Let the dome continue to be home

Some may groan when someone tries to relate sports to larger issues in our society, but sports = money, which equals societal priorities. There’s a looming issue in St. Louis, MO with the professional football team, the Rams. They have a 20-year lease on the Edward Jones Dome (aka TWA Dome), and it runs out in 2014. The team came to St. Louis from Los Angeles, and it seems quite possible that it could turn into a round trip, just with a 20- year layover.

Ownership of the team is currently in transition, but it seems likely that it will fall into the hands of Wal-Mart-heir-in-law Stan Kroenke. This is a man who has been successful in business, but who seems to leave a wake of disappointment, possibly despair, behind his enterprises. Most recently, he secured a seven- million- dollar TIF (tax-increment financing) from the small town of Bridgeton, MO in order to build a Wal-Mart. Bridgeton doesn’t have money to sacrifice; its median household income is nearly 20% less than that for St. Louis County as a whole.

Mr. Kroenke has neither committed himself to keeping the Rams in St. Louis nor in the Dome if they remain in St. Louis. The Rams organization secured a rather unusual provision in their lease for the dome prior to coming to St. Louis in 1995.  After 20 years in the Dome (meaning 2014), the team can opt out of its contract, if the Dome is not among the 25% best stadiums in the National Football League. This was part of the price of getting the Rams to leave the City of Angels to come to the Gateway Town. St. Louis was desperate, in part because it had already begun construction on the Dome in anticipation of securing an N.F.L. franchise; it didn’t want the dome to be a stadium where no one played.

There are two reasons why this provision seems absurd, even if it was deemed reasonable by former Senator Thomas Eagleton and other “movers and shakers” who arranged for the Rams to come to St. Louis.

First, how does one measure which stadiums are the best. Second, if every team had the same policy, you would have 75% temporary losers resulting in “stadium-palace-inflation;” i.e. each team trying to build a stadium more like the Taj Mahal at huge expense to tax payers with no particular gain to fans or players. It’s still football; you need a field, a couple of goal posts, and some place to sit.

So having gone to a Rams exhibition game at the Dome, I’ll acknowledge that there probably are “better stadiums.” But, while it was 92-degrees outside, it was 72-degrees inside, and when it’s in the teens in December (and hopefully January for the Rams), it will still be 72-degrees inside. The jumbo-tron shows replays; it’s fine by me. I only wish that at the game I could do what I do when watching it at home; TiVo it and start watching about 90 minutes into the game, fast-forwarding through the commercials.When they build a stadium where you can do that, maybe I’ll think that it’s worth building.