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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Why Did St. Louis Get Hosed by the Rams? We're Clueless Yokels, Exec Says

Posted By on Wed, May 1, 2019 at 8:11 AM

  • Rams fans. RIP.
A new Deadspin article that calls the Rams' deal with St. Louis "possibly the most sweetheart lease of all time" asks a question city boosters would be wise to ponder:

"Why on earth," author Neil deMause asks, do city officials working on stadium deals keep "negotiating themselves into corners?"

The answer comes from St. Louis' tortured history on this stuff — courtesy of an expert in that torture: John Nagourney, a former sports management executive who helped the Rams get one over on St. Louis.

As DeMause writes of city negotiators: "They don’t know what they’re doing, and they won’t ask for help."

Going back to the Rams' original deal with the city, during the time it was contemplating leaving Los Angeles for St. Louis, Nagourney talks about a meeting with Rams' longtime president John Shaw:
"I went to a meeting in Los Angeles one morning,” recalled Nagourney. “We had a whiteboard, and we’re putting stuff down [to demand from cities]. And some of the stuff, I said, ‘Guys, some of this is crazy.’ And John Shaw, who was president of the Rams at the time—brilliant, brilliant guy — said, ‘They can always say no, let’s ask for it.’”

On the other side of the table, Nagourney explained, the city of St. Louis had to make do with staff attorneys, who weren’t versed in the details of sports finance. “A city attorney is not going to know where the money really is. They’re not going to understand advertising, they’re not going to understand concessions—just a whole range of issues that the team officials intimately understand.”
And as has become clear in the two decades since, while St. Louis could always have said no, it didn't.

That's how we ended up on the hook for not only the cost of building Trans World Dome and maintaining it among the "first tier" of stadiums across the country, even as the Rams plotted their move back to LA, but how we also gave the team the option to buy its old training facility for $1 — regardless of whether the Rams were still in town. (Spoiler alert: The team left and still exercised its option, claiming the $12.7 million complex. And it also won, last week, legal fees from local taxpayers, after the sports authority dared to try to stop it.) The city and county are still each paying $6 million a year on the old Dome, while the state is shelling out another $12 million. Meanwhile, the Rams are back in L.A. enjoying the ocean breezes.

There's another reason cities like St. Louis get hosed, Nagourney tells deMause: We're starstuck.

"It’s their first time dealing with celebrities," he says of yokels much like our own. "They’re just so enamored with the fact that ‘I’m dealing with people who get their name on Page Six.’”

Still, those aren't the only reasons. In the story, Tom Tait, the former mayor of Anaheim, offers yet another explanation, one that could also explain our local penchant for Field of Dreams-style magical thinking:

“Everyone’s at the party, and you don’t really want to be the guy not at the party. It’s groupthink, and you gotta really be pretty comfortable with yourself to say ‘none of this makes sense.’”

And yet none of it ever does. Maybe next time around, we can remember that and try saying "no"? Wouldn't that be a novel idea?

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