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Rams Are Close to Agreement on St. Louis Move

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Details and paperwork appear to be the only holdups before the Rams declare their intention to move to St. Louis, and a formal announcement could come early next week.

Ram President John Shaw said Tuesday that “I think we are close to an agreement.”

“We don’t have papers done and there are still a couple of points to iron out, but if we get on a fast track it’s conceivable we could have an announcement sometime next week.”

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After both sides sign papers, a news conference to announce the deal is expected to be conducted in St. Louis.

A radio station in St. Louis reported Monday that an announcement would come Sunday, but Shaw said: “That won’t be the case.”

Shaw said he has yet to meet with Ram owner Georgia Frontiere for final approval, but he has kept her informed throughout negotiations with St. Louis and sources within the organization indicate she is prepared to move.

The move to St. Louis, which will require league approval at the annual March NFL owners meetings in Phoenix, might also include the sale of 40% of the team to Stan Kroenke, a Missouri businessman, who would pay $80 million and get the first right of refusal should the rest of the team ever be up for sale.

Kroenke, who has family ties to Wal-Mart’s late founder, Sam Walton, is not expected to assume a management role with the team.

The Rams and Kroenke have yet to complete a deal, but a delay is not expected to deter the announcement of the move if lease, practice facility and stadium revenue details are completed in the next few days.

The final agreement also is expected to include several provisos, which would allow the Rams to back out of the deal should certain luxury suite, club seat and permanent seat-licensing guarantees not be met. The Rams would also have the option to rescind the deal should they fail to win NFL approval and not elect to fight it in court.

After the announcement, the Rams are expected to make no immediate attempt to move to St. Louis until after going through the official NFL process, which includes a petition and statement of reasons to the league for the move.

The team, however, is already gearing up for a fresh start.

Frontiere was scheduled to interview Steve Ortmayer, Raiders special teams coach, Tuesday night for the position of vice president of football operations. If Frontiere gives her approval for Ortmayer’s hiring, Ortmayer will join Jay Zygmunt, senior vice president, and begin screening candidates to replace Chuck Knox, who was fired as coach Monday.

St. Louis officials are eager to complete the deal so they can launch their permanent seat-licensing plan, which they are counting on to raise some $60 million to pay for the Rams’ relocation costs and a practice facility.

“We’ve got to go to market with the (permanent seat licenses),” a source close to the St. Louis effort said. “We missed Christmas, we’re missing the playoffs, we’ve got to take advantage of the two weeks before the Super Bowl.”

St. Louis has has been without an NFL team since 1988, when Cardinal owner Bill Bidwill, tired of being a secondary tenant to the baseball Cardinals in outdated Busch Stadium, moved his team to Phoenix.

St. Louis was considered a lock for an NFL expansion team in 1993, but conflicting ownership groups and financial problems doomed that bid, and Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., were awarded franchises.

Fans thought New England Patriots owner James Orthwein, a St. Louis native, would move his team to St. Louis in early 1994, but New England businessman Robert Kraft purchased the team at the last minute and kept it in the Boston area.

And St. Louis city and county officials nearly blew their chance at luring the Rams last summer because, until September, they couldn’t wrest control of the new stadium lease from a stubborn beer distributor who had the desire, but not the money, to buy an NFL team.

But the city finally cleaned up its act when, after Shaw broke off talks with St. Louis in August, former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton stepped in and convinced aspiring owner Jerry Clinton to turn over his 30% share of the stadium lease for $8 million and the use of a luxury suite for 20 years.

The new stadium, under construction downtown, is scheduled to be completed in late October, meaning Ram home games for the first half of their first season in St. Louis might be played in Busch Stadium.

Shaw and his advisers resumed negotiations with St. Louis in late September and, a little more than three months later, the two sides have apparently hammered out all but the final details of a deal.

Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this story.


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