Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
11/15/2009

Let's get down to business. It's time to update the attempted sale of the St. Louis Rams. The process has been secretive for the most part. Obviously, there's a lot that I don't know.

But after making several rounds of phone calls this week and talking to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation, I'll share what I know.

And I'll also discuss the ongoing effort of Blues chairman Dave Checketts, who is attempting to put together a consortium to purchase the 60 percent of the Rams owned by Chip Rosenbloom and his sister, Lucia Rodriguez.

Checketts is carrying the football on behalf of St. Louis. That's a positive, but there is a downside, and later in the column I'll explain why.

Let's get started:

No sale is imminent.

Several out-of-town interests are pursuing the franchise. And indications are that the potential buyers have communicated a desire to keep the Rams in St. Louis. For example, one potential buyer lives out of state but has business interests here and is thought to be pro-St. Louis.

That said, no one in St. Louis should take anything for granted. Buyers know that Rosenbloom and Rodriguez want the Rams to remain here. And if a buyer has other motives, it makes no sense to telegraph those intentions to Rosenbloom. Or to the Goldman Sachs investment firm, which is handling sale inquiries.

Last Sunday on the CBS pregame show, Charley Casserly identified a new potential buyer: Texas-based banking billionaire Gerald J. Ford. It's true. It's also early. Ford, 65, is a promising candidate. But he hasn't been vetted yet.

Casserly also suggested that Rosenbloom and Rodriguez are under pressure to sell before the end of the year, because of estate-tax issues related to the death of their mother, Georgia Frontiere. A source with intimate knowledge of the Rosenbloom-Rodriguez tax issues disputes that.
Between now and October 2013, Rosenbloom and Rodriguez are obligated to pay interest on the estate-tax bill. They are not required to begin making payments on the principal until Oct. 2013. At that point, the pressure to sell the team would increase, but the source stressed it would still be possible for Rosenbloom and Rodriguez to keep the Rams. An expected increase in the capital-gains tax (in 2010 or 2011) doesn't help Rosenbloom and Rodriguez, but the source insists that isn't an important factor in the sale timetable.

Stan Kroenke, who owns 40 percent of the Rams, has remained silent. To buy the available 60 percent, Kroenke would have to convince the NFL to change the rules prohibiting cross ownership. (He owns the NBA Denver Nuggets and NHL Colorado Avalanche.) Kroenke is a key to this. Because if he agrees to stay on as the 40 percent partner, the new owner would have to buy only 60 percent of the sale price instead of all 100 percent. If Kroenke stays on, his presence could be a big boost to local efforts. A St. Louis group wouldn't have to raise as much money. But if Kroenke cashes out his 40 percent, the financial challenge becomes more difficult.

Kroenke recently purchased more ownership shares of the Arsenal soccer club in the English Premier League. Kroenke now owns the largest share (29.6 percent) of Arsenal, and if he can increase his stake to 29.9 percent, he'd be entitled to purchase the remaining shares. It's possible that Kroenke could sell his piece of the Rams to raise funds for an Arsenal takeover.

Again: Kroenke is impossible to read.

According to media reports in Salt Lake City, Checketts is selling 49 pecent of his MLS franchise, Real Salt Lake. The transaction could raise as much as $50 million. Checketts' spokesman says the sale is unrelated to the pursuit of the Rams. But the timing is certainly curious, given that Checketts has been raising money in his quest for the Rams.

Checketts is clearly the point man for St. Louis.

No other groups or individuals from the St. Louis community have stepped forward to make a separate bid on the Rams. Basically, everyone else is remaining on the sideline to give Checketts a chance to make his play.

Checketts' appeal is obvious. He's done outstanding work in reviving the Blues. He's committed to keeping the Rams in St. Louis. He has established a good working relationship with area politicians and business leaders, and that's a substantial plus in dealing with stadium issues that loom in the future. The Rams likely will be able to vacate their lease at the Edward Jones Dome after the 2014 season. So it's important for the Rams to have a patient owner familiar with our terrain, and an owner who is determined to work with local leaders to achieve solutions.

But my sources tell me that the Checketts group is still short on the necessary money. Suppose Checketts can't pull this off? That's a potentially significant problem, because there is no other so-called St. Louis group. And that leaves the city vulnerable.

Checketts wisely staked out an early position as the best local bet to emerge with the Rams, but his presence may be causing other St. Louis ownership players to defer and stay out of the game.

Putting all of this in Checketts' hands is a risk. Because if he can't get it done, then the Rams most likely will be sold to an owner who won't be as committed to working through problems and keeping the team here.

If wealthy individuals in the St. Louis area want to take a run at the Rams, then it's time to leave the sideline and take a shot at it.