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St. Louis’ Advice to L.A.: If You Spend It, They Will Come : Pro football: Architects of Rams’ move say concerted effort to build a new stadium is only way to attract new team.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

His downtown office on the 31st floor of One Mercantile Center overlooks the continuing construction of the domed football stadium that lured the Rams from Los Angeles.

“There it is,” said Thomas Eagleton, former senator and vice-presidential candidate and now a practicing lawyer. “If Orange County and the greater Los Angeles area want football again--build a stadium that is deemed irresistible.”

There it is, all right, a $260-million publicly funded meeting place for Eagleton and John Shaw, the two men who huddled to bring football back to St. Louis. They made the mega-buck deal, the kind of deal that must now be engineered by Orange County or Los Angeles for the return of the NFL.

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“L.A. won’t get football just because it’s L.A.,” Eagleton said. “We have poisoned the well; we are the new price of poker. Anybody that’s talking about a deal is asking for a St. Louis-like deal.

“I don’t know the Los Angeles market, but if you’re telling me the reaction to not having pro football there is ho-hum, and you have to bring it to the people on a silver platter with a figure like Wayne Gretzky or Magic Johnson, then it’s going to be difficult to get started. A new stadium is still an indispensable prerequisite, and there’s no sense talking about it unless you have the wherewithal.”

There is no new stadium in Orange County or Los Angeles. No outcry for professional football. No Eagleton. No Shaw expressing a real interest in moving.

“You have to have pioneers, people with foresight,” Shaw said. “The thing that is difficult about a move is that you need the impetus to take a step forward. It takes a certain amount of will to leave, and in the marketplace that is attracting you it takes someone to keep that impetus going and get the deal properly delivered.

“St. Louis actually built the stadium without knowing if it was going to get football. It took a lot of guts without a commitment.”

The state of Missouri put up half the money for the new stadium, and the city and county of St. Louis split the remaining cost. Civic Progress, a group of 26 companies in the St. Louis area, provided $13 million in seed money to court an NFL franchise such as the Rams. FANS Inc., which hired Eagleton as its leader, initiated the sale of personal seat licenses to give the Rams $60 million in money for expenses.

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Jerry Clinton, a local businessman, began the drive to build a new stadium when the NFL agreed to expand. County Supervisor Buzz Westfall, an avid football fan, kept politics positive, as did St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.

“This was our last shot,” Eagleton said. “If we flubbed getting the Rams, that was going to be it. These people who had lost the Cardinals and then expansion were not going to be there if we lost the Rams.

“It had a lot to do with a seriously wounded pride. That was a very big factor, the difference between being a first-rate city and second-rate community.”

Will the people of Orange County and Los Angeles, like the fans in St. Louis and Baltimore, become passionate in their desire to get pro football back after losing it?

“We were criticized for not doing a good job marketing our team, and the Raiders could also be criticized,” Shaw said. “Both teams had successful runs at times, however, and yet both teams were disappointed with fan support. I don’t know, maybe someone who has a different approach to marketing their club might be more willing to take a gamble and come into the market.”

How about Disney? Doesn’t Disney ownership provide the most logical solution?

“I’m not sure they are the most likely candidate,” Shaw said. “Obviously, Disney is extremely successful at what they do, but there are a lot of entertainment situations in L.A. that might succeed, a lot of individual companies that might be successful in owning an NFL team.

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“I definitely don’t see Disney as the only savior. Disney is clearly viable, but I believe Mr. [Michael] Eisner was quoted recently as saying it had to make business sense. That’s a view they took with us when we met [before the Rams’ decision to move].”

Shaw did not elaborate, but there is a feeling around the league that Disney might be too tough a negotiator for the NFL, which is used to drawing a long line for its high-priced expansion tickets.

Shaw, who plotted the Rams’ departure almost six years before signing papers with St. Louis, was asked to look into the future and predict the year in which the NFL will return to the Los Angeles area,

“I don’t have any idea of the year, but I believe with a large degree of certitude the NFL will be in L.A. in a relatively short period of time. I base that on the size of the market, what it presents to potential owners, and what it means to the league in its national TV contracts.”

Eagleton laughed. “The Good Senator,” as Shaw calls him, said he will not be making a move to Orange County or L.A. to direct such an effort.

“You want to put $260 million of public money into the building of a stadium? We had a new stadium, and we were looking at a tractor pull palace unless we got a football team. With no new stadium, that’s tough. . . . I’m not sure how you would get started from scratch.”

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