ST. LOUIS • Matthew Dewey just wanted a fair deal.
Dewey, general manager of the America’s Center convention complex, sat down this fall with representatives of one of the nation’s newest football leagues, the XFL.
He knew of the bargain city leaders gave the St. Louis Rams two decades ago on rent at the city’s new domed stadium — $25,000 a game, plus the lion’s share of advertising and concession dollars.
And he ignored it.
In November, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck agreed to pay $100,000 in rent per game plus all concession cash to the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, managers of the stadium now called the Dome at America’s Center.
“It’s a fair deal,” Dewey said recently. “Good for the city, good for the facility. And it’s also good for the client.”
The XFL has reached similar agreements in cities from Tampa Bay to Houston; they are results, in part, of the league’s new arrival and farm-team stature in comparison with the mighty National Football League. But they also reflect a mentality changing in some cities across the country: Civic leaders are asking for more from team owners building new facilities, and cutting tougher contracts with sports teams.
Two years ago, MGM Resorts International and Anschutz Entertainment Group built the $375 million T-Mobile Arena, home to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, out of their own pockets.
California investor Anthony Precourt agreed earlier this monthto privately fund a 20,000-seat, $225 million Major League Soccer stadium in Austin, Texas — and also pay $8.25 million in rent to the city over the 20-year lease.
And Stan Kroenke, who moved the Rams to Los Angeles in 2016, is privately financing his palatial Inglewood stadium — now expected to cost more than $4 billion.
St. Louis, buffeted by residents’ anger after the Rams’ departure, is on the same path. City voters turned down last year a $60 million tax proposal to build a stadium, quashing hopes for a MLS expansion team then. A new proposal, by World Wide Technology chief executive Jim Kavanaugh and Enterprise Holdings’ Taylor family, is now gaining steam, in part because the families say they’ll pay for stadium construction themselves.
The Rams’ arrival
It’s a far cry from the deal that brought the Rams to St. Louis.
Rams executives wanted luxury suites, a slice of parking revenue, 1,200 parking spaces, almost all of the advertising revenue — including naming rights — and all proceeds from concession sales on game days, plus a share of some sales at other events.
In the fall of 1995, the stadium, then called the Trans World Dome, opened. Its final price tag came to more than $300 million. City leaders have said the bill, and the lease, were the cost of landing an NFL team.
The Rams brought with them increased tax revenue in ticket sales, parking and concessions. The team paid the commission about $250,000 a year for 10 games, plus half the game-day expenses.
The visitors commission didn’t break even.
But early indications of the agreements cut by the XFL show better deals for local taxpayers.
The league has agreed to give managers of the Raymond James Stadium, home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, revenues from all game-day food, beverage and parking sales — plus ticket fees that could end up costing the league more than $150,000 a game, according to a term sheet provided by the Tampa Sports Authority.
At the University of Houston’s TDECU Stadium, the XFL has agreed to pay for game-day operations, a $2 per ticket facility fee, plus between $30,000 and $45,000 per game, according to its term sheet. The university will also pocket a share of concessions and merchandise sales.
‘Football back to St. Louis’
The XFL agreement with St. Louis guarantees five home games per season for three years — $1.5 million in total, contractually obligated.
It took the Rams six seasons to send the commission that much rent.
The visitors commission has to cover heating, cooling, lighting, Wi-Fi and turf, among other operational costs. And the XFL gets 100 percent of the broadcasting, game-day advertising and ticket revenues, less fees and taxes.
But the XFL has to buy out the dome’s current concessionaire, Levy Restaurants, for $5,000 per game if it wants to pocket all profits from T-shirt, jerseys and other merchandise sales. Otherwise, it gets 80 percent of the revenues, after labor costs, and pays 20 percent to the commission.
It doesn’t get any of the profits from hot dog, beer and other concession sales, unless yearly totals surpass $200,000 in a season, in which case the commission kicks 25 percent to the XFL.
The league has to pay for ushers, ticket agents, police officers, security guards and other game day costs.
And it gets no break in payroll or earnings taxes.
The commission has added protective clauses, too: The contract requires the XFL to deposit $250,000 before each season, plus a $300,000 letter of credit, which the commission can tap if the XFL doesn’t pay up. Playoff games require a $50,000 non-refundable deposit to hold the space.
The commission is trying to motivate the XFL to sell more tickets, however: If attendance exceeds 10,000 for any single game, the commission will pay the XFL $1 per entry; if it passes 20,000, the rebate jumps to $2 per ticket.
The XFL likes the deal.
“We had productive negotiations and feel that we came away with an agreement that is fair to all parties,” Commissioner Luck said in a statement to the Post-Dispatch. “We can’t wait to bring football back to St. Louis.”
And Dewey called it “very important.” Unlike the agreement with the Rams, the XFL has to work around the convention center’s schedule, not the other way around. The new league, he said, will fill in holes at an already-busy convention center.
The XFL season is scheduled to start in February 2020, after the NFL’s Super Bowl weekend. The teams will play a 10 week schedule, plus playoff games.
