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Football, anyone? Fledgling pro league in talks with St. Louis

Football, anyone? Fledgling pro league in talks with St. Louis

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Rams fans applaud their team Sunday morning, Sept. 16, 2012, from the seats at the top of the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams beat the Washington Redskins in the home opener. Photo by J.B. Forbes

The Rams and the NFL have been gone since the end of the 2015 season, but it’s possible pro football could return to St. Louis as early as next February.

Kitty Ratcliffe, president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, says the group — which goes by the trade name Explore St. Louis — has talked to representatives of three groups trying to form football leagues. And those groups have inquired about playing their games in the Dome at America’s Center, formerly the Edward Jones Dome.

“It’s interesting to see what’s happening across the country,” Ratcliffe said. “There’s clearly going to be some competition for the NFL. They’re all in tentative, formative stages, but three different groups have contacted us to explore availability and interest.”

The groups include the Alliance of American Football, which plans to begin play in February 2019, and the XFL, which plans to start early in 2020.

A third group, unnamed, apparently isn’t as far along.

“It’s a group of former NFL players that are trying to build ownership groups in various markets, including in St. Louis,” Ratcliffe said.

Ownership groups are not needed in the Alliance of American Football or the XFL. All teams will be owned and operated by the league in those organizations.

“We’re keeping our options open with all of them,” Ratcliffe said. “But they’re all different models, they’re all slightly different time frames. But none of them are directly on top of the NFL season.”

It remains to be seen if St. Louis would support non-NFL football, and such leagues have had a dubious track record. But Ratcliffe said the CVC definitely is interested in having a football team as a tenant.

“We’d love it,” she said. “And we loved having the Rams. We didn’t love the Rams’ lease — it was all one-sided. But we know how that happened, right? We’re not in that same position now. But we’d love to have a tenant that wants to utilize some event dates and provide some football for the people in our community.”

Because it plans to begin play in eight months — just after the NFL’s Super Bowl — the Alliance of American Football is on the front burner. But without much lead time, booking dates in the dome has been problematic.

“I know we’ve met with them several times and we gave them availability,” Ratcliffe said in an interview earlier this week. “The availability (dates) that we had for them in ‘19, I don’t think it was optimum for them.”

For that reason, Ratcliffe wasn’t overly optimistic about the Alliance coming to St. Louis. But talks have continued this week and an Alliance team in St. Louis remains possible.

“We are in ongoing discussions with representatives of the Alliance of American Football and other entities interested in St. Louis and The Dome at America’s Center,” Matthew Dewey, vice president and general manager of America’s Center, said Thursday in a statement. “At this time, it is too early to speculate on the outcome of these talks. St. Louis is one of the nation’s premier sports markets with tremendous football fans from across the entire region.”

The league will consist of eight teams, play a 10-game schedule, and then have four teams advance to the playoffs culminating in the championship game at the end of April. Games will be televised by CBS and CBS Sports Network.

Film and television producer Charlie Ebersol is co-founder and CEO of the Alliance. Bill Polian, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an NFL personnel man and executive, is co-founder and Head of Football. Several former NFL players, such as former Pittsburgh Steelers great Troy Polamalu also are involved in the Alliance. Tony Softli, former vice president of player personnel for the St. Louis Rams, is a league executive.

The Alliance already has announced seven of the eight cities that will field teams: Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego and Salt Lake City. Birmingham, Ala., was announced as the league’s seventh franchise Tuesday.

“We will not be announcing our final Alliance city until later this month,” Tom Veit, Alliance head of business operations, said via email. “However, we can say that as a city with a rich football culture and incredibly passionate and engaging fans, St. Louis remains a candidate.”

As each city is announced in the league, that team also names a head coach. Mike Martz, the former St. Louis Rams coach, will coach the San Diego franchise.

As for the XFL, Ratcliffe said there’s more scheduling flexibility since that league won’t begin play until 2020. Like the Alliance of American Football, the XFL plans an eight-team league, featuring a 10-game regular season with four teams advancing to the playoffs.

Unlike the Alliance, the XFL hasn’t announced any cities where it plans to field teams. But it did name Oliver Luck its commissioner and CEO on Tuesday. Luck, the father of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, is a former NCAA executive with extensive experience in sports administration including stints as athletics director at West Virginia University, president of NFL Europe and general manager of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer.

“We recently distributed our proposal to 30 markets across the U.S. and we are working hard to select the right homes for our inaugural eight teams in 2020,” Luck said in a statement to the Post-Dispatch.

The XFL is the brainchild of Vince McMahon of WWE fame. McMahon’s first incarnation of the XFL lasted only one season, in 2001, before folding. Such has been the fate of every other pro football league that has come along since the old American Football League merged with the NFL in the 1960s.

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