A three-man arbitration panel ruled today in favor of the St. Louis Rams over the City/County of St. Louis, setting the stage for what will be either a major public payout for a renovated/new stadium or the Rams leaving Missouri altogether.
Last year, the Rams and the public agency (St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission) that runs the Edward Jones Dome presented different cases for what renovations would be required to make the Dome “top tier”, per the stadium’s lease. The Rams pushed to rebuild the roof and two-thirds of the stadium, a project that would cost up to $700 million. The agency’s offer was $128 million. Given the age of the facility and the number of new ones that have been built since, it only makes sense that the arbitration panel would rule in favor of the Rams. The St. Louis CVC now has 30 days to decide if it wants to go through with the renovations as specified by the Rams, or allow the lease to become year-to-year after the 2015 NFL season.
The ruling notes that for the Dome to be considered top tier, individual components of the stadium and the stadium as a whole would have to be among the top eight (quarter) in the league. The ruling doesn’t specify which stadia are top tier, but it’s not difficult to figure which ones would qualify in terms of amenities and fan experience:
- Cowboys Stadium (2009)
- MetLife Stadium (2010)
- Lucas Oil Stadium (2008)
- University of Phoenix Stadium (2006)
- Reliant Stadium (2002)
- Mercedes Benz Superdome (1975, renovated 2006 and 2011)
- Ford Field (2002)
- CenturyLink Field (2002)
This list could soon include the stadia for the 49ers and Vikings, raising the bar for the CVC in the process. The final determination date of top tier is March 1, 2015. Although the Rams are asking for lot, the simple fact of the matter is that they could’ve asked for more, like a fully retractable roof or Texas-sized scoreboards. Chances are, they would’ve been awarded it. That said, the ruling is pretty clear that what the Rams are asking for would propel “The Ed” to top tier status:
The Panel finds and concludes that The RAMS 2012 Plans will produce a First Tier stadium and that the CVC 2012 Plans will not. That is the Award of this Panel. There is no reason for the Panel to produce its own plan.
That last part is important, as it gives the Rams all of the leverage in future negotiations, should they choose to negotiate. The panel notes that it was left with a clear choice between one set of plans that would bring the stadium to top tier status and one that wouldn’t. One wonders if CVC had made a more accommodating offer, whether that would have been deemed acceptable by the panel.
The political phase comes next, and it promises to be juicy. There seems to be little public support for the cost and scope of renovations the Rams are asking for. In addition, the Cardinals could file a protest, considering that Busch Stadium was largely paid for with private dollars. The panel previously denied a CVC claim that the Rams pay for 49% of the project cost.
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).
The CVC uses the Dome as part of its convention facilities, and there may be a case to allow the Rams to leave for another stadium in the area because it’ll allow the CVC to open weekends that would normally be used for football games. That argument doesn’t seem to have legs, not when Indianapolis built a new stadium for the Colts and an expanded convention facility, and Atlanta is considering doing the same for the Falcons.
It’s not panic time for St. Louis Rams fans yet. But with Kroenke in such an advantageous position, no one can afford to play hardball with the man. The best they can hope is that Kroenke suddenly becomes magnanimous. Kroenke doesn’t have a track record of going all out for his teams (Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Arsenal), so don’t bet on him going all out for a new stadium.