Editor's note: The CVC manages the Dome at America's Center. An earlier version incorrectly said it owned the venue.
ST. LOUIS BRAVES
Chicago Blackhawks owners Bill Wirtz and James Norris owned the old Arena on Oakland Avenue before the Blues were born as a NHL expansion team. So it's no coincidence that they put one of their minor league affiliates, the Braves, in that building to drive business.
That franchise moved from Syracuse and the Eastern Professional Hockey League during the 1962-63 season. The Braves then operated there in the Central Professional Hockey League from 1963-67.
So who played for the Braves? Some guys hockey fans might have heard of, like Phil Esposito, Wayne Maki, Lou Angotti, Fred Stanfield and Pat Stapleton. After Norris and Wirtz decided to sell the Arena, they helped engineer the birth of the Blues as two of the league's most influential leaders.
The Braves moved south to Dallas and were reborn the Black Hawks.
ST. LOUIS STARS
The old North American Soccer League was well ahead of its time. It wooed aging international stars like Pele while trying to create support for the support on this continent. The Stars debuted with the league in 1968, after playing the previous season in the National Professional Soccer League.
At the time, St. Louis University was to college soccer what Alabama is to college football today. The Stars had considerable local talent to choose from, including local legends Pat McBride and Al Trost. They played for the league title in 1972 and won the Central Division in 1975.
Pele's visit to Busch Stadium with the New York Cosmos in 1977 drew 32,605 fans. The Stars won that match 2-0 before the franchise-record crowd. That was the peak moment for the team as a business.
After failing to get a suitable stadium lease for 1978, the franchise moved to Anaheim under new ownership and became the California Surf.
SPIRITS OF ST. LOUIS
During the final two seasons of the American Basketball Association (1974-76), St. Louis was home to the former Carolina Cougars. Renamed the Spirits, this featured one of the most, um, interesting collection of basketball stars ever assembled. The franchise also became famous for being far more valuable dead than alive.
Spirits guards Ron Boone and Freddie Lewis had terrific ABA careers. Big men Moses Malone and Maurice Lucas went on to great success in the NBA, as did M.L. Carr. Some of the more troubled Spirits -- Marvin "Bad News" Barnes, Fly Williams, Gus Gerard and Harry Rogers -- encountered various off-court problems.
Young Spirits radio play-by-play announcer Bob Costas went on to become a sportscasting superstar. Of the team's head coaches, Rod Thorn, later became a top NBA executive.
But the biggest winners were the owners, Ozzie and Daniel Silna. They cut a fabulous deal to fold the team when the ABA merged with the NBA. Rather than take a lump sum to go away, they took 2 percent of the NBA's television money forever. That deal -- and a subsequent agreement -- earned them hundreds of millions for surrendering the team.
ST. LOUIS HUMMERS
Once upon a time St. Louis had a powerhouse professional women's fast-pitch softball team. The Hummers (short for Hummingbirds) played in the long-defunct International Women's Professional Softball Association from 1977-79 and the reached the league's World Series in the final two seasons.
Playing out of Valley Park, the team featured outfielder Pat Guenzler, shortstop Vicki Schneider and pitcher Margie Wright. Multi-sport athlete Nancy "Boomer" Nelson of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater came to the Hummers with the first overall pick in the IWPSA draft in 1979 and earned league MVP honors.
The team was owned by the Harrawood family and it played in a $1.5 million complex built by the Harrawood Construction Company. General manager George Jones became one of the area's top softball pitching instructors. Some members of the team -- included Schneider, a long-time coach and highly successful hitting instructor -- remained prominent on the region's softball scene for decades.
ST. LOUIS STEAMERS
The original St. Louis Steamers became quite the show, filling the old St. Louis Arena as a cornerstone franchise in the Major Indoor Soccer League starting in 1979. In the early 1980s the team outdrew the Blues. Its ownership group featured prominent St. Louisans like baseball legend Stan Musial.
Like the Stars, the Steamers had plenty good local talent to draw from. The club won three division titles made local celebrities of midfielder Daryl Doran. and imported goaltender Slobo Ilijevski.
“The Steamers were successful due to the grassroots support, and soccer knowledge of the St. Louis community, and to the fact that 80 percent of the team was native St. Louis players, many with international experience,” former Steamers star Ty Keough recalled last year.
Alas, the franchise fell on hard competitive and business times and folded in 1988.
ST. LOUIS AMBUSH
The original Ambush were also something. Led by the enthusiastic, hands-on ownership of Dr. Abraham Hawatmeh, the Ambush became a powerhouse in the National Professional Soccer League after moving from Tulsa in 1992. The team played in the Arena, then the new Kiel Center.
The Ambush won the 1995 NPSL, with Doran coaching, and played for the title in three other seasons before the franchise went under in 2000. Its marquee player was goal-scoring machine Predrag "Preki" Radosavljevic, who would later spent one season coaching the St. Louis FC.
This region has been home to several other indoor soccer teams in various leagues, including the Storm, various incarnations of the Steamers and a latest version of the Ambush playing at Family Arena.
