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The Future of Football in St. Louis: Can the Dome Be Revived for an NFL Return?

Updated: Feb 20

Ed Jones Dome in 2015
Ed Jones Dome in 2015

Dead on Arrival

In 1992, the former Trans World Dome, which was its name during the first few years of existence from 1995 until 2002 when it was renamed the now Dome at America's Center, had cost taxpayers $280 million (nearly $500 million in today's money). It was 100% taxpayer-financed.

The day that the Dome was built, it was criticized for being "Ugly" and "Blocky," and was also referenced as a "Glorified warehouse." The Rams had a bad record in the first few years in the Dome. They went 22W-42L from 1995 to 1998, then things began to change.

Greatest Show On Turf

In 1999 the Rams under 2-year head coach Dick Vermeil went on an offensive tear that was never seen on a football field in the NFL. During those years from 1999-2006, the Rams compiled a record of 78W-50L and made the playoffs five times, made the Super Bowl twice, and one NFL championship in that span. During that time in St. Louis, it was by far the hottest ticket in town.

The Dome was one of if not the loudest venue in the NFL, and teams hated playing inside the Dome during playoff time. Most teams used silent counts to run their offenses due to the ferocious St. Louis fans cheering on their team. Whether by design or accident, the fact that crowd sounds inside the facility were deafening in most aspects.

Head Coach Jeff Fisher
Head Coach Jeff Fisher

Not much after the years of the GSOT and years of sellout crowds, on came the lean years, and when I mean lean, I mean nearly to the bone. The team from 2007-2011 had the worst stretch of football in NFL history. The St. Louis Rams went 15W-65L. That's atrocious! No wonder the attendance dipped slightly during those years while ticket prices were of the highest in the NFL.

2012 St. Louis Arbitration

Rams & STL CVC arbitration rendering
Rams & STL CVC arbitration rendering

The 2012 arbitration hearing between the Rams and St. Louis fell to the Rams in the winning argument that the lease criteria between the Rams and St. Louis weren't met. The Rams then presented what they wanted to stay in the St. Louis market with a $750 million-plus rebuild of the former Ed Jones Dome. The St. Louis CVC (Now Explore St. Louis) was operating at a loss and in no way could cover the amount of public money being asked for.

This left city and state officials scrambling to find a solution to retain the Rams in St. Louis and not allow them to leave as the Cardinals did in 1988. Had the city accepted the arbitration's judgment, Missouri's city and state would be on the hook for the remainder of the original bonds to pay for the dome's construction plus the newly added expenses of the rebuild. That was not an option.

Rams Leave, Stadium Task Force works to save NFL in STL.

Conceptual art provided by HOK (National Car Rental Field)
Conceptual art provided by HOK (National Car Rental Field)

:We all know what happened and why at this point, so there isn't any real reason to open old wounds. Dave Peacock & Bob Blitz started the stadium task force to keep the NFL in St. Louis. (Blitz is now one of the lead attorneys in the STL vs. NFL lawsuit playing out in court.) At least, that's the way it seemed.

Preface, this is my opinion, and I have no facts to back this assessment up. The entire point of the task force was to position St. Louis in the best possible light for a potential court case against the NFL. When they stopped saying, "Keep the Rams in St. Louis." I started saying, "Keep St. Louis an NFL city." around October-November 2015.

So, we know the fix was in to get the Rams out of St. Louis, but did the NFL want to leave the market? I don't believe that is the case. They didn't want to leave the San Diego and Oakland markets for sure. The Dome was better than the Rams & NFL made it out to be. Therefore, the attendance argument by the Rams & the NFL cannot be made considering how bad the team was and the fact that it has come to light from the court case in St. Louis that the Rams and the NFL were working to move the Rams back to LA as early as 2012-2013 if not sooner.

What would it take to revise the current Dome?

The conversation in St. Louis is that the city needs a new stadium to stay competitive and attract and hold a franchise. Some are not considering the lawsuit playing out in a St. Louis courtroom, leaning towards the city winning the case. The thing that one has to consider is what does the NFL have to lose? We know that the NFL rarely pays out. We can look toward where the league settled with Cleveland and eventually awarded them an expansion franchise. Now, that case is not apples to apples, so we have to use it as a guidepost to steer us to a compromise on what could happen.

Cleveland v. Browns
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The question that I would like answered is this. If the city had the Task Force create this plan to retain the Rams and lock them into a new lease, so it was the only reason for building a new stadium, why do it now?

A new stadium will cost nearly $2 billion, and that's not counting cost overruns. (Ask Kroenke about that.) If a settlement is reached between the city and the NFL, then why not rehab the Dome? The Rams made it clear that it would be what it needed to stay relevant, with $750 million to do so. The numbers make complete sense for the NFL and the city of St. Louis. Award St. Louis, an NFL expansion franchise, pays off the remaining construction bonds on the Dome free of charge and either pays $500 to $700 million in rehabilitating the old stadium.

Everybody wins in this endgame: The city of St. Louis, The NFL, and the Rams.

Time will tell

Derek King

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