Wednesday, January 13, 2016

National Football League: Chin up St. Louis. It's never as bleak as it seems.

Last Night the NFL Owner's Club met in Houston and decided to let the Rams leave St. Louis for (supposed) greener pastures in Los Angeles. This fulfills Commissioner Roger Gooddell's desire to return a team to the City of Angels where the NFL has been absent since the Rams and Raiders dumped the city.

Observers are correct, St. Louis never had a chance. The task force they commissioned could have come up with a plan that exceeded every requirement the NFL set forth and they still would have lost the franchise. They could have offered Ram's owner Stan Kroenke his ego's weight in gold and the Rams would still be heading to LA. They would be heading there because the perceived value of the team is going to double almost overnight once they arrive.

Already the other owners inside the club are gushing (as they do) over Kroenke's LA vision. Hyperbole in sports is almost a requirement now, stadium proposals and urban renewal just more rote from a group that's done a masterful job taking advantage of the undeveloped egos of local politicians. While it's easy to demonize the owners, the real problem in this lies with us, and our refusal to view NFL franchises as businesses, and not community property.

The fact is that the Rams (or Raiders, or 49ers, or Texans) are not citizens of the community. They are corporations doing business in a certain city until the next, best offer comes along. That they are a monopoly, supported by the Government is of little concern. They are akin to utilities except that a.) they are not necessary for comfort and b.) they have no obligation to the community.

For example, in Houston Centerpoint Energy runs the power grid. They are a private company who has a monopoly over the operation of the same. They have received subsidies for much of their infrastructure. They are, as such, required to provide service to all neighborhoods, rich and poor. The Houston Texans are the National Football League team conducting operations in Houston. They have no obligation to make their product affordable for all, nor do they have to sell tickets to every area of Houston, or require equal access to their games. They price their tickets based on what they think the market will bear, giving themselves the highest return. They have also received subsidies for their infrastructure (NRG complex).

I mention Houston for two reasons.  One, because I currently live here and two, we've been through this before. When the Oilers left I was sad just like everyone else. But, after a year or two I realized that things weren't as bad as I'd feared they would be.

For one, we were no longer subjected to the NFL's silly television rules. Other than Cowboys' games, we typically got to see the best NFL matchups each and every Sunday afternoon. This went away when the Texans came, as we got stuck with blackout rules and crappy Texans football for the next decade plus.  I wish we could go back to seeing the top games every week now.

The Astros and Rockets also did better, as fans paid more attention to them instead of Houston Football. College football, never a priority in Houston, started to get more attention from the local media, as did NFL news around the nation. The presence of an NFL team in your time is an attention-sucking black hole that you're going to find you're better off without.

Yes, there's going to be a question of who to root for, especially if you're a life-long St. Louis resident who lives and dies with the home town teams.  Trust me on this though, you're going to make it through just fine. You'll eventually find a team to root for and you'll develop a bond with them. It's not as if the Rams were long-time St. Louis residents anyway.

In a way, St. Louis, I wish you would have been brave enough to do what Houston did not. Namely, give the NFL a big municipal middle finger and tell them to have fun in Los Angeles, a city that isn't trying very hard to woo them in the first place.

So while things seem pretty bleak right now St. Louis let me remind you that it's not too long until pitchers and catchers report. If you're bound and determined to get NFL football back, in a Billion dollar stadium.  Maybe we can work out a deal over the Texans?

We'll talk.

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