Frontiere Confirms Rams’ Move to St. Louis--'I Had No Choice’ : Pro football: ‘I feel I’ve done everything humanly possible to try and make it work’ in Anaheim, says the Rams owner, who will close the potentially lucrative deal Tuesday.
Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere said Saturday night the team’s 49-year relationship with Southern California is over, and she will sign official papers Tuesday to move the team to St. Louis.
“I’m on my way,” said Frontiere, who will fly to St. Louis today. “I have to give my approval; I have no other choice.”
The Rams, who projected a loss of $6 million to $7 million in 1994, have received an offer from St. Louis that includes a new stadium and practice facility and a potential profit in excess of $20 million a year.
“I feel a little numb, quite frankly,” Frontiere said. “It’s wonderful, and the future looks so bright, but I’m also sad that things were not able to work out here. But weighing everything, there seems to be no other way out.
“I didn’t want to leave California. I mean, it’s hard for my friends and family because everybody says, ‘Why is she so mean taking the team away?’ It’s business; it has to be business, and let me tell you, those players aren’t going to play for me because they like me.
“I was extremely worried about our financial situation. I wasn’t selling my house, but we borrowed to our limit to try and keep the team alive and keep it in Anaheim. We’ve gone as far as we can go. I don’t think if we had gone to the Super Bowl it would have made a difference. What could I do?”
And what would she tell Ram fans?
“How can you say anything?” Frontiere said. “You’re taking something away from somebody, and they’re not going to be happy. I don’t think anyone will ever know how much I fought not to have this happen. Maybe if they had reacted sooner, and with some passion and tried to find a way, but it wasn’t like that. It was like, ‘Oh well, let them go.’
“I hate to let anybody down; I can’t stand the thought that people are thinking I just ran after the money. I mean, what did I do wrong here? I don’t want to make the same mistakes. Where did I go wrong?
“I don’t know, it really doesn’t do much good now to talk about all the things that went wrong. I have to move forward. I do.”
Carroll Rosenbloom, Frontiere’s husband at the time, initiated the Rams’ move from Los Angeles to Anaheim but died in a swimming accident before the move was completed in 1980.
“If Carroll were alive, he wouldn’t have waited so long,” Frontiere said. “No, he would have either gotten a new stadium here, or he would have done something else. I don’t think he would have sold the team. He might have tried to trade for another team.”
The Rams received an escape clause in their Anaheim Stadium lease from city officials in 1990, which allowed them to give 15 months’ notice and leave before the lease’s expiration in 2015.
The Rams invoked the clause on May 3, but Anaheim city officials initially reacted sluggishly to talk of the team’s possible departure. A group of businessmen and Orange County officials--calling itself “Save the Rams"--pitched a renovated Anaheim Stadium and an offer to purchase a minority interest in the team.
But, Frontiere said, “It was too little and too late.”
“Any offer to buy a minority interest came with the demand of gaining majority interest, and that wasn’t going to happen,” she said. “If we had accepted such an offer, the money we would have made from that would have been gone in two or three years, and we would have been right back where we started.
“There were a lot of Ram fans in the Los Angeles area, but they didn’t go to the games. They watched on TV. What did we have, a core of 20,000 to 30,000 fans? The rest wouldn’t get in their cars and come to the games.”
But the Rams failed to field a successful team the past five years, and they hampered their own chances of drawing fans last season with the announcement they were contemplating a move.
“I understand that,” Frontiere said. “But I’m the kind of person who just hates to be put in the corner, and the whole thing here did make me feel completely trapped. Thank God, there has been a way out.
“At the time we received the escape clause, there was no intention of leaving, but we were having a lot of trouble with the powers-to-be (in Anaheim). And John (Shaw, Ram president) felt we were always going to be poor sisters to the Angels. And then they brought the Ducks in, which was fine. But I think they gave attention to other people instead of giving us a little bit more.”
