Non-sports fans are free to delete this and not read it because this article uses sports to illustrate an important point. However, the points I will make in this article are relevant far beyond this sports example. Therefore, I encourage you to bear with me.
As an avid – and foolish – St. Louis Blues fan, there is part of me that would like to see the Rams move because it makes it more likely that the Blues will be successful long term. (Since the Blues never win championships, Blues fans are as foolish as Chicago Cubs fans.)
The fact is, whether or not non-sports fans want to admit it, sports teams, and in particular NFL teams, bring a large amount of status to their cities. They are a civic asset that enhances the perception of a city. A metropolitan area like St. Louis is perceived as a larger and more important city than it really is due to the irrational impact that having football and baseball franchises brings to it. This gets to the core of the issue with Kroenke.
As the owner of the Rams, he has a civic duty that extends beyond his usual responsibilities as a strip mall owner and real estate developer. Strip malls are everywhere, especially near most Walmart stores. NFL teams are not. There are only thirty-two of them and it is unlikely that there will be more.
His actions over the last several weeks have shown the true colors of Kroenke. Unfortunately, his behavior is as selfish and devious as I expected based on his history.
For those who missed it, he announced plans to build a stadium in Los Angeles so he could move the Rams there. It’s the place where he wanted to move them. This announcement came four days before the St. Louis stadium people announced their plans for a new stadium in downtown St. Louis.
Kroenke also indicated, through his selfish billionaire pal, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, that he might just ignore NFL rules and move the team to LA whether or not the league approved. This was due to the fact that if St. Louis actually built a new stadium for the Rams, the league would be unlikely to approve of him moving the team based on league rules.
Mr. Kroenke’s success is based on taking advantage of the opportunity provided to him by marrying one of the daughters of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart. This gave him the chance to develop real estate and strip malls to house Walmart stores. After marrying into money and opportunity, he has worked hard to build a large real estate business worth ten or more billion dollars, give or take a few billion.
Along the way, he has accumulated sports franchises in English soccer, NFL football, NBA basketball, and NHL hockey. He has been in violation of NFL rules on cross ownership of franchises since he bought the Rams. And now he is taking actions and threatening to move the Rams whether it is approved by the league or not.
The evidence shows that the financially rich Kroenke is a selfish man who has decided that rules don’t apply to him. None of the four professional teams he owns have performed well during his ownership. Yet, he has made money on them because he bought them cheaply and watched their value rise as nearly all sports franchisees continue their irrational growth in valuation. His motivation to move the Rams is simple. The move to LA will increase the value of the team by more than one billion dollars because he will get larger local TV and radio contracts.
I am not critical of Kroenke’s success at making money. But I do criticize some of his techniques. And most importantly, Kroenke does not seem to understand that those who have opportunity and success owe something to society and to their community.
The owners the Cardinals and the Blues shine in contrast to the devious dealings of Kroenke. Bill DeWitt and his family have built the Cardinals into the model franchise for baseball. Many of the other franchises in baseball are trying to copy their formula so they can duplicate the Cardinals’ success. DeWitt has made the team significantly better after buying it from Anheuser Busch who had allowed the team to the decline in the early 1990s.
Tom Stillman, now the owner of the Blues, is a local businessman and lifetime hockey fan who has reignited the Blues franchise. He is often found during Blues games sitting in regular seats with the fans. Last week, my son saw him standing in the regular concession line, waiting to buy something. I have talked to him several times at games. Each time, he has thanked me for supporting the team.
Contrast this with the selfish and reclusive Kroenke. Clues to his devious nature were evident when he bought the team. He swooped in on the last possible day to exercise his first right of refusal to buy a majority interest in the team, trumping the offer of an entrepreneur who had been working for months to buy the team. It was certainly Kroenke’s right to exercise his buy option. But by waiting until the last moment, he caused the other potential buyer to expend significant amounts of money only to lose out on the franchise at the last moment.
After he bought the team, Kroenke pledged to correct his violation of league rules on cross ownership of franchises in other markets within two years. Now, over five years later, he has failed to correct these violations and he is now threatening to move the team to LA in further disregard of the league’s rules.
Stan Kroenke, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Wealth comes with responsibility. While you don’t have to be as philanthropic as Bill Gates, I believe the wealthy owe a debt to society. Most wealthy people recognize this and their generosity is what allows us to build museums, parks, and zoos. It is what allows charities to care for the less fortunate.
Owners of sports franchises have an additional responsibility. A professional sports team is not solely a financial asset. It is part of the identity and soul of the community whose name appears on its jerseys and memorabilia. The owner of a sports team has a responsibility to put a good team on the field and to wisely spend the money the team takes in so that the team will represent the community honorably by winning. Kroenke has failed miserably in this regard.
The reality is that most sports owners put the team and the community ahead of trying to make the most money they possibly can from the franchise. They invest nearly every dollar back into the franchise with the understanding that their ownership is a privilege that carries with it responsibility. The owners of the Cardinals and the Blues understand this. They run their franchises with that responsibility in mind.
What can we learn from this? While most, if not all, who read this article are not rich, most are far from poor. We have been blessed to the point that we do not worry about how to feed our family. We have had privileges and opportunities that the majority of people do not have. We have ample recreational opportunities and usually good jobs. We live in the greatest country in the world, and we – and our children – have more opportunities than most people in the world.
As a result of this, we have an obligation to give back. Whether through donations of our time or our money, we have a responsibility to contribute to our communities and to the less fortunate around the world.
Whatever level of success we have experienced, with that success comes responsibility. Fortunately, most Americans understand this. Unfortunately, Stan Kroenke does not.
Stan, you should be ashamed of yourself. Devious, self-indulgent, and me-first behavior like yours is what is destroying much of what is good about our country.