From the NFL lens, St. Louis stadium plan has issues

For months now the future of the National Football League in St. Louis rested on the stadium plan being put together by the St. Louis Stadium task force appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

But based on some recent poking around, it’s questionable whether the stadium bill St. Louis hopes to deliver will be sufficient enough to compel the NFL to block a proposed Rams move to Los Angeles.

And with St. Louis leaders preparing to present the plan to the NFL’s Los Angeles owners committee next week in New York, that could be a major issue moving forward.

But more on that in a bit.

It’s no secret Rams owner Stan Kroenke wants to move his franchise back to Los Angeles, where he is proposing a privately financed $1.7 billion dollar stadium in Inglewood. It’s one of two Los Angeles-area stadium plans the NFL is considering, along with the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers joint stadium proposal in Carson.

The NFL hopes to decide what team or teams will relocate to L.A. and which stadium site they’ll call home by next January.

Back in St. Louis, local leaders and fans are counting on NFL owners blocking Kroenke’s move based on the merits of the privately/privately financed $1 billion dollar stadium being proposed along the banks of the Mississippi.

The argument being, how can the NFL allow the Rams to move when St. Louis is putting so much public money into a new stadium?

On the surface, St. Louis has a valid argument. No NFL team has ever relocated to a new market when the current market is offering a viable stadium plan.

But along with being viable, a stadium plan also has to be compelling and attractive. And that is where St. Louis might encounter some problems.

After doing some poking around the last few days, some serious concerns are growing in the NFL that any owner – let alone Kroenke – would sign off on what St. Louis is proposing.

In other words, not only is it insufficient to potentially block a Rams move to Los Angeles. But also to eventually lure another team to St. Louis should the Rams leave.

One of the primary issues, according to sources, is how St. Louis views the public/private split for stadium costs and how the NFL looks at things.

And without trying to validate one argument or the other, it’s imperative to keep in mind the math book being used to figure this out was written by the NFL. Their book, their rules.

And considering part of the team and league’s contribution for the stadium – roughly $450 million of it – comes in cold hard cash as opposed to the various mechanisms used by states and cities to be paid out over time – the NFL believes it has every right to to recoup its investment as quickly as possible.

Which means controlling all stadium related revenue, such as naming rights fees, game-day revenue and game-day tax revenue on items like ticket sales, food and beverage and on-site parking.

Which brings us to the St. Louis proposal, and the misgivings the NFL has with the public/private contribution split.

The breakdown of the St. Louis plan is approximately $610 million from the team and league (counted as private, and includes a $160 million Personal Seat License projection) and $390 million in public contributions.

The issue is, St. Louis is using the naming rights deal with National Car Rental to finance $75 million in bonds to go toward its share of construction cost. And since the NFL counts naming rights money as team revenue, the city will rebate the team a percentage of game-day taxes – such as levies on tickets, parking or merchandise.

The plan raises NFL eyebrows for a couple of reasons.

Not only is St. Louis tapping into the naming rights deal – or team revenue – to pay part of its portion, it’s then using team revenue in the form of game-day tax rebates to pay it back.

When viewed through an NFL lens, the $75 million should count as team money, which brings the private contribution to $685 million.

As a result, what St. Louis currently sees as a $610 million dollar private to $390 million dollar public split, the NFL sees as a $685 million private to $315 million dollar public split.

And that is a huge issue.

Especially when the most recent public/private stadium bill agreed to and passed – between the Vikings and Minnesota – broke down as $498 million from taxpayers and $477 million from the team/league on a $975 million stadium.

That doesn’t mean the Rams are a sure bet to Los Angeles.

But it’s obviously not a slam dunk the St. Louis stadium deal will be the major hit with NFL owners that local leaders hoped.