Rams should apologize for fleecing poor St. Louis

January 18, 1995|By Jonathan Rand | Jonathan Rand,Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's sad to see our good neighbors in St. Louis falling over themselves to thank somebody for robbing them.

Georgia Frontiere should be apologizing for turning the Rams into a laughingstock and promising she'll try to do better because St. Louis was kind enough to give her sorry franchise a soft place to land.

Instead, she's the belle of St. Louis for graciously accepting the biggest bailout of a failed business this side of the S&L scandal. St. Louis leaders tied down her club president, John Shaw, and kept stuffing money in his pockets until he cried, "Uncle."

Incompetence in most businesses is penalized, not rewarded, and the Rams were projected to lose $6 million last season. In a league with revenue sharing and a salary cap, that's like losing money running a casino.

Not even the Rams can lose money now. They get a sweetheart lease for a $260 million domed stadium, a $15 million practice facility, $30 million to escape their Anaheim Stadium lease and $15 million for moving expenses. These expenses will be met by selling $60 million to $70 million in personal seat licenses.

The Rams can back out if fans don't buy a set minimum of personal-seat licenses -- 40,000, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The licenses are for the privilege of buying season tickets, so in the taxpayer-funded stadium fans can get nailed twice.

Shaw said the Rams have as good a deal as any in football -- and it's theirs even if they still stink. Heaven forbid they should have to prove themselves on the field.

If Chicago or New Orleans gave a team a deal like this, everybody would want to know whose palms were greased. The Rams did not have to pay off a soul because St. Louis suffers from that great American rube complex: If you don't have a big-league franchise, you're not a big-league city.

According to U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt, this giveaway proves that "St. Louis is a big-league town."

Excuse me? An area of 2.5 million people needs a crummy football team to establish itself as a big-league town?

I'll be the first to admit the Chiefs and Royals, regarding stature, separate Kansas City from cities with Triple-A ball. It's a fact of life that major-league franchises have become luxuries cities can either partly subsidize or lose.

But St. Louis, with the Cardinals and Blues, hardly lacks big-league affiliations.

Maybe for its money, St. Louis will get as lucky as Indianapolis. That city paid handsomely for a mismanaged franchise yet in 10 years has seen the Colts rise to reasonable mediocrity. Maybe St. Louis will get extremely lucky, and Frontiere eventually will be bought out entirely.

Maybe when St. Louis stops acting like a farmhouse that finally got indoor plumbing it will face a few hard realities. Anaheim wasn't a bad football town, any more than Tampa is or St. Louis was when the Cardinals flew the coop.

Given the NFL's overpriced tickets, people don't pay for bad football. If the Rams remain hapless, attendance will dwindle as soon as the novelty of having the NFL back in town wears off.

St. Louis also needs to get real about the benefits of an NFL team. They are mainly intangible, and the economic impact is highly debatable.

The claim by one study that the Rams will be worth $100 million a year to St. Louis is especially debatable -- and creatively calculated to show St. Louis it got a good deal.

Yeah, St. Louis got a great deal. And if you believe that, I have an arch I'd like to sell you.

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