When the Rams last played a home game, Nov. 24, the place was overrun with fans of the visiting-team Chicago Bears. After the Rams’ rollicking 42-21 victory, defensive end Chris Long referred to the setting as a “neutral field.”
That’s about right.
What should we expect?
I believe fans have been exceedingly patient with the Rams. I believe fans understand that GM Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher are in their second year of a massive project to build a winner.
The best marketing is winning. And the Rams still come up short in the most important area of all. At 5-7, the Rams must win their final four games to post their first winning season since 2003.
And though progress has been made in upgrading the roster, the Rams are probably headed to a last-place finish after finishing third in the NFC West last season. The Rams went 2-1-1 versus San Francisco and Seattle in 2012 but are 0-3 against their rivals so far this year.
After going an encouraging 7-8-1 in 2012, the Rams haven’t narrowed the gap in the NFC West. If anything, the gap is wider now.
Yes, the Rams are better under the leadership of Fisher and Snead. But that progress must be converted into wins, because that’s how you’re judged in this league.
And since 2004, the Rams are 49-106-1 for a .317 winning percentage that ranks 31st among the 32 NFL franchises.
So again: What should we expect at the Edward Jones Dome? At some point, enthusiasm and loyalty must be earned.
The Rams’ losing is even more maddening when you look around and see the Cardinals going on postseason runs and winning NL pennants. And see the Blues getting off to another terrific start. And see Mizzou’s football team ranked fifth in the nation and set to play Auburn in Saturday’s SEC championship.
It makes you want to holler: Yo, Rams … what’s your excuse? When are you going to do your part to join in on the success, and the fun? When will the latest rebuilding project end?
I don’t think fans want to read stories about how the Rams were frustrated but not embarrassed in Sunday’s one-sided loss at San Francisco.
Are we supposed to give them credit for that?
A team should always feel some embarrassment after getting thumped by a division rival for the second time this year. The Rams had a win and a tie against the 49ers last season but were outscored 58-24 in two losses to the Niners this year. Hey, but at least they weren’t embarrassed. Good grief.
I’ll say it again: The standards must be raised at Rams Park. They’re too low. The Rams should take notes from the town’s baseball team.
It’s no surprise to see the Rams averaging 57,132 fans per home game, which ranks 31st. Their percentage of playing to stadium capacity (87.5) ranks 29th.
That’s better than I would have guessed. For the most part, the fans are hanging in there. I don’t know how many NFL markets would still average nearly 60,000 per home game for a team that’s lost close to 70 percent of its games over a 10-year period.
That’s not all; other factors chip away at the enthusiasm.
Owner Stan Kroenke remains aloof. No one knows what he’s thinking about his team. No one knows if he plans to make a commitment to stay in St. Louis.
Kroenke has certainly spent a lot of money on the Rams; his financial commitment to Fisher and free-agent signings is strong. And Kroenke isn’t obligated to be a chatterbox; he’s a low-key guy and that’s fine. But if Kroenke would at least try to connect with the public, he could generate a lot of goodwill for his franchise.
Fans — customers — just like to know that the big boss cares, and that he’s right there with them. Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. lives in Cincinnati, but he’s frequently on the ground in St. Louis, a visible presence. And the team’s fans know that DeWitt is fully engaged with his baseball team. Blues fans know that owner Tom Stillman is passionate about his team, and that he bleeds blue along with them.
As I’ve written before, I don’t blame any fan for holding back. Why should they make a full investment — finances and emotions — when they can’t be certain that Kroenke plans to keep his team here?
The same dynamic applies to the stadium quandary. Obviously, the Rams want a better facility. I think many fans want one, too. The dome is a dreary venue.
OK, so how do we proceed? How can the Rams and local entities begin the process of partnering up to find a long-term solution?
The Rams aren’t going anywhere. The Los Angeles market is still is a mess, lacking a viable stadium plan that would meet the NFL standards. The NFL recently strengthened the grip on its control of the LA market.
According to the dependable Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams in October, reminding the owners that the league owns the Los Angeles market, and only the league will decide when and if a team can relocate there.
In the memo, the NFL also advised 32 owners to resist the temptation to buy real estate in the LA area for the goal of building a stadium. The NFL insists on playing an active role in structuring a stadium deal in Los Angeles, and the agreement must be on the league’s terms.
(As I’ve written before, based on my conversations with multiple NFL owners, the league wants to keep LA open for an expansion team, perhaps even two — and collect enormous fees to be divided among the 32 owners.)
Kroenke’s leverage is weak as long as the NFL continues to keep Los Angeles cordoned off, and out of play. Like it or not, Kroenke and St. Louis are going to have to figure out a way to make this relationship last.
And as much as I’d like to see Kroenke do himself and his team a favor by showing more warmth to his fans, the best thing the Rams can do is put a winning product on the field. Losing has been their most damaging problem.
Consistent success is the one way to create momentum that will result in full-house crowds and jump-start an earnest attempt to resolve the stadium issue.
As long as they keep losing, the Rams and Kroenke will remain stuck in neutral.