Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kroenke waiting for move on Rams

One of the more compelling aspects of the Rams' sale is the role of Stan
Kroenke in the proceedings. Rams owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez,
team insiders and other NFL executives and owners are wondering: what is
Kroenke going to do? Is he going to make a play for control of the team? And if
so, when?

Don't expect Kroenke to lay his plan out for us. He's staying underground on
the Rams' front and not returning media calls. He's not about to give away any
clues on his Rams' strategy.

Kroenke, worth an estimated $3 billion, is a busy sports mogul. He owns 40
percent of the Rams. He owns the NBA Denver Nuggets, the NHL Colorado Avalanche
and the Pepsi Center in Denver. He owns the Major League Soccer franchise in
Colorado and the stadium that houses the team. He is the majority shareholder
(28.3 percent) of the prestigious Arsenal soccer club in the English Premier
League. Kroenke owns a pro lacrosse team, an arena football team, and a
Colorado-based cable-sports network.

And Kroenke's real-estate development company continues to prosper, making him
one of the nation's wealthiest individuals according to Forbes magazine.

So does Kroenke want to buy the available 60 percent ownership block and
challenge NFL rules that prohibit cross ownership? Or is he content to hang
onto his 40 percent, oversee his other sports properties, concentrate on
accumulating more Arsenal stock and avoid a skirmish with the NFL?

After speaking to a couple of Kroenke associates — sorry, no names — I think I
have a general handle on his approach. But I can't be sure. Remember, this is
the same Kroenke who made no noise about being interested in the Nuggets and
the Avalanche, only to swoop in and buy them at the end of the process. Kroenke
waited until the collapse of Bill Laurie's tentative deal for the teams, then
made his move. And Laurie is Kroenke's brother-in-law, but Laurie knew nothing
of Kroenke's intentions.

I believe Kroenke will sit and wait for others to make the first move.

It makes sense, because Kroenke has the right of first refusal on the Rams'
sale. He can match any offer for the available 60 percent. By hanging back,
Kroenke won't set the market and take the risk of bidding against himself to
meet Rosenbloom's price. Instead, it's smarter for Kroenke to wait for another
interested party to set the market, then react accordingly.

If another bidder makes an offer on the lower side, and the price is acceptable
to Rosenbloom, then Kroenke can match the offer and get a relative bargain. He
can save millions of dollars on the purchase. If Kroenke gets a great deal,
then he may be more inclined to fight the league over that 60 percent.

And what if another bidder rushes in and pays whatever Rosenbloom-Rodriguez are
asking for? Well, Kroenke can ask to be bought out (his 40 percent) at the same
rate. Or he can keep his 40 percent, satisfied in knowing that the value of his
ownership share just went up. A win-win for him.

And there could be other advantages for Kroenke to remain patient:

— If this process drags out — which it might, considering the struggling
economy and concerns over the league's serious labor issues with the players —
Rosenbloom may have to settle for a buyer that the NFL doesn't like or want.
And the NFL could turn to Kroenke to ask for his help — buy the 60 percent and
pull the league out of a bad situation. In exchange, the NFL would accommodate
Kroenke by waiving the cross-ownership rules.

— If no local buyer comes forward, and the Rams are in danger of being sold to
anti-St. Louis interests, Kroenke could ride in at the end and save the day.
The city's political and business community would be grateful. And that would
serve to help Kroenke in the looming strife concerning the team's lease at the
Edward Jones Dome.

If Kroenke wants the Rams, would he be willing to sell his Denver teams to
comply with NFL rules? I'm told that's doubtful. But I'm told Kroenke will try
to lobby NFL owners to get the rule changed. So he might be willing to
challenge the league over this issue.

In Kroenke's case, the NFL rule is stupid, because he already owns 40 percent
of the Rams. The NFL insists that a lead ownership partner have a minimum share
of 30 percent, and Kroenke already has that, plus another 10 percent. So isn't
this pretty silly?

And why would it matter if Kroenke kept his 40 percent but lined up multiple
investors to purchase smaller shares that add up to the other 60 percent?

Besides, it's not as if Kroenke needs Rams profits to be able to compete in the
Denver sports marketplace against Pat Bowlen, who owns the NFL Denver Broncos.
Kroenke and his wife, Anne, are worth a combined $7 billion. They don't need
Rams' dollars. This is lunacy.

Kroenke is just what the league wants in an owner. He's a successful
billionaire. And he's already in the club.

It will be fascinating to see how Kroenke plays poker. But if history tells us
anything, it's that the cool-headed Kroenke is highly capable of waiting and
watching the other players blow themselves up. That's when Kroenke scoops up
the enormous pile of chips in the middle of the table.

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