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Bernie: Grubman Q-&-A on Rams' future

Bernie: Grubman Q-&-A on Rams' future

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Eric Grubman, NFL senior vice president, arrives at the Washington offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for contract negotiations with the NFL Players Association, Thursday, March 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

NFL executive VP Eric Grubman was in St. Louis on Thursday for meetings with STL stadium task-force leaders Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz

Two Post-Dispatch reporters (Jim Thomas, David Hunn) and one columnist (that would be me) sat with Grubman for a 25-minute interview. 

There's a lot of interest in the Rams' stay-or-go story, and Grubman is a key player in the process.

So I transcribed the interview for you; here's about 90 percent of it. I left out some of the extraneous material. 

What is your big-picture overview of the current situation in St. Louis? 

Grubman: "“This city has a heart and soul. And its got a football team. And it's got a very able (stadium) team trying to put together a plan. Our role is to help them. And that's what we're doing.”

Grubman said he's liked what he's learned about the STL stadium plan so far …

But, "This is the beginning of the process," he added. "And they have a job which in any community is tough to do. These projects are difficult and complicated. And everybody's got to do their part. We're really on the front end of that, and the early signs are encouraging.”

With Rams owner Stan Kroenke trying to build a stadium in Los Angeles, is it a matter of 'too little too late' for St. Louis? 

Grubman: "I've heard that speculation, and I have been part of the effort to encourage St. Louis to do things earlier than has been done. But I also recognize that there's a moment in time, and that moment in time has to be right for everyone. Especially public leadership, which is really required. And civic leadership and business leadership. So we're not overly critical of that. That's also a recognition of the fact that there's not a huge amount of time to waste. There are other opportunities, and I don't care to speculate about probabilities, but those are well known, and the club hasn't been secret about looking at those. So it's time to get after it.”

Is the STL stadium plan 'real' in Grubman's mind? 

Grubman said it hadn't reached that stage, because so much work has to be done on so many fronts before the project is a go.

"A real plan means that the key steps are all actionable," he said. "There are things that they have to do, and they have a good outline on how to get them done. And they have good experts working in that direction.”

Grubman added, "Our role is to give it the best chance possible. And to aid in that effort." 

On the possibility of the Rams' moving to LA, Grubman said the NFL is committed to keeping teams where they are

“When Roger Goodell was elected commissioner, one of the main planks of his commissionership, which he's emphasized repeatedly in the time he's been commissioner, is 32 teams, strong in their markets," Grubman said. "Not in some other theoretical market, but strong in their markets. So we have an obligation which we take very seriously, to do whatever it takes to give that a chance. If we fail, it won't be for a lack of trying.”

How do you help a city keep it's team at the same time you're looking to get a team back into the LA market? For Los Angeles to get a team, doesn't it mean another city must lose its team?

Grubman: “That (keeping a team) is our first priority for an existing team. In my mind, that's not at odds with developing the Los Angeles opportunity for an unnamed club. Because if you develop the opportunity, that still relies on some other market failing. I don't hope that it happens, and I'll actively work to make sure that doesn't happen, but you have a backup strategy. And that backup strategy is attractive. And I don't see them at odds.”

What would be Grubman's advice to St. Louis?

“Take the plan and get it done," he said. 

Grubman added, "But I don't put that all on them. Some of this is up to us, and the club. This is not a scenario where we're going to sit back and say 'Tell us when you're ready.' We're going to come in and do us much as we can to help them. That's why we're here.”

If the stadium plan becomes a reality, is there a scenario in which Kroenke would still be allowed to move the Rams to LA?

Grubman: “That's a great question which I don't know how to answer because that's subject to the twin pillars of relocation guideline and votes. The relocation guidelines are not absolute etched in stone. There's subjective judgments that have to be made. So I can't guess that probability. But on the other hand there's votes, which I don't control. But what's clear is, if a market has a franchise, and that franchise has been supported, and can be supported, and that franchise can enjoy a healthy existence, that's a central plank of Roger Goodell's commissionership. And I don't take that lightly.”

How much of a factor is support for a team in its market?

Grubman said part of the assessment is, "What support can be anticipated in the future,” … and “does the business plan work.”

The Rams have had 11 consecutive non-winning seasons and the league's second-worst record over that time. How does a team's performance factor into the fan support? 

Grubman: “That's just on the margin. Passion is what comes from fans. When you go to a stadium and somebody's wearing a bag on their head because the team is winless, that's a demonstration of passion. And hope is what you start out the season with. And a bag is what you end a terrible season with. But if you come back, that's testimony which just has undying passion.”

Grubman said Kroenke hasn't told the NFL that he wants to leave. What has Kroenke said to the league about his intentions? 

Grubman: “I'm not going to get into specifics other than he's said he's going to keep his options open and he's looking.”

He added, “The league is preceding on the basis that the St. Louis Rams are the St. Louis Rams. And that we're looking for a solution for the St. Louis Rams, and not for some other team to be the St. Louis Rams.”

