The NFL’s St. Louis Rams, whose future in the Gateway City remains uncertain, will become London’s “home” team for one game per year over the next three seasons.
The league announced plans for the three-year plan for its International Series on January 20. The series begins October 28, when St. Louis “hosts” the AFC champion New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium in London, England. Opponents for the 2013 and 2014 games have yet to be determined.
As a result, the team’s season ticket holders will give up one game in St. Louis the next three seasons, starting with the marquee match-up with the Pats. They instead will be offered a refund for the cost of the game or the chance to purchase tickets to the London game.
With the team’s lease at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis set to expire after the 2014 season, and owner Stan Kroenke non-committal about the franchise’s long-term future in St. Louis, there is speculation that the team could be on the move again.
The NFL previous has stated a desire to, one day, have a franchise relocate to London permanently. Adding to fans’ concerns of a permanent move is Kroenke’s majority ownership of the Arsenal English Premier League soccer club.
“We’ve seen first-hand the increased popularity of the NFL not only in London, but throughout Europe,” Kroenke said in the statement announcing the London games. “To play a role in that growth over the next three years will be incredible to the many good things happening not only in the NFL, but also in the St. Louis Rams organization.”
Things haven’t been very good for the Rams on the field lately. St. Louis went 2-14 last season, tying for the worst record in the NFL. The Rams, who have totaled only 15 victories in the past five seasons, were next-to-last in the league in attendance. They averaged 56,394 per game at the 66,000-seat Edward Jones Dome.
Last week, the team hired former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher to try to begin another turnaround.
When asked at Fisher’s introductory press conference about the franchise’s future in St. Louis, Kroenke said, “We’ll see how that process works out.”
When the Rams arrived in St. Louis from Southern California in 1995, a clause in their lease required the dome to be among the top eight facilities in the NFL after 10 and 20 years. Since 1995, more than 20 NFL teams have built new stadiums or updated existing ones.
The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission has until February 1 to submit a proposal on how the dome will meet that “first-tier” stadium requirement.
Another relocation theory has the Rams heading back to Los Angeles. The second-largest market in the country has been without an NFL team since the Rams, who played in Los Angeles and Anaheim from 1946 to 1994, left. Adding to that speculation is a Los Angeles Times report this week that Kroenke has explored bidding on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are up for sale.
Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ executive vice president of football operations, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch last week that the team is well aware of St. Louis fans’ concerns.
“Our fans are going to have conspiracy theories and be skeptics of our intentions,” Demoff told the newspaper. “But hopefully throughout this process, our actions about wanting to be here will speak for us.”
The Patriots-Rams game in London will be the NFL’s sixth regular-season game at Wembley. It will be the Patriots’ second trip there in the past three seasons. In 2009, New England beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35-7 at Wembley.
While there had been plans to bring a second game to London each season, the NFL said last week that Pats-Rams would be the only one played there in 2012.