St. Louis Rams relocation application: A fact check
ST. LOUIS -- NFL owners meet Jan. 12-13 in Houston to decide if any of three teams -- the Rams, Chargers and Raiders -- will be granted permission to move to suburban Los Angeles. The Rams' relocation application made available this week highlights the benefits of their proposed new stadium in Inglewood, California, and criticizes their current market in St. Louis. Some points are spot on. Others are questionable or misleading:
RAMS: The Inglewood stadium would be a "world-class, iconic structure."
FACTS: No doubt. Owner Stan Kroenke's $1.86 billion stadium would seat 70,240 and have room for another 30,000 standing room only, with lots of high-dollar premium suites. It would be covered with a see-through roof while still open to the air and capable of hosting events like the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four. In addition, the site would house an entertainment district, restaurants and offices.
RAMS: The Rams' project "presents the league with the best economic opportunity in Los Angeles."
FACTS: That is open to debate. The Rams make the point that the Inglewood site with its potential 100,000 capacity could generate as much as $50 million more than a stadium proposed in Carson, California, for the Chargers and Raiders. But the Carson plan has a strong advocate: Disney Chairman Bob Iger would oversee the project, bringing the company's deep pockets and unquestioned expertise in entertainment and marketing.
RAMS: The team has a contractual right to relocate since St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome has not been maintained to "first-tier" status.
FACTS: It would be difficult to argue that the dome is among the top quarter of NFL stadiums, as required by the unusual lease deal that helped lure the Rams from Los Angeles in 1995. The Rams argue instead that it's among the worst. The authority that operates the dome and the team swapped proposals for a major overhaul in 2012, but they were far apart. When an arbitrator in 2013 sided with the Rams' estimated $700 million plan that would have been funded mostly by taxpayers, the authority refused. That decision helped clear the way for the Rams to leave.
RAMS: The Rams say they exceeded good faith requirements to engage with St. Louis and the dome authority, as required by NFL relocation guidelines.
FACTS: St. Louis and Missouri leaders strongly disagree. Since relocation talk began, Kroenke has met just once with Gov. Jay Nixon, in November, long after his intent to move was cemented. In a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responding to the Rams' application, Mayor Francis Slay wrote that he's never met Kroenke. "I have tried, as has the governor and others in St. Louis, to engage the Rams without success," Slay wrote.
RAMS: The proposal for a new riverfront stadium in St. Louis would send any team "on the road to financial ruin."
FACTS: That's pretty unlikely. The $1 billion stadium proposed by a governor-appointed task force includes about $400 million in public funding. The project has already reached a $158 million naming rights agreement with National Car Rental. The team's first-year rent payment of $1.5 million would be less than recent deals for the Falcons and the Vikings, the task force said in a rebuttal to the application. John Vrooman, a sports economics expert at Vanderbilt, said the new stadium would increase the team's value from the current $1.45 billion -- 28th in the NFL -- to $1.75 billion. But he also estimated that a move to the Inglewood stadium would increase the value to $2.15 billion.
RAMS: St. Louis is a declining market with a weak economy.
FACTS: St. Louis' economy is sound but not spectacular, and diverse enough that the region isn't prone to massive job losses, said Marcus Berliant, an urban economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis. The city is gaining attention for the increasing number of tech startups. The metro area ranks in the top quarter of the nation in both median household income and per capita income, according to census data. The region's jobless rate, 5 percent as of November, mirrors the national rate. The Rams' application is correct that the city of St. Louis ranks very low in economic growth, but that is misleading since economists generally use metropolitan area data, not city data, for analysis. St. Louis city has 318,000 residents in a region of 2.8 million people, and the sports teams draw most of their fans from the wealthier suburbs.
RAMS: St. Louis is not capable of supporting three professional teams.
FACTS: Three teams have co-existed for decades in St. Louis. Baseball's Cardinals are certainly dominant, ranked as the sixth-most valuable Major League Baseball franchise, according to Forbes, and annually drawing more than 3 million fans. Hockey's Blues, valued at $270 million, rank 24th among 30 NHL teams, and lost about $7 million last year, according to Forbes. The Blues are averaging 17,988 fans this season, 17th in the league.
Other markets of similar size to St. Louis support three teams, including Pittsburgh, Tampa and Cleveland.
RAMS: The team has been unable to improve its financial performance "despite significant financial investments."
FACTS: The Rams are certainly not among the top-performing NFL teams either on the field -- they haven't had a winning record since 2003 -- or off. Still, Kroenke paid $750 million for the franchise in 2010 and the value has doubled since then, according to Forbes. As far as "significant financial investment," Kroenke did hire an expensive coach, Jeff Fisher, and spends to the salary cap. The Rams sold out every game from 1995 to 2006, but attendance has dropped sharply. They ranked dead last in 2015, drawing an average of 52,402 fans in a 67,000-seat venue. St. Louis leaders argue the constant threat of relocation has dampened fan interest and attendance.