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Rams owners taking steps toward sale

Monday, June 1, 2009 | 9:08 p.m. CDT; updated 10:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 1, 2009

ST. LOUIS — The family of former St. Louis Rams owner Georgia Frontiere has hired the investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs to review the assets of her estate, including the NFL team, opening the way for a possible sale of the franchise, the Rams said in a statement Monday.

Frontiere was majority owner of the Rams, with 60 percent of the team, when she died in January 2008. Her death left her children, Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, as majority owners. Columbia, Mo., billionaire Stan Kroenke owns the remaining 40 percent.

Team spokesman Ted Crews said the Rams would have no further comment, and declined to say if the move means the Rams are definitely on the sale block. A spokesman for the NFL declined comment. Phone messages left with Kroenke and Goldman Sachs were not returned.

The franchise is far from the NFL elite — the Rams were 2-14 last season and 5-27 over the past two seasons. Still, Forbes magazine has estimated the value of the franchise at $929 million.

Fretting over the future of the Rams has become common in St. Louis, a city that has long suffered from low self-esteem when it comes to the NFL.

The football Cardinals were mostly losers during their 28 seasons in St. Louis before leaving for Arizona after the 1987 season. St. Louis was so sure it would get an expansion franchise in 1993 that a team name was picked out — the Stallions. But the NFL opted instead for Jacksonville.

So civic leaders set out to lure an existing franchise, and Frontiere, who grew up in St. Louis, agreed to move the Rams from Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest market, to her hometown before the 1995 season.

Last year, after Yahoo Sports reported the Rams were being shopped, Rosenbloom released a written statement that stopped short of saying definitively the Rams would not be sold, but read in part that he had "every intention of keeping the Rams in St. Louis."

Now, that's not so certain. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote Sunday that Rosenbloom prefers to sell to St. Louis representatives, but has been discouraged by the fact that no local buyers have stepped forward, so there would be no preconditions on the possible sale.

Kroenke could be one potential buyer, but NFL rules prohibit cross-ownership with franchises of other leagues, so he would have to sell the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche to buy the Rams.

The Rams aren't going anywhere in the short term. A lease agreement requires the team to remain in the Edward Jones Dome through 2014.

But in the long run, the dome may be more of the problem than the solution. The deal that lured the Rams required the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission to keep the dome among the top quarter of all NFL stadiums, based on evaluations at 10-year intervals. If it is deemed to fall short prior to the 2015 season, the franchise can relocate.

By 2015, the then-20-year-old dome will be among the oldest NFL stadiums. Getting it to top-tier status is unlikely.

"We'll continue to work with whoever the owners are," CVC president Kitty Ratcliffe said.

The CVC is spending $30 million to upgrade the dome prior to the 2009 season. Improvements include new scoreboards and video boards and upgraded clubs. Ratcliffe knows the next phase of improvements could be even more expensive.

"It could be anything from that amount ($30 million) all the way up to needing a new facility, and anything in between," she said.

A new facility would be a tough sell. Taxpayers built the dome just 14 years ago. When the baseball Cardinals decided to replace Busch Stadium, they had to so with mostly their own money.

 


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