It never ceases to amaze me how much love there is for the Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona/Phoenix Cardinals or Big Red around the world. I was in Hawaii on the big island in November 2018, and I was walking the beach in my 1983 Neil Lomax away jersey. I had countless people ask me about it.
Where did I find it?
Are there any more like it?
People all over tell me when they see a jersey or piece of memorabilia that it's a shame they still aren't in St. Louis or shouldn't have left. That being said, we cannot change the past; all we can do is move forward.
Bill Bidwill is not innocent by any means, but he wasn't the sole benefactor of the Cardinals' move to Arizona. He was the VERY FIRST owner in the NFL to EVER ask for public funds for a stadium, so if you want to blame anyone for starting it, blame Bidwill.
After decades of losing and a sub-par product being trotted out onto the field year after year except for the mid-'70s, why in the blue blazes would St. Louis put up millions for an owner that was penny-pinching players after taking over from Stormy Bidwill in '72?
Mr. Bill Bidwill is known as a notoriously cheap owner. He was also a very anxious man who was very uncomfortable around players, fans, and the media. It is not a very good combination for an NFL owner. Funny enough, that is the same person Stan Kroenke was as an owner in St. Louis, or was that the plan? The point is Bidwill wanted St. Louis to pay for a stadium when it was clear to the city, fans, and honestly, anyone with a brain knew he had no intention of fielding a competitive team based on the money he wasn't willing to spend.
When the opportunity arose for him to move to Phoenix, where (he thought) he was promised a 70,000-seat palace that was going to be publicly funded, he jumped at the opportunity. The problem was that Bidwill was never promised that he would get a domed stadium in downtown Phoenix.
The NFL put up little of a fight to keep the team in St. Louis. At the time, Pete Rozelle, the NFL commish, tried to convince Bidwill to relocate to Baltimore, which was viewed as a much more plug-and-play NFL city over Phoenix. Where Phoenix was considered an expansion city. Bidwill didn't take the bait.
After much hand-wringing at NFL head offices in New York, he (Bidwill) was finally approved to relocate to Phoenix. In contrast, the NFL should have stepped in to help negotiate a solution in St. Louis for the team to be able to stay put, but it wasn't about doing what was right. It was all about money and how much they stood to make.
Whether you want to believe it or not, Phoenix leadership quickly realized their mistake in offering a deal to a carpetbagging owner in Bill Bidwill, who had very little interest in paying out money to players who could help his team win. The excuse used for a stadium not being built was the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late 80s and early 90s.
It was a bunk excuse due to other municipalities building stadiums with no issue, which would explain why Bill Bidwill was looking towards an LA move after the Rams bounced to St. Louis in '95 to rob them blind. Funny enough, in an interview from 1998 where he was asked what he thought of the then TWA dome in St. Louis, he said, "Had this been done then (1987), this would be a local conversation." the problem was St. Louis was suffering from political infighting and power struggles over the placement of the proposed stadium. Hence, it never came to fruition, which could be considered a good thing in some respects.
The Arizona officials who courted Bidwill eventually built the now-known State Farm Stadium in 2006 after being threatened by Bidwill to relocate the team to the vacant LA market in 1999/2000. The new stadium was named Cardinals Stadium, then the University of Phoenix Stadium, until 2018, when their naming rights expired. State Farm signed an 18-year agreement in 2018. The Cardinals stadium lease fully expires in 2036 and then goes Tier to Tier in 10-year increments.
The Prodigal Son Returns
Michael Bidwill, born on December 6, 1964, in St. Louis, Missouri, son of Bill, has taken over duties as the team owner since his father's passing. Since that transition, he has cultivated a series of new relationships that his father couldn't do. He has begun rebuilding the bridge blown to bits by his father on the way out of St. Louis in 1988.
Michael has given tens of thousands to outreach programs and charitable organizations in St. Louis since the Rams unceremoniously dropped a nuclear bomb on St. Louis's lifeless body on the way out of town, damn well knowing there wasn't anything St. Louis could do to stop them. Whereas Stan Kroenke had money on his mind once buying the team in 2010 was already out of St. Louis and back in LA.
Michael Bidwill didn't have to do these things. How many other owners in the NFL came to the rescue?
I am regularly asked if I'd like to have the team back. My usual answer is, "Absolutely!" "Who wouldn't?" especially since Bill Bidwill is out of the picture. I don't care if they usually stink. I grew up watching the Big Red, and I came to accept the Rams, but I have come to figure out that the NFL intended to fleece St. Louis out of millions and, at the same time, solve the LA problem, which had been perplexing them for a long time.