Save the Rams initiated a letter-writing campaign to win Frontiere’s favor, but she said the response was not overwhelming.
“To me, the most important thing is loyalty, and that’s what I feel the worst about. As wonderful as all this is in St. Louis, I really don’t want to leave. But I feel I’ve done everything humanly possible to try and make it work here.”
The Rams’ move to St. Louis is conditional on gaining NFL approval, but Frontiere said she does not expect a problem.
“Other owners know what it’s like; they’ve had to borrow money,” she said. “I would certainly hope they understand that I’m not just haphazardly pulling up stakes to get more money. I would not have gone to another place just to barely make it. I would have stayed in Southern California if there was an opportunity.”
Frontiere said the decision to move was a gradual one made over the past four months, but by the time the team played its final game on Christmas Eve in Anaheim Stadium, she understood she had no alternative but to leave.
“I wanted to be down on the field; I was in tears,” she said. “I’ve shed a lot of tears in the past few months, even when I was angry and saying, ‘I’m glad I’m going.’ But then there was always this little voice, whispering, ‘You don’t want to go.’ ”
So the Rams are leaving, and as for their long history in Southern California, Frontiere said, “They started out in Cleveland, and it looks to me like the team is still the Rams no matter where it is, Anaheim, Cleveland or St. Louis.”
Frontiere, who was born in St. Louis, will meet with officials from FANS (Football at the New Stadium) Monday and then appear at a Tuesday press conference.
“I have a good feeling about St. Louis,” said Frontiere, who will maintain her home in Los Angeles while also acquiring one in Missouri. “I’ve always been proud of St. Louis. It has a lot of history. It’s an old, established city, although it’s a bit more laid-back than California.”
Frontiere, who became the target of critics after assuming Rosenbloom’s role as team owner, will be given a hero’s welcome in St. Louis.
“I guess I’m so used to the other way, I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Frontiere said. “I know some people say we’re going to have a honeymoon period in St. Louis, but I’m not going to let that happen. I’m fighting for my life, and I want to do whatever is necessary to put a winning team on the field.”
The Cardinals, who consistently failed to win, moved from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1987 after failing to win approval for a new stadium.
St. Louis now has the new facility, which will open in late October, and the city has indicated it will raise more than $60 million to cover all Ram debts while affording the team additional revenue streams such as all concessions and the guaranteed sale of club seating and luxury boxes.
“Looking at the St. Louis deal,” Frontiere said, “how could you stay in Anaheim?”
The Rams, who finished this past season with seven consecutive defeats, will open the 1995 season in Busch Stadium, but eventually move into a 70,000-seat domed stadium.
During the Cardinals 28-year stint in St. Louis, they never earned a home playoff game.
“Will St. Louis support a team?” Frontiere said. “I think they have shown they have faith in us, and if we give them more than we promised, that should make them very happy. Sure, there have been some decisions in our past and in their past that we would like to make again, but this is a fresh start for both of us.”
The deal to move to St. Louis will include Frontiere selling 30% of the team to Missouri businessman Stan Kroenke, who has family ties to Wal-Mart.
“I like him,” Frontiere said. “He’s very soft-spoken, very laid-back, and he doesn’t appear to be somebody on an ego trip. I think he’s been a successful businessman, which will bring something to the franchise and only make us better.”
When the Rams began shopping for a new home, they focused on Baltimore, but that city had only the promise of a newly built stadium, and there was always the potential for litigation over territorial rights with Jack Kent Cooke, the Washington Redskins’ owner.
“St. Louis had the edge all along because of the stadium being almost ready,” Frontiere said. “We knew if we wanted to go we could win in the courts, but I’m not a fighter. I don’t want to initiate problems.”
The St. Louis deal, which includes provisos for the sale of personal seat licenses, club seats and luxury boxes, will not officially close until late April. But Frontiere said the tough decision to move has been made.
“This deal will save the life of the franchise,” Frontiere said. “It’s difficult leaving, but ready or not, I’m going.”