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St. Louis Rams soon will be put up for sale
Bernie Miklasz
Sports Columnist Bernie Miklasz
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Here's an early heads-up for any wealthy individuals, families or potential investor groups in the St. Louis area who dream of owning an NFL franchise:

You're in luck.

But you might want to act fast, because the Rams are likely to hit the open market in the near future, officially offered for sale by majority owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez.

After inheriting control of the Rams in early 2008 from their late mother, Georgia Frontiere, Rosenbloom and Rodriguez have concentrated on reorganizing the football operation. And they've had to deal with complex estate-tax issues in the aftermath of their mother's death.

With substantial progress made in those areas, the timetable for a sale has moved up.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the situation told the Post-Dispatch on Saturday that Rosenbloom and Rodriguez have retained the services of Goldman Sachs, the prominent investment banking firm.

The owners will ask Goldman Sachs to help facilitate the sale of the Rams by evaluating bids and soliciting potential buyers.

The sale price is unknown, but Forbes magazine's most recent estimate listed the Rams' value at $929 million.

And if you are a St. Louis Rams fan, here's the reason to be concerned: I'm told there will be no preconditions attached to the sale of the Rams. This means the Rams could be scooped up by out-of-town buyers.

And that's a dramatic — and potentially ominous — development, given the Rams' shaky lease at the Edward Jones Dome.

Until now, Rosenbloom, the franchise's managing partner, has said he was open to the idea of selling the Rams as long as the new owner agreed to keep the team in St. Louis, long-term. Rosenbloom hoped that his pledge would entice a buyer from the St. Louis community.

According to a source familiar with Rosenbloom's thinking, Rosenbloom is discouraged by the apparent lack of local ownership interest. Rosenbloom, the source said, has been waiting for more than a year for a St. Louis-area bidder to step forward, to no avail.

The source said Rosenbloom's strong preference is to sell to St. Louis representatives. But with nothing happening on the St. Louis front, Rosenbloom has reluctantly concluded that the only way to expedite a sale is to make the Rams available to any party, near or far. And that includes Los Angeles, the Rams' home until moving to St. Louis in 1995.

When reached Saturday, Rosenbloom declined to comment on sale and stadium issues. "The most important thing for me right now is putting a winning team on the field," he said. "And we don't want that goal to be disrupted in any way."

Rodriguez could not be reached for comment.

Rosenbloom and Rodriguez own a combined 60 percent of the Rams, with Stan Kroenke still in place with a 40 percent ownership share.

I'm told that Kroenke wants to retain his 40 percent piece of the Rams. That's a positive development. Local bidders would have to fund a 60 percent purchase instead of all 100 percent.

According to strict NFL rules on cross-ownership, Kroenke is prohibited from being the majority owner of the Rams unless he first sells two other teams that he owns, the NBA's Denver Nuggets and NHL's Colorado Avalanche.

If the Rams are to be secured for St. Louis on a long-term basis, finding a local owner is the first and most important step.

Unless local ownership emerges, the Rams' future in St. Louis is increasingly uncertain.

The Rams' lease agreement with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission stipulates that the Edward Jones Dome must be a "top-tier" facility that ranks among the top eight stadiums in terms of quality in the 32-team NFL by 2015.

If that top-level status is not met, the Rams would be able to opt out of the stadium lease following the 2014 season.

It's virtually impossible for the CVC to meet that top-eight standard. By 2010, 23 NFL stadiums will have been built or thoroughly renovated since the Edward Jones Dome opened in 1995.

Even with a $30 million upgrade that's being done now, the Edward Jones Dome will be one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL by 2015.

In 2012 the CVC and the Rams will each submit a plan to suitably improve the Dome. And if they can't agree, the dispute will go to arbitration.

The source with knowledge of Rosenbloom's thinking describes the owner as reluctant to get into an extended and nasty battle with the CVC — which probably explains the timing of Rosenbloom's decision to sell sooner.

This is what concerns me:

Coming up with public financing to build a new football stadium in St. Louis is virtually impossible. What about public dollars for a massive renovation of the Dome? A long shot — though voters in Jackson County, Mo., passed a sales-tax increase to refurbish Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs.

And what about a compromise solution that could make the Dome workable for the Rams and the CVC for the intermediate future until both sides agree on a long-range plan?

If an out-of-towner gets control of the franchise and is determined to move to, say, Los Angeles, it would be easy to play hardball and rebuff the CVC's efforts to reach that compromise.

But if new local ownership emerges to take charge of the Rams, I believe the chances of conciliation will increase dramatically.

Make no mistake, the Rams will be in play — and soon.

Will a local buyer preserve the franchise for St. Louis? And how will city-regional leadership respond to the challenge?

It's time for St. Louis to come up with an effective prevent defense.

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