Most have yet to wholly know of the NFL's struggle during the '70s and '80s in the LA market. It wasn't solvable at the time. Most need to understand that this was before the advent of go-anywhere streaming services, NFL Network, ESPN, 24-hour news cycles, THE INTERNET! Need I say more?
Exit Stage Left
In today's day and age, NFL teams transcend their markets from a local to a worldwide perspective. It became less and less about putting asses in seats and more about revenue sharing and NFL-friendly, multi-billion-dollar TV contracts. It gave them the time needed to find a solution. That solution was Enos Stanley Kroenke and his billions to go into LA, where they couldn't get a stadium built through public financing and have him foot the bill.
Yes, Enos Stanley Kroenke brought football back to St. Louis first by trying to muscle his way into the 1993 expansion attempt, then by moving the Rams out of LA in'95 to cash in on St. Louis's sweetheart lease at the then state-of-the-art TWA Dome. St. Louis was a rental for the NFL, collateral damage if you will.
St. Louis was never anything more than a stop-gap for the NFL, whose ultimate goal was to milk as much money out of the football-starved St. Louis market as possible while at the same time trying to find a solution to the LA problem.
The original 1995 lease with the then CVC in St. Louis was a joke. We all know that story. Let me tell you another bedtime story for a moment: that '95 lease we speak of was revised or "amended" in 2003 once again "coincidentally" when rumors began to swirl in St. Louis about the Rams possibly relocating. Might I also add that Stan Kroenke purchased another 10% of the Rams by this point, going from 30% to 40%, so when it came down to the inevitable sale of the team in 2010, he had (Kroenke) the right of first refusal under the terms of his minority ownership agreement. Shahid Kahn, who was looking to buy the team, was left out in the cold. Mr. Khan purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are now being heavily rumored to be relocating shortly.
Excerpt from the late-great Bryan Burwell from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"As far as I can tell, what we have learned about Kroenke is that every move he makes is straight out of a Machiavellian playbook. From his cunning 11th-hour maneuver to gain complete financial control of the franchise to this latest reported strategy to seek an eight-figure "compensation" from would-be buyer Shahid Khan to step out of the buying process, his actions reek of cold-blooded duplicity."
Oh! I forget after the Rams moved from Anaheim in '95, John Shaw, then president of the team, always kept an office in LA during their entire stay in St. Louis.
Come on, folks, you know I don't believe in coincidence, not in something like this.
Some fans, especially die-hard NFL homers, tend to overlook the fact that, repeatedly, the NFL has looked to fleece fans out of billions to make billions more in revenue.
People in St. Louis know Oakland, San Diego, Cleveland, Baltimore, Houston, or any other municipality know the NFL mantra: "Hey If you don't build us a new stadium, we won't move your team to another market that will." It's blackmail. It's holding cities' feet to the proverbial fire to cough up millions, perhaps hundreds of millions. They don't have to keep an entity that doesn't care to be there because they'd be more than happy to pull up roots, pack up the Mayflower moving vans, and truck out of town through the cover of darkness.
Hey Baltimore, does that remind you of anyone?
*COUGH! Colts *COUGH!
Here is the deal: St. Louis-2(Cardinals, Rams), Baltimore(Colts), Cleveland-2 (Rams, Browns), Houston(Oilers), San Diego(Chargers, Oakland-2(Raiders, Raiders), Los Angeles-3(Rams, Chargers, Raiders), are just some of the cities that have lost NFL franchises at some point.
There are many more that NFL owners have threatened for decades with the prospect of relocation. The NFL has become a very lucrative business tactic to maximize revenue streams by having municipalities build new venues or massively retrofit stadiums every 15-20 years, if not sooner.
For example, St. Louis is still paying off the nearly $300 million in public funding it took to lure the Rams from LA to St. Louis in 1995. St. Louis still owes $9.245 million, $491,531 in interest to a total of $9.737 million, with the city of St. Louis looking to spend an additional $170+ million to upgrade the convention center portion of the Dome, which before COVID-19 is where the real money was made for the city.
I am trying to make the point that it is never enough for the NFL and its owners. They will never be pleased with what they have. The NFL always wants more, like a parasite. It will feed until it explodes, like a tick, and in today's day and age of 24-hour news cycles, 1000 cable channels, the big 4 TV networks, and don't forget the internet. The NFL has a stranglehold on media and coverage within and outside their local areas. NFL revenue sharing that allows even the smallest markets an upside potential is astounding!
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones bought the 'Boys" for a cool $150 million in 1989. The Cowboys are the most valuable franchise in sports, valued at nearly or exceeding $5 billion in 2020.
WOW! Think about that! An initial capital investment of $140 million with nearly a 250% increase in investment? Are you getting that kind of return on your 401k?
I doubt it.
Thanks for reading!