In the virtually empty offices on West Lincoln Avenue in Anaheim, the pervasive silence is broken only by a receptionist, a temp, answering the occasional phone call thusly: "Thank you for calling the Rams Football Company." She does not say " Los Angeles," and she dare not say " St. Louis." If she were to omit the word Company, she might be more precise. The Rams are a football—political and economic—and a loose one at that.
In St. Louis, football fans who reveled en masse on Jan. 17 over what they thought was the successful, if overly lavish, wooing of the Rams, now wait in uncertainty as the team's transfer plan heads toward a vote by owners at the NFL's winter meetings in Phoenix next week. Some observers doubt the move will ever happen. Others are confident it will, though not without strife. And there are rumblings that there might not be a vote in Phoenix if owners believe that they need more information on the most aberrational transfer scheme in league history—from the second-largest TV market in America to the 20th.
If approved, the Rams' departure would leave pro football in Los Angeles at the mercy of the NFL owners' most-feared peer, Al Davis, who, to complicate matters further, says he is contemplating moving the Raiders yet again. That is but one reason why some owners doubt that moving the Rams from their home area of 49 years, just because they've had five lean seasons, is in the best interests of the NFL.
Central to those interests are TV revenues. Fox—which holds the rights to NFC telecasts, including most Ram games—likely would ask for rebates of as much as $400,000 a year per team in return for losing the L.A. market.
The Rams need the votes of 23 of the 30 franchises for approval. That may be a tough total to attain, especially since traditionalist owners agree with Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who says, "Moving should be a last-ditch option when there's no other way to make a franchise work. It's up to an organization to do everything it can to make it work—not to do everything it can to move. You have an obligation to your city, I believe. You just can't run off at the first sign of tough times." The vote, adds Rooney, "is going to be close. You only need eight votes out of 30 to kill it."
But even a nay vote by the owners might not stop the Rams from moving. At first glance Davis's court victory over the NFL, which allowed the Raiders to move from Oakland to Los Angeles without league approval in 1982, would seem to provide legal precedent for the Rams' transfer. But the NFL has since instituted new regulations on franchise transfers that the league believes the courts will find acceptable. Opponents of the move to St. Louis claim the Rams have not met these stipulations. Whether the new rules will indeed stand up in court—and whether Ram owner Georgia Frontiere or NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wishes to test them in court—remains to be seen.
Those who object to the transfer cite two of the league's eight "factors" for evaluating proposed moves as possible grounds for blocking the Rams' relocation. Factor number 4 says the NFL can make its decision to approve or disapprove a move partly on the "degree to which the ownership or management of the team has contributed to any circumstance which might otherwise demonstrate the need for such relocation." In other words, if the owners decide that a franchise has brought its troubles on itself, they might not let it go.
Factor number 6: "The degree to which the team has engaged in good-faith negotiations with appropriate persons concerning terms and conditions under which the team would continue to play its games in such community or elsewhere within its current home territory."
Many opponents of the move don't even argue that point; they merely cite factor 4 and argue that Ram management is responsible for whatever problems it may have. Plus the Rams claim to have lost $6 million in 1994 and that their profits totaled $7.6 million in the four previous seasons. Numbers compiled by the NFL for '90 to '93 and disseminated to all teams indicate the Rams made $38 million in that span.
Save the Rams is a group in Orange County co-chaired by Leigh Steinberg, one of football's top player agents, who happens to be 2-0 at orchestrating the salvation of lost sports-franchise causes in his state. He helped arrange new ownership that kept the San Francisco Giants from moving to St. Petersburg in 1992 and was a primary consultant to Oakland's successful drive to keep the A's last year.