Rams drop plans to play in London in 2013-14
ST. LOUIS -- Toss the travel plans. Re-sketch your schedule for one Sunday each in 2013 and 2014. London Calling? The St. Louis Rams will call the Edward Jones Dome home instead -- and it's a savvy, but curious, move by the franchise.
On Monday, the Rams announced that they gave the Wite-Out treatment to two years of a three-year commitment to play at London's Wembley Stadium. It's the franchise's effort to put forth its best public face as debate continues for how to turn the Ed into a "first-tier" NFL facility soon. All this is part of the Great Watch to see whether or not the blue and gold will break their lease after the 2014 season and put a shovel in ground elsewhere. Perhaps Los Angeles?
Of course, the issue is complex. This is politics, after all, and the Rams' direction is at stake. It has included short-lived proposals from both the franchise and the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission. It has included a canyon-like gulf between the visions -- a $700 million plan from the Rams and a $124 million effort from the CVC. It has included a vote to enter arbitration, which Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said Monday is scheduled to start near the middle of the upcoming season.
So boundaries are blurred in this chess game. The franchise's line: The decision to lose London after playing the New England Patriots there in Week 8 this season is a move to solidify its position in an area where some are restless about the team's future. In other words, the Rams backpedaled on their multi-year European excursion as fast as cornerback Cortland Finnegan shuffles his cleats after a snap.
Smart, but curious.
"I think it's the right decision at this time for our organization and what we're trying to become," Demoff said. "We want to grow globally, but we need to make sure that we're on solid footing first here in St. Louis and in this region. I think we're taking the right steps to do that each way."
Fair enough. But where was that sentiment in January? Why was an about-face even necessary Monday? What does it mean for the future?
Remember how this all began. The Rams placed the final touches on a dreadful 15-65 five-year stretch last winter. Less than three weeks later, owner Stan Kroenke praised the three-game agreement in this way: "We are excited about the opportunity to reach new audiences globally. This is a great platform to showcase the city of St. Louis to London and the UK.... We've seen first hand the increased popularity of the NFL not only in London but throughout Europe. To play a role in that growth over the next three years will be incredible."
Yes, there is plenty of excitement in those words. In addition, NFL UK managing director Alistair Kirkwood called the commitment "unprecedented" and said his group wanted to focus to make the Rams Great Britain's "home team" during the agreement.
What changed in less than seven months?
Well, the stadium debate in St. Louis gained urgency. Proposals were exchanged. The Rams' bullet points went public against their wishes thanks to Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Each side denied the opposing plan. The CVC voted to enter arbitration in June.
That's many parts on the move. Oh sure, there will be more developments before the year ends. The situation remains fluid.
As a result, strategies do too. And this is where the savvy aspect of the franchise's decision to say, "Cheerio" to London after this season comes in: Perhaps the Rams understood the unhealthy message sent by lingering around the River Thames like a thick fog for three seasons. Perhaps leadership understood that a distraction in coming years when the team is trying to build momentum for a new era under coach Jeff Fisher is beyond unnecessary. Perhaps there were other motives involved.
Whatever the case, a contentious point between the Rams, some of their fan base and the CVC has been resolved. That's a step forward for everyone invested in the franchise's future in St. Louis.
Fair or not, perception often becomes reality in professional sports. Image matters. Given the deal's length, some viewed the London agreement as a sign that the Rams had one eye fixed on real estate elsewhere.
"While this is something that we believe in and we continue to believe in, and I hope at future points we'll be able to play in London," Demoff said, "this was just not the right timing for the organization and for our fans, and I think that today's announcement reflects that."
Savvy move. But it's curious that it came to this at all.