The NFL news cycle is frenzied, but to an extent it’s still predictable. Give me a week — any week, any week at all in the entire year — and I can pretty much tell you exactly what I’ll be writing about, because although the subjects change, the basic subject matter often doesn’t. Second week of April? Some potential first-round pick smoked a doobie in college, and this could make him an asshole. First week in December? At least 19 teams are still in playoff contention. Discuss.
It’s circular, but never, ever boring, because the different pieces that fit into the churning machine during any given year remain unpredictable. That machine is halted sometimes, but it takes a unique and compelling story. Like, say, bountygate allegations, or Jesus changing teams, or Peyton Manning signing somewhere that isn’t Indy. And that’s just this past offseason.
But in January for at least one day during the height of the playoff lunacy, there was an off-field item that directed our gaze elsewhere. The Rams volunteered to become London’s first “home team,” with owner Stan Kroenke — who’s also a majority owner of Arsenal, a team that’s sort of a big deal among those who follow the other kind of football — signing his team up to play three home games on the other side of a very large pond.
It was more than just a friendly international gesture. As we wrote at the time, with the lease on the Edward Jones Dome expiring in three years, it was a flirtation with a move to a different city that maybe wouldn’t leave over 11,000 seats empty during home games. It seemed very real too, with Kroenke making no attempts to bat away the suggestion of a move by offering even a public relations response that was steaming with the stench of fecal matter.
Now, abruptly, that’s over, or at least on hold, with the Rams backing out of a commitment to play games in London in 2013 and 2014. We blame the Spice Girls after they reminded the world yesterday that they exist.
The Rams will still play in London this year and remove one of their home games in 2012 to face off against the Patriots on Oct. 28 and Wembley Stadium. But beyond that, the deal is no more, as the team looks to instead focus its efforts inward to make the necessary upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome and ensure it becomes a “first tier” facility before the lease expires at the end of the 2014 season.
Rams president Kevin Demoff issued this statement in a press release:
“We are looking forward to playing in London this season as the NFL’s international series offers a unique opportunity to grow the American football audience, expand the Rams’ brand to international fans and enhance St. Louis on the global stage. However, moving forward, we believe our attention needs to be on the ongoing First Tier process. We have worked closely with the NFL in coming to this decision and remain key supporters of the international series and its’ objectives.”
Being a “first tier” facility simply means that a team’s stadium is among the top eight in the league. For the Edward Jones Dome to reach first tier status, significant renovations are needed, and how much that will cost depends on whose pocket book you’d like to believe. In June the Rams approached the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission with a $700 million plan, and the CVC countered with a $124 million proposal. So yeah, there’s some ground to cover there.
The impact of this latest move by the Rams could be rooted in public appeasement. The fanbase clearly wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of watching their home team play somewhere that isn’t home, so Kroenke obliged, surely wanting the burning effigies off of his lawn.
The gift-giving process is one of reciprocation, though, and while the warm fuzzy feeling of the Rams sticking around may feel nice today, the reality is that Kroenke still wants the city to use its collective finances to show how badly they want their beloved team to stay. In this case, mo money means less problems, maybe.
Absent a financial commitment to upgrade the stadium, there’s still a chance the Rams could flee the midwest in two short years.