The NFL’s most important city doesn’t even have a team

There’s an old saying in sports: If a play is working, just keep running it.

The National Football League ran its stadium play again this month in St. Louis and, just as it has in every other city, it’s working perfectly so far.

Today, planners in St. Louis unveiled an estimated $900 million stadium plan to “save” football in the city.

As usual, it took the not-at-all-subtle move from the owner of the St. Louis Rams to gin up the panic.

“This is about the future … and that we need to fight for what it rightfully ours,” said former Anheuser Busch executive Dave Peacock, who was appointed two months ago to come up with “options” to keep professional football in St. Louis.

The only real option in the NFL, of course, is a publicly subsidized stadium.

Today’s unveiling comes just four days after the owner of the Rams — Stan Kroenke — said he’s planning to build a stadium near Los Angeles.

He and St. Louis and Missouri officials are $575 million apart on how much he’ll contribute to a stadium in St. Louis.

The local media, predictably, is in full panic mode, explaining how public financing is doable and not really that challenging, but questions whether the owner wants to stay in St. Louis.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

But there’s a reality here that should’ve been proven when Vikings owner Zygi Wilf ran the same play: The NFL can’t really afford to have a team actually move to Los Angeles.

“The NFL appears to be in no hurry because an empty L.A. market has been more valuable to the League than an occupied market since the Rams came to St. Louis 20 years ago,” John Vrooman, an economics professor at Vanderbilt University economics professor, told the St. Louis Business Journal .

He also provided the X’s and O’s on how to defend against the play.

“First, relocation threats from the (Oakland) Raiders and the (San Diego) Chargers obviously weaken the bargaining power of (St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke) with St. Louis, even if the League is shopping a double your money two-for-one relocation package,” he said. “The other advantage for St. Louis is that the more crowded the field of potential L.A. developers the weaker the overall position of any one developer. This competition among stadium proposals along with L.A.’s political quagmire, is what killed the L.A. expansion chances in the 2002 expansion into Houston. L.A. is economically powerful but it is also economically divided and politically dysfunctional.”

Vrooman said he believes Los Angeles will eventually get a team along with San Antonio becoming the NFL’s next bargaining chip.
“When dealing with the NFL, it is critically important to realize that the league is more effectively diversified and risk-free through time and space than any local or regional government or sports authority in any mid-market or large market,” he said.

But nothing will change until some community is willing to “play defense.” The NFL is smart enough to know that’s never going to happen.

  • Dave

    Think of all the [minimum wage hot dog jockey] jobs it will create move from the existing stadium.

    • I’m particularly enjoying the references to the obsolete and decrepit old stadium. Which is all of 19 years old.

      • We’re entering year 5 at Target Field. Only 15 more years until the Twins come around asking for a new one!

        • Well, that’s the other thing that fans — and certainly politicians — haven’t figured out.

          They think as soon as the funding deal is done, the deal is done and the money that’s committed is all the money that’s committed.

          Nothing — except a claim the Twins will win the World Series this year — could be further from the truth.

          The amount of money required to keep an arena/stadium up to current “state of the art” is enormous and is NEVER calculated when the pols and teams are throwing numbers around about how much the stadium is going to cost.

          • How IS that Target Center renovation going? Going to be done before Andrew Wiggins demands a trade out of here?

    • Gary F

      Most of the concessions at major stadiums don’t hire minimum wage workers. They don’t want minimum wage quality workers.. Most of the food workers at the big Minnesota people are “volunteers” who “volunteer” at the stands. Then the concession company, Delaware and Levy, pays the organization such as a school, sports program, music, and or church programs. The organization gets part of the take.

      I did this for a few years at the Metrodome and Gopher sports. You get decent money, tax free, that went toward my son’s high school tuition. There are parents who have completely paid for their kids Catholic high school education by doing this.

      It’s the construction jobs they want, which are good jobs, but only temporary. Look at our current construction market, unions benches are almost empty.

      • John O.

        I can vouch for Gary on this. I worked at the Xcel Center during a two-year stretch several years ago and my “earnings” went towards my son’s team expenses. I got to know a bunch of wonderful people and the earnings put a major dent into my bill.

  • In Jonah Keri’s excellent book, The Extra 2% (one of my favorite baseball books), he explains how MLB used Tampa Bay as a stalking horse in much the same way, prompting many cities to pitch in public money for new stadiums. But what city does baseball use now? Vegas? Portland? Nashville? I know the A’s want to leave Oakland for San Jose.

    Seattle is that city for the NBA. But unlike the NFL and MLB, I actually believe that threat to be true. Any city that doesn’t find public money for a new stadium (Kings last year, Bucks this year), will surely be hearing from Chris Hansen.

    • Baseball hasn’t had a stadium controversy in some time but the last time it did, it used something different than threatening to move. It threatened to simply disband the team.

      It worked.

      Target Field was born.

      • BJ

        wait, ask the Expos how that worked

  • moffitt

    I would like to see some state or city that currently has no pro sport teams pass a law banning professional sports. That would get their attention.

    • First we’d have to pass a law declaring the Constitution void.

      • BJ

        There might be MORE takers for that one than the banning of pro sports!

    • jdgalt

      I’d rather just have Congress ban governments, at any level, from spending tax money on sports facilities (unless it’s revenue from a ticket tax on that same facility once it opens). The owners have enough money, let them spend it.