Photo of Stan Kroenke/AP Photo/Nick Ut
They comprise the most infamous club in the history of sports: Walter O’Malley, Robert Irsay, Clay Bennett. These are all sports owners who ripped teams away from cities that showered them with love and tax dollars, and moved them to another city for a sweeter deal.
They are corporate raiders as well as shameless welfare kings, and their only true legacy is in Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Seattle, where their names are cursed to this day. While other owners have also moved teams, they are arguably the most unprincipled and infamous.
To their ranks, we must add the name of Stan Kroenke. The billionaire real-estate mogul has just announced the moving of the Rams from St. Louis, where they have resided since 1994, back to Los Angeles, where they failed dramatically to find an audience. What makes Kroenke worse than the typical owner who moves his team? So very much.
Let’s start with Kroenke’s very name, because here you have the first insult. His birth certificate reads Enos Stanley Kroenke. He was named after Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, the Cardinals stars who are arguably the two most iconic people in the history of St. Louis. It’s as though the person who stole the Sonics out of Seattle had been named Kurt Cobain Bennett.
Then there are the insults to the intelligence of anyone with even a high school understanding of the NFL’s business model. Kroenke said that if the Rams remained in St. Louis, they would be “on the road to financial ruin.” There is no—repeat no—NFL team that is on the road to (or even resides in the same town as) financial ruin.
The reason the league is able to have teams in New York and Green Bay compete on the same economic playing field is that the franchises—with the exception of the Dallas Cowboys—split their television money and merchandise sales equally. The league is the most successful financial entity in the history of sports in no small part because of the way it divides revenue among the clubs.
As the late Browns owner Art Modell said, “We are thirty capitalists who act like socialists.” Modell—who broke Cleveland’s heart by moving the team to Baltimore—would have been more accurate if he had said, “We believe in socialism and corporate welfare for us and hyper-exploitation for the people of our cities.”
Here we have the injury that goes with Kroenke’s endless insults. The taxpayers in Missouri still must pay off $72 million in stadium bonds for the Edward Jones Dome. That debt is on their shoulders even though the stadium they bought will probably become a dilapidated husk without an NFL team to call it home.
The city of St. Louis offered Kroenke $500 million in public funds, which he turned down to go to Los Angeles, saying, “I couldn’t sit there and be a victim.” Here’s a billionaire so incredibly out of touch he can look at half a billion in corporate welfare and call himself a “victim.”
The most rotten part of the whole deal is that Enos Stanley Kroenke will only be the first owner to move his team to Los Angeles. The plan that Kroenke sold to drooling NFL owners involves a stadium that could potentially house two teams. That means “moving to Los Angeles”—which just happens to be the second largest media market in the United States—will still exist as a threat for owners in small markets looking to extract even more corporate welfare from their cash-strapped municipalities.
The Minnesota Vikings did it and the San Diego Chargers are doing it now. It’s using sports as a method of extortion and it’s ugly as sin. The next time someone wants to speak to you about the “criminals” in the NFL, tell them that this discussion can only start with the owner’s box. ω
Dave Zirin is the host of the podcast Edge of Sports and the sports editor of The Nation. His latest book is Brazil’s Dance with the Devil.