While ranking 83rd among 122 pro sports teams isn't necessarily something to be proud of, the trend of the Rams' franchise is finally pointing firmly in a positive direction. All the small reasons for optimism that we in the Rams blog community have been holding on to for the last few years are starting to become widely seen.
Or, to put it another way, the Rams are finally relevant again. But it took a complete overhaul from the top to the bottom to make it happen. Let's start at the very top, where a key factor just fell into place.
The Stability Factor
Ownership: #80 overall (22nd in the NFL) … was #114 overall (31st in NFL)
The Rams gained a lot of stability when Stan Kroenke’s ownership bid was approved. If there's such a thing as a "professional sports owner," Kroenke fits the mold exactly: passionate but hands-off, and willing to invest in his teams. But there is a noticeable gulf between the perception of words and deeds when it comes to Stan’s commitment to St Louis. (Or, by proxy, St. Louis’ commitment to potentially financing a new stadium.)
The ownership ranking is made up of three parts (and to be honest, I'm not sure how they quantify these rankings): "Honesty" in dealings with the media, "Loyalty" in their treatment of core players, and "Commitment" to the city. Kroenke hasn't been in charge long enough to make any promises, let alone break any, but if his part in the contract commitments to Steven Jackson and Sam Bradford are any indication, Loyalty should rank high.
It's the commitment that has everyone wondering.
Kroenke has said many times, most recently to Bernie Miklasz, that he wants to keep the Rams in St Louis. Key word, “wants” … not “will.” Or, as Miklasz puts it, “In my conversations with Kroenke, he has consistently and repeatedly stated his desire to keep the Rams in St. Louis.... But one thing Kroenke won't do is guarantee anything.”
This is where Kroenke's professionalism might hurt his public perception, especially in a city already victimized by Bill Bidwill and his evil moving vans. Kroenke doesn't seek interviews, he hasn't engaged in any public "votes of confidence" for his teams' GMs or coaches in more than a decade, and he never tips his hand in business dealings. No matter what his passion for a team or its community, he won't sacrifice bargaining leverage, especially when dealing with that community.
Notably, none of Kroenke's teams rank particularly high in these ownership rankings: the Denver Nuggets rank 51st (11th in the NBA), and the Avalanche rank 72nd (22nd in the NHL).
Farmers' Field: if they build it, who will come?
The “Commitment to the area” ranking contains every name on Roger Goodell's short list of candidates for the new stadium in Los Angeles: Minnesota, Jacksonville, San Diego, the Raiders and the Rams. (The 49ers may not be committed to Candlestick, but the farthest away they're likely to move is Santa Clara.)
A prolonged lockout might have put a huge dent in the plans for Farmers Field, but with an agreement very possibly on the way, the looming threat of the Los Angeles market can be held over the heads of each of the teams on the list.
It's curious, though to see the Bengals at the very bottom of this list, even though they have a relatively new stadium. They also rated below the Rams in “stadium experience” … because they are dead last in promotions, giveaways, and fan-friendliness. Perhaps this is more a sign that Cincinnati fans’ commitment to their team’s owner is at the bottom of the league.
At the very least, we know that Stan Kroenke is committed to the Rams. The next few years will determine whether he and the City of St Louis can reaffirm their commitment to each other.