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St. Louis Rams v Oakland Raiders

Fans in the Edward Jones Dome spell out "Keep The Rams In St. Louis" during the Nov. 30 game against the Oakland Raiders. Photo by Chris Lee, clee@post-dispatch.com

By now you’ve heard it, discussed it, and maybe even fretted over the question: Could Sunday’s contest against the New York Giants be the Rams’ final home game played in St. Louis?

Not the last game of the 2014 season. But the final game as in … forever.

Is this The End? Will the Rams call Los Angeles home in 2015?

Answer: Highly doubtful.

I base that on multiple developments.

Let’s begin with a local update on the activities of former Anheuser-Busch executive Dave Peacock, who along with St. Louis attorney Bob Blitz heads the task force organized by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to cultivate a long-term stadium solution in St. Louis:

To confirm a report that first appeared in the New York Times this week, Peacock met with NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman in New York late last month to apprise the league of the new-stadium initiative in St. Louis. According to league sources, Peacock revealed preliminary plans for a stadium near the Mississippi River north of the Gateway Arch, and discussed other potential sites.

Peacock recently had a preliminary meeting with high-level Rams executives to give the team a progress report on his stadium efforts. According to league sources, Peacock used the meeting to describe potential stadium locations and funding sources. Rams owner Stan Kroenke did not attend the meeting but was briefed on the details.

A public update on the new stadium project is expected from Gov. Nixon in the coming days. According to league sources, Nixon wants to ease the fans’ concerns over Sunday’s game being the team’s final contest in St. Louis. Nixon’s desire is to assure fans that Peacock and Blitz are making headway on the save-the-Rams mission.

According to league sources, it is anticipated that Nixon’s initial update will be followed by a public unveiling of preliminary stadium plans — sometime around the first of the year.

The first round of meetings apparently went well. According to league sources, Grubman traveled to St. Louis for last Thursday night’s game between the Cardinals and Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. Grubman had additional, informal discussions with Peacock and Rams executives during the game.

While in New York to meet with Grubman, Peacock also met with MLS commissioner Don Garber to gauge the soccer league’s interest in using a new Rams stadium as the home venue for an MLS expansion franchise. The MLS prefers soccer-specific stadiums but isn’t set on that. The MLS teams in Seattle and New England are housed in NFL stadiums. And the Falcons’ new stadium in Atlanta also will serve as the home for an MLS expansion franchise.

That’s what I know. There’s still a lot that we don’t know, but I think it’s fair to say that Peacock and Blitz are making progress.

This comes as no surprise. Peacock made huge business deals with the NFL during his years at Anheuser-Busch and is well known, and respected, in league circles. And Peacock has been working diligently behind the scenes on the stadium project for more than a year. Blitz was involved with the St. Louis bid to secure the Rams, and NFL execs know and like him.

Peacock and Blitz appear to be well on the way of convincing the NFL to take the St. Louis efforts seriously. And if nothing else, the task force is buying St. Louis more time to come up with a viable stadium plan, which would all but secure the Rams’ continued presence here through the 2015 season.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that St. Louis is guaranteed of keeping the Rams long term.

The Rams can revert to a year-to-year lease after the 2014 season ends. It’s easy to come up with a preliminary stadium plan; funding the project will be a more difficult and complex challenge.

Based on news reports over the last several days, it seems less likely that the NFL will permit any team to move and set up in Los Angeles by the start of the 2015 season.

Over the weekend, New York Times reporter Ken Belson wrote that “discussions with league officials and owners … confirmed that the prospect of an NFL team’s playing in 2015 in Los Angeles was increasingly unlikely.”

Why? The same reason that’s been in play for the last 20 years.

Los Angeles has come up with various stadium concepts and proposals since the Rams and Raiders each abandoned the market before the 1995 season. But the league — which tightly controls the LA market — remains unimpressed.

Kroenke purchased land by the Los Angeles airport earlier this year, which fueled speculation that he was plotting a move. But the location doesn’t have ample space for parking, and the league is said to prefer a downtown LA location.

As NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the New York Times: “I’m not at the point where I would tell you that anything is imminent or that we have a solution identified at this point in time. There is progress, but we’ve all heard that before.”

The other new development emerged in San Diego. The Chargers on Tuesday announced that they will remain in San Diego for the 2015 season. The Chargers — like the Rams and Oakland Raiders — can opt out of their current lease in an attempt to move to Los Angeles.

So why would the Chargers vacate the possibility of moving to LA and make it easier for the Rams and/or Raiders to fill the void? To some, the Chargers’ choice makes no sense.

Unless, of course, Chargers owner Dean Spanos is convinced that the league will keep the Los Angeles market locked down for another year and prevent any team from moving there for 2015.

As the knowledgeable Sam Farmer wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “It’s almost inconceivable that Spanos would show his cards this early if he weren’t entirely confident that the L.A. market will remain vacant for the 2015 season. … they would not swear off leaving San Diego in 2015 if they thought there was a chance another team or teams would stake a claim to L.A.”

According to Farmer, the Chargers’ decision is “the strongest indication yet that, despite rumors and speculation to the contrary, there won’t be any NFL team in the nation’s second-largest market by next fall.”

The Chargers have been trying (unsuccessfully) to get a new stadium in San Diego for the last 14 years. That would work in the Chargers’ favor with the league if they eventually apply for relocation.

By contrast, the Rams haven’t made a serious effort to remedy their stadium issue here. At least not yet. And that’s important if we’re to believe the NFL rules on franchise moves.

The league policy requires that teams “work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories, and to operate in a manner that maximizes fan support in their current home community.”

I don’t see how any reasonably objective person could conclude the Rams have exhausted all possibilities of solving the stadium problem here.

That doesn’t change the inevitable reality in St. Louis: A viable stadium plan is the only sure way to keep the Rams in St. Louis beyond 2015.

It’s important to build the stadium. Do that, and St. Louis will not only keep the Rams — but put our sports town in position to land an MLS franchise.

The threat of an immediate Rams move may be decreasing, but this is no time for complacency.

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