Kroenke speaks out, but not about lease

BY JIM THOMAS
Wednesday, March 28, 2012

PALM BEACH, FLA. • For openers, Stan Kroenke got his obligatory "no comment" out of the way with respect to the stadium lease situation in St. Louis.

"There’s a process," he told the Post-Dispatch. "We continue to honor the process. And we have agreed with the parties involved that we won’t do any public commenting on this."

For Kroenke’s Rams, that process currently involves putting together the team’s proposal for "first-tier" improvements at the Edward Jones Dome. That proposal must be sent to the Convention and Visitors Commission no later than May 1.

When asked how involved he was in the proposal process, Kroenke bristled slightly.

"I’m the owner of the team," he said. "Unless you haven’t noticed, I’ve been involved 20 years. I’ve put a lot of my life, not just my personal (finances) at risk for this enterprise. And that might be something good to mention sometimes."

For Kroenke that was more a general reaction to the perception by some that he isn’t totally involved in the Rams’ franchise. That he doesn’t attend league meetings.

As for anyone who makes the latter assertion, Kroenke replies, "I’d say that’s someone who doesn’t attend league meetings themselves, and doesn’t know much about league meetings."

Kroenke also pointed out that he’s a member of the NFL’s broadcasting committee and its NFL Network committee. And to the chagrin of some nervous Rams fans, he has been a member of the league’s Los Angeles Stadium working group as recently as 2011. (There is no mention of that group in the league’s current listing of committees.)

Not the sentimental type, Kroenke does take pride in helping to bring football back to St. Louis in 1995, and to the eastern side of his home state. But that doesn’t mean he won’t drive a hard bargain in the lease negotiations.

From a Rams perspective, the "first-tier" requirements were agreed upon by the CVC and the St. Louis negotiating team before the team moved to the Midwest in 1995. From the Rams’ standpoint, St. Louis got a "mulligan" in 2004, the first milepost date when the stadium was supposed to meet "first-tier" standards as one of the league’s top eight facilities. Instead, about $30 million in stadium improvements took place a few years after the 10-season milepost in ’04. It doesn’t appear there will be any mulligans this time around.

When asked if he had any message for the fans of St. Louis, Kroenke replied: "Tell them we’re working hard to have a quality product."

But will he still be saying that in, say 2025, about the "St. Louis" Rams?

"Hopefully, if we’re still around — I mean me personally, some people think I’m getting a little bit older all the time — we’ll still be working hard to have a quality product," he said.

And that was that.

Kroenke doesn’t think the lease situation, or the flap over potentially playing three home games in London, or fan anxiety as he made an unsuccessful bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers, or even losing defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for at least a year because of "Bountygate" takes away from that goal.

"My view is we’re doing everything we can to put a quality product out on the field in the St. Louis Rams," he said. "I think Jeff Fisher’s a big part of that. I think that our trade with Washington and our opportunities in the draft, everyone’s very excited about. We’ve got some good players on the team already. So I think we’re having a good offseason. I think by anybody’s measure. Now people can challenge that if they like, but that’s my view."

There’s also the fact that the team already has committed a potential $100 million in signing six free agents, including big-ticket signings in cornerback Cortland Finnegan, center Scott Wells and defensive lineman Kendall Langford.

"I didn’t want to mention that," Kroenke said, laughing. "I don’t even mention those things because to me those are natural things we do. To me, that’s what we do."

Kroenke doesn’t think the Williams suspension will hurt the team’s rebuilding process.

"Jeff Fisher is one of the sharpest defensive minds in professional football," Kroenke said. "I think Jeff hired Gregg because he thought he was good at the job. Gregg is certainly remorseful. I think he is taking steps to openly show his remorse. But what we have to do is take care of the Rams, and we believe that Jeff is the right guy to do that. So I’m not worried about it."

If Williams is reinstated by Commissioner Roger Goodell after this season, Kroenke said it’s Fisher’s call whether he returns to the Rams’ staff. "That would be evaluated at that time," Kroenke said. "You couldn’t evaluate it now."

In the near term, Kroenke is hoping to make the most of the extra draft picks acquired in trading the No. 2 overall selection to Washington. At dinner at the NFL owners meetings Sunday with Dallas owner Jerry Jones, Kroenke said Jones told him the Rams’ trade reminded him of the Cowboys’ Herschel Walker trade in 1989.

"He said, ‘The people we brought (to Dallas) in that trade were the foundation of three championship teams. I think what you did is similar,’ " Kroenke said.

"And I said, ‘Well, Jerry, what we’ve got to do is what you did. We’ve got to really take advantage and get value for those picks.’ "

If that happens, the Rams could put that quality product on the field in relatively short order.

"It’s always our goal to be playoff competitive," Kroenke said. "I think we’ve shown that in our other teams. I say this often, but we’re sort of an open book. You can look at our other teams and you can look at our history with those teams."

Speaking of those other teams, Kroenke’s sports empire includes the Rams, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the London-based Arsenal squad of the English Premier League. He had hoped to add the Dodgers to that list, but the team announced Tuesday night that a group including Magic Johnson was the winning bidder.

While it has been a dream of Kroenke’s to own a single sports franchise since young adulthood, collecting them like stamps was never on his radar. Had he acquired the Dodgers, he would have had a team in each of the "big four" leagues in American sports.