ST. LOUIS VIPERS
Thanks to Hockey Hall of Famer Bernie Federko, we had summer pucks to the STL from 1993-97, then again in 1999. The Blues legend brought the Roller Hockey International League to the old Arena, then the new Kiel Center.
The Vipers attracted roller hockey stars like Frank Cirone and Christian Skoryna and gave local products like Kevin Plager a shot. Former Blues winger Perry Turnbull coached and played a bit as well.
The franchise got a boost when the Kiel Center Partners bought into the ownership group in 1996 to create cross-promotion with the Blues. That led to one huge crowd in 1997 -- estimated at 14,000 -- but failed to make the Vipers viable for the long haul. Federko noted that the Vipers needed to draw 5,000 fans per game to break even and the franchise fell short of that during their six years.
After RHI was shuttered for the 1998 season, it came back for one last try in '99. The Vipers went out with a bang by winning the final Murphy Cup.
ST. LOUIS STAMPEDE
There are have been many indoor football teams in the area over the years, but the most prominent of those franchises was the Arena Football League's Stampede. It played in 1995 and 1996 at the new Kiel Center and reached the playoffs both seasons.
Former football Cardinals star Jim Otis helping launch the team . . . John Kaleo at quarterback . . . Dave Ewart tagging in for Earle Bruce as coach . . . Darryl Hammond catching touchdown passes . . . that was a first-rate operation.
Unfortunately the franchise couldn't turn a profit in the new downtown arena and vanished after two years. Various indoor teams gave it a go at the Family Arena in subsequent years, including the River City Renegades, Show-Me Believers, River City Raiders, Missouri Monsters and St. Louis Attack.
ST. LOUIS ACES
One the most popular St. Louis athletes of all time was, without question, the ever-photogenic Anna Kournikova.
OK, it's not she bought a house here and became a big part of the community. She flew in to play matches for the final version of the St. Louis Aces of World Team Tennis. That franchise, which played out at the Dwight Davis Tennis Center in Forest Park, had an 18-year run from 1994 through 2011. Other notable Aces over the years included Lindsay Davenport, Mark Philippoussis, Kim Clijsters and Rick Leach.
The franchise won the WTT title in 1996 and played for the title again in 2011. The Aces folded after owners Dan Apted and daughter Dani Apted Schlottman failed to find a buyer to assume control.
(A WTT predecessor, the St. Louis Slims, came and went under then-Blues owner Harry Ornest. They played for the 1985 title in their only season but fell to the San Diego Buds -- a team owned by Ornest's son Maury.)
ST. LOUIS SWARM
Unlike the disheveled Spirits of the ABA, the Swarm became a juggernaut on the fringe of pro basketball. The team ruled the late International Basketball League from 1999-2001, winning the league title both seasons under veteran NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff.
The Swarm featured former Mizzou stars Doug Smith and Derek Grimm and former St. Louis University standout Erwin Claggett. It played in the new Family Arena in St. Charles.
The IBL's business model was ambitious. Teams paid marquee players like Smith enough money to eschew European offers while trying to remain visible to NBA teams. Supporting such a payroll proved problematic for the Swarm and other teams in the league -- which ceased operation after just two seasons.
MISSOURI RIVER OTTERS
The Family Arena has also been home to minor league hockey, most notably the River Otters of the old United Hockey League from 1990 to 2006.
During their heyday the Otters had strong NHL ties. Former Blues winger Mark Reeds coached the team for four years. The team offered safe haven for NHL players displaced by the 2004-05 work stoppage, including Blues veterans Barret Jackman, Bryce Salvador and Jamal Mayers.
The franchise's last ownership group was led by Mike Shanahan Jr., son of former Blues chairman Mike Shanahan. Its last general manager was former Blues public relations director Frank Buonomo and former Blues defenseman Jeff Brown was one of the final Otters coaches.
Subsequent efforts to keep hockey in arena included the St. Charles Chill of the Central Hockey League in 2013-14.
ST. LOUIS ATHLETICA
East Alton attorney Jeff Cooper had big dreams for St. Louis soccer. He tried (and failed) to rally support for a MLS-worthy stadium on the Illinois side to attract a team.
He formed the Athletica, a short-lived franchise in the Women's Professional Soccer circuit, and AC St. Louis, a second-division team in another incarnation of the NASL. The Athletica operated out of the Anheuser-Busch Center in Fenton.
Despite featuring midfielder Lori Chalupny and goalkeeper Hope Solo from the U.S. National Team, the Athletica failed to gain financial traction during a competitively successful 2009 season. That franchise and AC St. Louis lost $2 million in the first year of operation.
Cooper tried to attract new owners, but that deal collapsed and the Athletica folded early in its 2010 season and AC St. Louis shut down after that season.
"I'll always have nothing but positives to say about my time in St. Louis and with the Athletica," Solo told the Post-Dispatch after getting the bad news. "Things happen in life. People can place blame all they want and think they know the true story, but I don't know if anybody in the outside world will. I stand by Jeff Cooper, I stand by the organization, I stand by the Athletica. I feel fortunate to have spent any time here at all."