L.A. Rams take first step toward possible move

January 06, 1994|By T. J. Simers | T. J. Simers,Los Angeles Times Staff writer Vito Stellino contributed to this article.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams will notify the city of Anaheim today that they intend to invoke the escape clause in their long-term lease for Anaheim Stadium to explore the option of moving.

The team will not give formal 15 months' notice today, as required by the escape clause, but will provide the city with a specific date indicating when it will do so.

While declining to provide the date, sources said the team is not expected to give formal notice before April, which would allow enough time to begin play elsewhere in the fall of 1995.

Today's notification puts other cities, including Baltimore, and the city of Anaheim on alert while also buying additional time for the Rams above and beyond the required 15 months' notice.

Formal notice will not indicate that the team has definitely decided to move but will, in effect, make the Rams a free agent without restrictions to accept all offers, including a new financial pitch from Anaheim.

Most speculation has focused on Baltimore as a likely place for the Rams to land, but the team has made no commitment at this time.

Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said last night: "We haven't had any meaningful discussions with the Rams at this time. We were advised they were going to give 15 months' notice. But they're considering all their options, and Baltimore is one of their options. We have to be assured we're not being used as leverage to improve their negotiating position, but based on the fact they've given notice and we're received assurances that they're willing to talk in faith, we plan to have discussions with them in the near future."

In addition to Baltimore, Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis lobbied hard for NFL expansion franchises recently before losing to Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C.

The Rams have prepared a news release that will be made available as soon as the team has officially informed the city of its intentions.

The news release will indicate that the Rams reserve the right, under their present lease agreement, to revoke the 15-month notice at any time once it's given, and remain in Anaheim.

The release will indicate the Rams' wish to explore the economic viability of remaining in Anaheim and will suggest that newer designed stadiums provide better revenue prospects than Anaheim Stadium.

The Rams, who finished 5-11 for a fourth straight losing season, averaged 45,401 fans per home game this year, their lowest total since arriving at Anaheim Stadium in 1980.

John Shaw, Rams executive vice president, said in a recent interview: "Our gross receipts are among those at the bottom of the league, and with recent expenses and the advent of free agency, I'm just not sure how viable it is going to be [to stay]."

Neither Mr. Shaw nor other Rams officials were available for comment.

According to the Los Angeles Times' sources, the team will make it clear in today's announcement that it will play the 1994 season in Anaheim Stadium.

Despite the problems inherent in becoming a lame duck -- falling attendance, interest and revenues -- insiders said the Rams do not intend to act quickly in resolving their future. In fact, Rams officials are not expected to make themselves immediately available for discussion with competing cities, thereby allowing bidders the time to evaluate each other and increase the ante.

When the Rams give formal 15 months' notice, they will have to immediately pay more than $1 million to the city of Anaheim, and will, if they decide to move, be obligated to pay off the remaining debt on stadium improvements, which is currently estimated at $30 million.

At the moment, the Rams pay the city of Anaheim a rental fee of 60 cents per admission, not to exceed $400,000. The Rams also pay 7.5 percent of ticket revenue to the city of Anaheim and 20 percent of their luxury box revenue. The Rams receive 50 percent of all revenue from parking and concessions.

The Maryland Stadium Authority has said Baltimore will begin construction of a $165 million stadium at Camden Yards as soon as it receives a team. A $1 rent per game will be charged.

If the Rams sign a letter of intent to move, they probably will have to sue the NFL at the same time.

NFL guidelines require teams to win approval from three-fourths of the league's owners before granting a team's request to transfer. The Rams would submit a "statement of reasons," and then the league would conduct an investigation and offer a recommendation to its ownership.

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