainments. Trying to quantify the value of sports usually falls to qualitative factors — does wearing one’s team colors boost civic pride? Does having a championship banner hanging from a hall drive up the perceptions of your city as a growing, thriving place? Do these factors help St Louis attract people and grow where similar-sized cities such as Oklahoma City or Omaha might fail to register?

And if such questions about keeping the Rams boil down to civic pride, how then should the CVC respond to Kroenke’s slap-in-the-face deal with London and the NFL? Should they swallow their own pride and submit a good-faith offer? Or will they be tempted to invite Silent Stan to take the other seven home games where he will, if he finds other pastures to be so green?

For those St Louis fans who are asked to buy season tickets, year in and year out, this London deal is already unpopular and unsettling. A rabid few will book tickets overseas and cheer along with pints of bitters in hand. But for most of the Show-me state, they can only sit and stew unhappily as forces larger than they control the fate of their team.

 

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