By JIM SALTER, Associated Press
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis Rams are dropping plans to play home games in London in 2013 and 2014, citing a need to focus on improvements to their stadium.
The Rams said Monday that they will go ahead with plans to use a home game to play the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 28 while withdrawing their commitment for home games in London the following two seasons.
"We are looking forward to playing in London this season as the NFL's international series offers a unique opportunity to grow the American football audience, expand the Rams' brand to international fans and enhance St. Louis on the global stage," said Kevin Demoff, executive vice president of the Rams. "However, moving forward we believe our attention needs to be on the ongoing first-tier process" involving the Edward Jones Dome.
The dome is owned by the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau and leased to the Rams for home games. The lease agreement signed when the team moved to St. Louis in 1994 allows for periodic evaluations of whether it is among the top 25 percent of all the NFL's 31 stadiums (the New York Jets and Giants share a stadium).
The bureau and the Rams have been negotiating over improvements since at least January. Unless a deal is worked out, the Rams could break the lease and potentially leave St. Louis after the 2014 season.
The Rams said they worked closely with the NFL in deciding to drop the London games. NFL Vice President of International Chris Parsons said the league was working to add another game for 2013 "in response to the growth in popularity of our sport. We hope to finalize these plans in the months ahead."
NFL owners have agreed to play regular-season games in the United Kingdom for the next five seasons and Commissioner Roger Goodell has repeatedly spoken of the possibility of a full-time franchise their one day. The NFL first played at Wembley in 2007, with the New York Giants beating the Miami Dolphins 13-10. Since then, seven other teams have visited, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers making the trip twice.
The Rams and the bureau are at odds about what needs to be done, and how much it would cost, to get the 18-year-old dome that was built with taxpayer money to first-tier status.The agreement to play "home" games in London each of the next three seasons had been met with some scorn in St. Louis since that would have provided for just seven regular-season games in St. Louis each of those seasons.
The CVC privately proposed to the Rams a modest $48 million plan in January that would have been publicly funded. When that was rejected, the CVC in February announced a plan for $124 million in improvements that included better amenities and a massive new scoreboard. It would have required to Rams to pay for $64 million of the cost. Voter approval in St. Louis city and St. Louis County would have been required for the rest.
The Rams countered with a much more elaborate plan calling for a new roof with a sliding panel, replacing much of the brick exterior with a glass front, even re-routing a nearby street. The Rams did not provide a cost estimate but mayoral aide Jeff Rainford said the team's plan would cost about $700 million and the dome, which also hosts conventions, would have to be closed for renovation for up to three years, potentially costing the city $500 million in revenue.
The Rams were 2-14 last season, tied for the worst in the NFL with Indianapolis, and are 15-65 over the past five seasons. They lost their preseason opener to the Colts 38-3 on Saturday in the debut of new coach Jeff Fisher.