L.A. Eyes Luring NFL Rams From St. Louis

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St. Louis is hoping to hold onto the Rams, even after a dismal football season. The Rams can break their stadium lease if the city doesn't make major upgrades to the facility. St. Louis may have a hard time competing with the team's original hometown of Los Angeles, where there are two major proposals for a new stadium.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The St. Louis Rams had a tough football season, tying for the worst record in the NFL. This months' hiring of a new head coach, Jeff Fisher, created a sense of hope. But there are lingering concerns among fans about whether the team will stay in St. Louis.

Many there remember watching their original NFL team leave town in the 1980s. Now the Rams have the right to break their stadium lease if the city does not make major upgrades. And as St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman reports, it may be tough to compete with the Rams' old hometown of Los Angeles.

MARIA ALTMAN, BYLINE: In 1988, St. Louis fans lost the NFL Cardinals to Arizona. It didn't take long for the city to rally and lure the Rams away from L.A. with a new, $280 million stadium. Today, the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis pales in comparison with a new generation of football palaces like Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, or the more than billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Even diehard Rams fans aren't loyal to the Dome.

CRAIG AUER: It's blah. I used to go to Busch Stadium when the football Cardinals were here. That was awesome.

ALTMAN: Craig Auer is watching an NFL playoff game with his dad at a sports bar in south St. Louis.

AUER: I can't describe it any better. It's indoors. It's dark.

ALTMAN: But despite disliking the Dome, Auer remembers losing the football Cardinals and says it'd be tough to go through it again.

AUER: Devastating for us as fans, as well as the St. Louis economy.

ALTMAN: The Rams' lease says the Dome must be in the top tier of NFL stadiums, or the team can leave by 2015. Sports economist Patrick Rishe says it would take major money for St. Louis to meet that requirement.

PATRICK RISHE: I don't think even spending two, $300 million in upgrades would even get them into the top half.

ALTMAN: The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, which manages the Dome, has until February 1st to send its plans for upgrades to the team. But the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the state of Missouri are still spending a combined $24 million annually for the Dome. And today, budgets are tight. State Senator Joe Keaveny of St. Louis says he doesn't see public funding increasing for the stadium.

STATE SENATOR JOE KEAVENY: I think there was a heyday where people, they wanted to have the biggest and the best, and I think those days are almost over. So when it comes to priorities, professional sports franchises aren't very high on the list.

ALTMAN: Which brings us to Los Angeles, where billionaire Philip Anschutz is proposing spending $1.2 billion of his own money for a stadium and convention center. The plan already has preliminary approval from the Los Angeles City Council.

T.J. SIMERS: It'd be funny for them coming back to L.A., but I wouldn't be shocked if that's one of the scenarios.

ALTMAN: That's T.J. Simers, a sports columnist for the L.A. Times, who covered the Rams when they were a Los Angeles team. He says a privately financed stadium would be enticing for any NFL owner, but the timing would likely work for the Rams.

SIMERS: A team like St. Louis fits perfectly for them, because that new stadium will open in 2016. The NFL can say, go ahead and build your stadium and we'll announce who's moving there after the 2015 season.

ALTMAN: As for L.A.'s history with the Rams, Simers says many of the city's residents are indifferent to bringing the team back. But in St. Louis, the mood is very different. Rams' fans here say despite the team's poor play and lousy record, they just don't want to lose another football team.

For NPR News, I'm Maria Altman, in St. Louis.

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