ST. LOUIS (AP) — If St. Louis loses its NFL team, experts say it'd have a "small potatoes" economic impact. The blow to region's psyche, they say, would be far greater.
The beleaguered fan base took another hit on Monday, when Rams owner Stan Kroenke joined in a development group that's planning an 80,000-seat stadium in the Los Angeles suburbs. Yes, the Rams appear to be going back west, perhaps in 2016, just two decades after St. Louis swiped the team from L.A.
It'd make St. Louis a two-time loser in NFL circles — the Cardinals bolted for Arizona in 1987. Though St. Louis and Missouri officials are fighting to keep a team — be it the Rams or another one — even going so far as to unveil a design for a new riverfront stadium, it appears at this point to be a longshot.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon knows there are precious few franchises in the nation's favorite sport.
"We're one of 32 in the world," Nixon said. "It's very valuable to our state."
But that value is more about civic pride, not economics, economists and city leaders say. "If you want to be a major-league city, you want to have an NFL team," St. Louis Sports Commission President Frank Viverito said.
And losing the Rams would pale in comparison financially to some of the other businesses that have left the region at a cost of thousands of high-paying jobs. In the 20 years since the team arrived, St. Louis lost a Ford plant and two Chrysler plants; Trans World Airlines folded into American Airlines; McDonnell Douglas was purchased by Boeing; andMay Department Stores was bought by Macy's. Even Anheuser-Busch — synonymous with St. Louis — was sold.
The Rams, meanwhile, employ about 200 people full-time, less than 1 percent of the 26,000-plus employed by BJC HealthCare, the region's largest employer. The team's annual revenue, about $225 million, ranks low among both NFL teams and public companies in the region.
As for the economic benefit of home games, the Rams again come up short when compared to the NHL's Blues and the city's dominant team, the St. Louis Cardinals — mostly because hockey and baseball seasons have so many more games, said Glenn MacDonald, economist at the Olin Business School at Washington University.
Counting preseason and postseason games, the Blues typically play at home about 50 times a year, drawing fans from nearby rival teams Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks.
And no team in the region comes close to the economic impact generated by the Cardinals, who draw more than 3 million fans a year to 81 regular-season home games. Their fan base is spread throughout the Midwest and South, and with mostly three- and four-game series, downtown hotels fill up.
The St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association has estimated the Cardinals' annual economic value in the $320 million to $350 million range, depending on how far they go into the postseason.
Rams games are different. The fan base is mostly local — unlike the Packers, Cowboys or Steelers, the Rams have little following outside of the area (except for die-hard fans who remain in California) — so they don't stay at hotels and aren't much into tailgating.
The Rams also play only two preseason and eight regular-season games at home. And playoffs? The Rams haven't had a winning season in 11 years and haven't hosted a playoff game since 2003.
Each football game's economic impact is in the neighborhood of $10 million, MacDonald said. "It really boils down to small potatoes," he said. "There are lots of reasons to be interested in the Rams, but the direct economic effect is relatively minor."
Major-league teams, like the Rams, end up becoming "part of your civic identity," said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
"We have the Arch, the St. Louis Symphony, the Cardinals and Rams and Blues, and that becomes part of who we are," he said.
St. Louis certainly isn't giving up. A committee appointed by Nixon announced plans Friday for a new open-air stadium along the Mississippi River. The stadium, expected to cost between $860 million and $985 million, would built through a combination of team and NFL funding, seat licensing and public funding already in place. Nixon and city leaders agree new public money is not an option.
"We want an NFL franchise, but not at any cost," Rainford said.
Associated Press writers R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed to this report.