Is a new stadium necessary -- a must have for St. Louis? 

Grubman: “Yes, but I don't know what kind of stadium other than to say that a team healthy in its market is the prescription. And how to fill that prescription, there's not one way to do that. The way it was pursued over the past couple of years (at the Edward Jones Dome) has failed. The probability that that gets resurrected is zero. Therefore we have to look at a new solution. There is no other stadium to be renovated or retrofitted, ergo the solution set involves a new stadium.”

Is NFL expansion an option? 

Grubman: “Expansion has not been talked about. So to my knowledge it has not been on the table, and to my knowledge it's not anticipated to be on the table.”

What is the league's opinion on Kroenke's stadium initiative in Inglewood, near LA? Is it appealing to the NFL, and does it fulfill the league's vision for the market?

Grubman: “There are multiple sites that at this stage appear attractive. And there are multiple clubs interested in those different sites. So I don't know how to put a probability on any one site versus another or any one team versus another.”

Is the Kroenke LA stadium plan further ahead than the St. Louis plan?

Grubman: “I would not say that …is one ahead of the other, I don't look at it that way. I look at the scenario here in St. Louis, and those controllables that can be controlled by St. Louis. Can you assemble the site, can you assemble the financing, and can a business plan be put together collectively by all of us that's attactive. Those things are generally in our collective control. And we just have to get that done.”

Initial thoughts on STL stadium plan? 

“I think it's too early to grade the plan. The location on the waterfront is terrific. An urban stadium is terrific. But you really have to get deeper into it. You have to get more certainty around the costs, and then the revenues that are going to come about to determine whether that's attractive. And we're just too early.”

On Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones' comments that Kroenke can move team if he wants, even if NFL tries to stop him...

Grubman played down Jerry's comments – he said Jones was speaking off the top of his head, in an emotional state, after a tough loss at Green Bay. Grubman said that Goodell called Jones to get a clarification on the comments. 

“In the heat of the moment (Jones) wasn't really focused on the issue at hand," Grubman said. "He talked about history (of teams moving) and he remembers that, but doesn't remember much of the detail beyond that.”

Grubman added, “I'll hazard a guess on this one _ (Jones) would not tell you that this can be done without a vote. To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that any owner can pick which rules they want to go for a vote and not want to go for a vote. That's prescribed. It's very clear what needs to be voted. “

How much teeth are is in the NFL relocation rules?

Grubman: “I don't know how to gauge the probability of votes, but since I've been associated with the league, the league has made some tough calls to keep teams in their markets and to do things that are quite extraordinary to keep teams in their markets. And that's ended in their success.

(Grubman mentioned Minnesota, New England and New Orleans as teams that the NFL kept in their current markets when potential moves were contemplated.) 

If Kroenke bolts in defiance of the league would the league go as far to try and strip the team from him?

Grubman: “I have no idea what the league would do. But I do know there are tremendous tools available. There's a charter and bylaws and there's ample authority in the commissioner's office to make sure that everybody follows the rules. That's what we are, we're a league of rules. Having something which is a subjective judgment subjected to a vote is very different than having a league without rules.

"We're going to follow the rules, all the clubs are going to follow the rules. There are subjective judgments that are going to be made, there are going to be recommendations that are analyzed and then made, but everybody's going to follow the rules.”

Has Kroenke said he'll follow the rules?

Grubman: “Oh, yes. And he has followed the rules. Not on this because there's never been any suggestion that he wouldn't.”

Is Kroenke committed to follow the rules in this situation?

Grubman: “Again, that's such a hypothetical question. That's to suggest that anyone had any doubt that he would. Here's the better example. We've prescribed guidelines for how to approach the LA market, any club that was interested. Including keeping the league staff informed. All of the clubs that have been acting in that regard have been doing that including the St. Louis Rams.

"Everybody's going to follow the rules.”

About the St. Louis future. If the Rams move, is there another path for St. Louis? With a commitment for a new stadium could another team relocate here?

Grubman: “I view that as such an undesirable path to take that I haven't even thought about the probabilities. Because you not only have to do all the hard work that you already have, then you're going to have to convince somebody that this is the market that they want to go to as opposed to some other market or some market that they could stay in.

"The objective is, to give the St. Louis Rams the best opportunity of being healthy in this market.”

Is St. Louis a good football market?

Grubman: “This is a great sports market. It's been a terrific football market. But I don't know what this project is going to yield. It's not just about how many fans went to the games the past few years. It's about what the cost is for the stadium, and what's the economic yield out of that project.”

How much time does STL have to make the stadium happen?

Grubman: “I won't put any lines in the sand, but our normal cycle includes a variety of meetings where we have the owners together to vote. What we've talked about is, we really ought to be assembling this plan this calendar year, which doesn't mean Dec. 31st.

"We need to get this project to the point where it's actionable this calendar year.”

Beyond Dec. 31st, would it be too late?

Grubman: “I don't know whether it's too late. But my objective is to do things in the here and now, not some artificial point of time in the future.”

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Bernie Miklasz is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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