Rams' shopping bag is filled with NFL frustration

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ron Moyer, a Los Angeles Rams season-ticket holder for 20 years, was tailgating Sunday in the parking lot outside Anaheim Stadium.

"If we're going to keep the same front-office management, we welcome the Rams [moving] to Baltimore," said Moyer, a marketing executive in the aerospace industry. "It'll save us all a little money. We'll still have our party, only it'll be in the living room instead of the parking lot."

Many Rams fans are already staying home. There were 7,260 no-shows Sunday for the Rams' game against the Washington Redskins, which drew 45,546 to 69,008-seat Anaheim Stadium. And the fans who do show up sound like Baltimore Colts fans before Bob Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis in 1984.

The Rams, facing stiff competition for the dollars of Southern California sports fans and perhaps eyeing what would be a much better stadium deal, have been seen as one of the NFL teams that might consider coming to Baltimore if the city doesn't get an expansion team. League owners are scheduled to decide on the NFL's 30th franchise on Tuesday.

"The only way this team will start winning is if they clean out the front office," Moyer said. "If they move this franchise from here to Baltimore and you kept the same owner and general manager, you'd have the same problem in Baltimore as we have here. Moving the location is not going to change the performance of the management of the team."

The Rams, 3-7 this year, haven't always been losers. They made it to the Super Bowl after the 1979 season and to the NFC title game in 1985 and 1989.

But they're 10-20 at home in the 1990s and 17-41 overall since making it to the 1989 NFC title game. The fans are frustrated with owner Georgia Frontiere and executive vice president John Shaw.

Despite all the talk about leaving, the Rams haven't publicly threatened to move. Shaw just has said he'll look at his options at the end of the season.

But Shaw has sent signals. He has called Larry Lucchino, former president of the Orioles, to discuss Baltimore, and a source said

he has hired the Washington law firm of Williams and Connolly to assist him in the legal work that will be needed if he decides to move.

That's the firm founded by the late Orioles owner, Edward Bennett Williams. Lucchino also worked there. Shaw said he hasn't hired Lucchino, but wouldn't comment on whether he has hired the law firm.

Keeping options open

Also, Shaw has promised the Rams would play at Anaheim Stadium only through 1994. The club must give 15 months' notice before it moves, plus pay about $30 million to buy out the lease. In addition, Shaw has refused to agree to a long-term lease at the team's practice facility.

"It appears they're shopping around," said Anaheim City Manager James D. Ruth. "Maybe they're doing this for leverage. I don't know. . . . If they're going to leave, they're going to leave. I hope they don't."

Shaw said the problem with the practice facility is a separate issue. He said the city failed to follow through on an oral agreement to commit $7 million to improve the facility or purchase a new one.

Jack White, the attorney for the city of Anaheim, denies the two sides made such an agreement.

"The training facility has nothing to do with moving," Shaw said. "It just has something to do with the city living up to its commitment to us. I offered a two-year lease as an accommodation to give both sides enough time to resolve the impasse. He [Ruth] saw it as further evidence of us moving."

Ruth said the city and the Rams "have a major, major disagreement" over the $7 million.

"It was never the intent of the city to subsidize the Rams," Ruth said. "I do not feel that the taxpayers of this city need to go out there and pay for a training site now."

The tension between the city and the Rams goes back to the agreement the late Carroll Rosenbloom made to move the team to Anaheim Stadium from the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Rosenbloom negotiated the deal before he died in a swimming accident in 1979. It included the rights to build on the parking lot at the stadium. Rosenbloom planned to make millions leasing offices in two high-rise office buildings the team wanted to build on the site.

But baseball's California Angels, Anaheim's other tenant, sued to block the plan, and it got bogged down in the courts and never materialized.

L It's not certain what Anaheim could do now to keep the team.

"I don't think the city would ever feel it was in the city's best interests to subsidize the team just to keep them in Anaheim," said White, the city attorney. "I don't know how we can get into a bidding war on that."

