While the Phoenix Coyotes sale was collapsing in Arizona, an equally momentous event was taking place in St. Louis, where a panel of arbitrators officially ruled that the Rams‘ $700 million plan for upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome would keep the dome a “first tier” facility, while the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission’s $124 million renovation option would not. Which means that according to the terms of the Rams lease — which, as Field of Schemes readers will recall, was the result of some of the most awful negotiating by a city in the history of stadium deals — either the city needs to spend $700 million to upgrade a stadium that only cost $280 million a year to build in the first place 17 years ago, or the team can bust out of its lease and move elsewhere in 2015.
This was probably inevitable, given that that godawful lease — as excerpted in the arbitrators’ ruling, available here — defined “first tier” as “the Facilities, taken as a whole, and each Component of the Facilities, respectively taken as a whole, must be among the ‘top’ twenty-five percent (25%) of all NFL football stadia and NFL football facilities, if such NFL football stadia and facilities were to be rated or ranked according to the matter sought to be measured.” In other words, the Jones Dome needed to be considered one of the top eight stadiums in the NFL, and every piece of the dome, from scoreboard to bathroom plumbing, needed to be in the top eight as well, or else the Rams could demand that it be upgraded and walk away from their lease if it wasn’t. What on earth the city negotiators thought they were doing — that hardly anybody would ever build another new NFL stadium after this one? that “state of the art” would only mean painting it new, trendy colors? that they’d be out of office long before anybody noticed what had happened? — isn’t clear, but the upshot is that St. Louis now faces a choice between spending $700 million to replace a 17-year-old stadium, or letting the team it spend big to lure to town walk after only 19 years.
The St. Louis CVC now has 30 days to decide whether to accept or reject the Rams’ plan, with most bets being on rejecting it, since holy crap, $700 million. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Rams will leave, though, just that this will likely be the start of a brutal stadium negotiation battle. As Newballpark.org sums up matters:
While the next decision is up to St. Louis pols, Rams owner Stan Kroenke has all the cards. Kroenke has repeatedly stated that he wants to keep the team in St. Louis, so an LA threat may not loom as large as it would for the Chargers, or even the Raiders. Still, AEG’s Farmers Field project should prove an effective stalking horse if Kroenke chooses to use it. Already there is some talk about the Rams moving to a new open air stadium, which could be located downtown or in the suburbs of St. Louis County. The Rams’ real goal may be to get a venue where they have control over all revenue streams, even if it means some sort of private contribution towards the stadium’s cost. In the end, a new stadium may be the only solution that works for both parties, since it wasn’t clear where the Rams would play while the renovations at the Dome happened (the project could take as long as three years).
I’m not sure if “works for both parties” is the best way of putting it, since building an entirely new stadium less than two decades after the last one isn’t likely what anyone in St. Louis had in mind as a “workable” plan. Both sides have leverage here — the Rams have the ability to move, thanks to the NFL’s national TV contract that makes market size for teams pretty much irrelevant, while St. Louis has the team’s proven fan base and the fact that no other cities have “first tier” stadiums ready to go or even in the works. Still, it’s almost impossible to see this whole thing ending without somebody, whether taxpayers in St. Louis or in another city, shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars. All we can really hope is that whoever negotiates the lease this time refuses to put in a state-of-the-art clause, or this could turn into one of those battles that repeats itself endlessly.