St. Louis Has Earned Its Own NFL Franchise, But Is It In The Cards?

Written By Darren Cooper on March 25, 2022 - Last Updated on March 30, 2022
Why St. Louis deserves an NFL team

It’s just a matter of time before the NFL expands.

All the machinations to increase the regular-season schedule to 17 games and expand the playoffs to seven teams per conference is likely just a prelude to the NFL adding two, or even four, more teams to its current 32-team roster.

The last time the NFL added a team was in 2002 with the Houston Texans. That gave the league two 16-team conferences and eight divisions of four teams.

The potential expansion franchise fee for the NFL could be what, say, $1 billion? That’s just for starters.

Try $3 billion.

A Forbes study from 2021 shows 20 franchises valued at over $3 billion.

The NFL will get whatever it asks for

So where does St. Louis fit in to the NFL expansion plans? As legalized Missouri sports betting inches closer, this question becomes even more prescient.

The Gateway City has had two different transplanted franchises and supported them both, before losing them to supposedly better markets.

What St. Louis has never had, and deserves, is a team of its own.

Birds and Bulls: A short history of NFL football in St. Louis

St. Louis was home for the NFL Cardinals from 1960 to 1987 and the Rams from 1995 to 2015.

Neither started in St. Louis.

The Cardinals were originally located in Chicago and shifted to St. Louis to help combat the nascent American Football League in 1960 (plus Chicago had the Bears).

The football Cardinals, not to be confused with the baseball team, never won a playoff game in 28 seasons.

Owner Bill Bidwell moved the team to Phoenix in 1988. No one was really sad to see Bidwell leave … but we missed the Cardinals.

Then came the Rams in 1995.

St. Louis had built a new stadium, the Trans World Dome, now called The Dome at Americas Center, and the Rams were looking to get out of Anaheim (even though they were called the Los Angeles Rams).

St. Louis loved the Rams. The team had quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk and inspired the best football nickname of the last 25 years: The Greatest Show on Turf.

The Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999 and sold out 95 straight home games.

Rams fall off the proverbial cliff

Warner got injured, the offense stalled.

Coach Dick Vermeil retired (only to resurface across state lines with the Kansas City Chiefs), and the St. Louis Rams became losers.

Their five-year run from 2007-2011 is still the single worst fiveyear winning percentage in NFL history.

There was also a poison pill in the lease. The Dome had to rank in the top quarter of NFL stadiums for attendance or else the Rams could leave.

From 2010 to their last season in 2015, the Rams ranked 30th, 31st or 32nd, respectively, in NFL attendance. The Rams packed up and moved back to Los Angeles.

They just won Super Bowl LVI in February playing in state-of-the-art SoFI Stadium.

Why does St. Louis deserve an NFL expansion team?

For one, there’s precedence.

When the Cleveland Browns bolted and became the Baltimore Ravens, the NFL quickly moved in to retain the Browns’ name and records and put a new franchise back in Cleveland.

Even the NFL’s last team, the Texans, are basically a make-up for the Houston Oilers moving out of Houston and relocating to Tennessee.

Why can’t the NFL do that with St. Louis?

St. Louis is the 23rd biggest television market in America, clocking in at just over 1.3 million households.

The only markets bigger without an NFL franchise are Orlando/Daytona Beach (17) Sacramento (20) and Portland (21).

The NFL and St. Louis were at odds over the Rams breaking the lease, and the NFL had to pay the city $790 million at the end of 2021.

While that figure sounds like a lot (it is), the NFL is a multi-billion dollar business, so $790 million is relatively insignificant.

What’s that these days, one Patrick Mahomes contract (valued at $477 million) or a Deshaun Watson one ($230 million)?

The bump of the BattleHawks

People like to point out the fact that when XFL 2.0 popped up in 2020, St. Louis football fans were quick to head back to The Dome.

The BattleHawks had two of the three biggest crowds in XFL history at home, 29,554 for game one and 27,527 for game two.

The BattleHawks announced because of increased demand, they were going to open up the upper deck for fans at their next home game, scheduled for March 21, 2020.
Read that date again.

The sports world shut down the week before and the XFL and BattleHawks never played again.

How can St. Louis ensure an NFL franchise?

St. Louis doesn’t need to prove itself as a sports city.

Yes, the city will forever be associated with the Cardinals baseball franchise, but this is an area deeply passionate about all sports.

The hard truth is both the football Cardinals and Rams put out poor products, and in a way, the common St. Louis fan knows better (perhaps spoiled by the baseball Cardinals’ success).

St. Louis should recognize though that The Dome, while in a great location, is just a bland stadium. It needs to be reconfigured (maybe take off the roof or make it retractable).

The Cardinals (football) belonged to Chicago first. And the Rams, well, they always belonged in California, let’s be honest.

The NFL will forgive the $790 million. It’s just business.

St. Louis should get an expansion team with its own unique identity with homegrown ownership.

That’s what’s missing.

That combination will ensure a profitable and successful endeavor for the NFL and St. Louis football fans.

Photo by Mary Butkus / Associated Press
Darren Cooper Avatar
Written by
Darren Cooper

Darren Cooper was born and raised in Southern Louisiana, just a short pirogue ride away from New Orleans. He started his journalism career at the New Orleans Times-Picayune and has been a writer and columnist in New Jersey since 1998. He's won 14 statewide press awards and earned his first Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 award in 2022.

View all posts by Darren Cooper