Comparison shopping

The Rams pay the city 7.5 percent ($1.1 million) of their ticket sales and keep the rest ($14.3 million). They split the profits on concessions and novelty sales ($1.2 million each) and parking ($594,000 each). The Rams make 80 percent on suite sales ($1.9 million) while the city takes 20 percent ($474,000). That's a total of just under $18 million.

By contrast, in Baltimore, once a new team moved into the planned stadium, it would get nearly that much just from club and luxury seating ($12.9 million) and concessions and parking ($4 million). That's before receiving an estimated $12.5 million in ticket sales for regular seating.

Another option that could result in a Rams move -- Frontiere's selling the team -- seems unlikely. If she sells, it might not happen until after a move.

One source said Shaw believes that if the NFL approves corporate ownership, the value of all the franchises would increase. In addition, a Rams team earning greater revenue in a ** new city would fetch a higher price.

And USA Today reported yesterday that Frontiere already has rejected a $160 million offer for the Rams from a Baltimore group, though the two groups most likely to make offers deny having done so.

Joel Glazer, whose father, Malcolm, is a prospective owner of an NFL team in Baltimore, said there had been no offer for the Rams from his father. Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who heads another prospective ownership group, denied talking to the Rams -- or another team. "I'm not talking to anyone until after Nov. 30," Weinglass said.

Competition for fans

L Perhaps the real problem is that the Rams are a losing team.

"I don't think we would be even talking about this if the Rams had a team competing for the division championship and the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl and were consistently drawing 65,000 to 70,000," White said.

But the Rams wonder whether Southern California, wracked by a recession, will support two NFL teams.

The other Los Angeles teams are struggling, too. Although they sold out Nov. 14 for the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders drew only 45,122 for a division game against the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 31.

The NBA's Lakers drew a crowd of 11,012 last Tuesday for their double-overtime victory over the Clippers, the smallest turnout for a Lakers home game since 1983. The Clippers are drawing 11,199 at the Sports Arena, the third-lowest average in the NBA.

Although the Los Angeles metropolitan area is the second-largest in the country, it is saturated with sports teams -- two in each of the four major sports: football, baseball, basketball and hockey -- plus a pair of colleges that compete in most major sports -- USC and UCLA.

Fall of the Coliseum

When the Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946 from Cleveland, they were the only major-league team in Los Angeles and often drew more than 100,000 fans at the Coliseum. But Rams' attendance started to decline as the Coliseum and the neighborhood around it deteriorated.

Rosenbloom decided to move the team to Anaheim, near Disneyland. The real estate that was supposed to be part of it made the deal irresistible. The move was completed in 1980, after Rosenbloom's death.

The Rams averaged 62,531 fans in their first season in Anaheim, but the average has dropped to 45,000 this year.

With free agency coming, the Rams -- always noted for watching the bottom line (Eric Dickerson was traded in 1987 after having several bitter salary fights with the team) -- say they need more money.

"[What's important] is the overall ability to compete, improve the players and to improve the team competitively in this marketplace with our present stadium financial arrangement," Shaw said. "It becomes a question of whether we can compete and put a winning product on the field in view of the fact of the amount of money we're making on the stadium. That's the issue. It pales in comparison to what a lot of other cities and stadiums are offering."

Meanwhile, the frustrated Rams fans only can wonder whether they'll have a team to follow in 1995 and whether the club will get better if it doesn't move.

"Don't get me wrong," Moyer said from his tailgating spot outside the stadium. "I enjoy pro football, but I don't like to sit and watch my team get beat every week any more than anybody else does."

BETTER IN BALTIMORE

The difference in revenues the Rams are earning for home games at Anaheim Stadium and what they could expect to make in a new stadium in Baltimore:

Anaheim

Ticket sales $14.3 million

Suite sales $1.9 million

Concessions, parking $1.79 million

Total $17.99 million

Baltimore

Ticket sales $12.5 million

Club- and luxury-seat sales $12.9 million

Concessions, parking $4 million

Total $29.40 million

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