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Bernie: Stadium plan deserves a chance

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Chart: Riverfront stadium costs and funding

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a man of immense wealth and a surplus of opinions, set off another round of sirens to alarm tormented Rams fans.

In an interview with the New York Times, Jones green-lighted a Rams move to Los Angeles.

I’m loosely paraphrasing here, but essentially Jones believes Stan Kroenke can do as he pleases and the NFL can’t prevent him from moving. Jones obviously believes the NFL rules on franchise relocations are worthless.

That’s Jerry being Jerry. He speaks for himself and not his fellow owners or the executives at NFL headquarters.

That said, Jones could be on to something here.

There’s no telling what Kroenke will try to do.

I’ve been wrong in reading him. Evidently I was a fool to buy Kroenke’s sincerity during our interview in 2010.

Kroenke agreed to talk as he prepared to assume majority ownership of the Rams.

In case you forgot, this is what Kroenke told me:

“I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis. Just as I did everything that I could to bring the team to St. Louis in 1995. I believe my actions speak for themselves.”

And … “There’s a track record. I’ve always stepped up for pro football in St. Louis. And I’m stepping up one more time.”

Finally, the kicker … “I’m born and raised in Missouri. I’ve been a Missourian for 60 years. People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy.”

Yeah, well.

I suppose people can change.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Kroenke pulled a Bob Irsay and loaded up the moving vans for a sneak-attack move in the middle of the night.

It may come down to the NFL’s resolve to enforce its bylaws.

We’ve covered this ground before, but Kroenke isn’t close to satisfying the NFL rules on relocation. And that’s especially true now that Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz have officially launched their plans for a new stadium here.

Kroenke tried to diminish the impact of the Peacock-Blitz announcement by having details of his plan to build a new LA Stadium reported by the Los Angeles Times. (I wonder: Who was the weasel who gave Kroenke the heads-up on the STL announcement?) The big LA stadium story ran Jan. 5, four days before the rollout of the St. Louis stadium proposal.

By jumping first, Kroenke clearly tried to reinforce the “St. Louis is doing too little, too late” narrative that’s making the rounds.

Peacock and Blitz can’t trust Kroenke.

The more relevant question: Can they trust the NFL?

Or will the NFL bend or ignore the rules (again) for Kroenke, who already is in violation of the league bylaws that prohibit cross ownership?

I want to believe that the NFL will do the right thing and put its muscle behind the relocation rules. But I just don’t know.

NFL and team sources familiar with the Kroenke/Rams strategy have provided details on how Kroenke plans to make his case to the NFL.

Kroenke’s plan of attack will be centered on two points:

1. St. Louis had plenty of time to get something done before now, and it’s too late.

2. St. Louis is lacking in corporate support and fan support.

Both accusations are nonsense. The Rams received abundant support here — in all phases — after making the move. They hopped into the league’s new stadium, one funded by taxpayers, and enjoyed years of sellouts and blissful financial prosperity.

The Rams’ soaring profits in their new home drew envy from other NFL owners, and that set off a sweeping wave of new-stadium construction throughout the league.

Only one thing really changed: Rams ownership ran this franchise aground.

The Rams have had 11 consecutive non-winning seasons (record: 57-118-1). They haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. Included in that dreadful stretch was a 15-65 skid that represented the worst five-year record by a franchise in NFL history.

Kroenke’s record as the majority owner is 29-50-1, which ranks 27th among the 32 teams since 2010.

Question for the NFL: At what point should an NFL owner be held accountable for an erosion of ticket sales?

Years of chronic ineptitude and losing will naturally lead to a dip in attendance. But even then, the Rams filled 88 percent of their seats in 2014 and had their largest home attendance since 2008. Given the Rams’ horrendous 11-year slide, how does that register as a lack of support?

The bogus charge of “too little, too late” is preposterous.

In 2012 the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission voted to enter arbitration with the Rams in a dispute over the Edward Jones Dome’s status as a “top tier” NFL venue. In early 2013, a panel of arbitrators ruled in favor of the Rams, a decision that triggered Kroenke’s stadium-lease escape clause.

St. Louis needed time to regroup, but it didn’t take long. In 2013 — soon after the arbitration ruling — Peacock quietly went to work behind the scenes to formulate a new-stadium strategy.

This was a difficult assignment, made more challenging by the Rams’ continued losing and Kroenke’s steady alienation of his fan base. But that plan was revealed Friday.

Peacock’s initiative took less than two full years. That hardly fits the “too little, too late” bunk. It isn’t easy to get new stadiums off the ground.

Let’s review:

• Los Angeles lost two NFL teams in 1995 and is still trying to come up with a suitable stadium solution. Kroenke may have that, but his plan must clear some hurdles. It isn’t a sure thing.

• The Arizona Cardinals played in a sun-baked college football stadium from 1988 through 2005. Numerous attempts to get a new stadium were rejected until a deal was struck in 2003. The Cardinals moved into their new home (University of Phoenix Stadium) in 2006.

• Three different owners tried to get a new stadium for the Vikings in Minnesota. The first serious proposal, in 2007, was shot down. After several more years of haggling, a successful plan came together in 2012, and the Vikings’ new stadium is scheduled to open in July.

• A proposal for a new Atlanta football stadium was first pitched in 2010, but the Falcons couldn’t cut a deal with the city of Atlanta until 2013. The venue is scheduled to open in 2018.

• The San Francisco 49ers moved into a new stadium in Santa Clara this season, and it was a long time coming. Negotiations to build a new stadium on the site of Candlestick Park collapsed in 2006, and the 49ers didn’t reach an agreement with Santa Clara until 2010.

• A proposal to construct a new stadium for the Chicago Bears first surfaced in 1989, only to be rejected by the Illinois legislature. Another plan was spurned in 1998. The solution — to renovate Soldier Field — emerged in 2001, and the Bears set up there in 2003.

• The San Diego Chargers play in Qualcomm Stadium, which opened in 1967. The Spanos family, which owns the Chargers, has been trying (in vain) for at least 12 years to get a new stadium built in San Diego. And nothing has happened.

Why is it “too little, too late” in St. Louis? This flies against the stadium timelines we’ve seen in multiple NFL markets.

If the Peacock-Blitz plan gets shredded — meaning no new stadium — then the critics will have a basis for their theories.

St. Louis deserves a chance to build a new stadium. And if that stadium plan is a non-starter, then so be it. No more NFL for St. Louis.

Until that determination is made, I just hope the NFL gives this town a fair shake. I want to trust the league. Then again, I believed Stan Kroenke in 2010.

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Winning isn't the No. 1 priority for Kroenke, which makes it much easier for Fisher and Snead to put a positive spin ('We made progress') on a 6-10 record. 

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