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RAMS GO FOR GOLD : Newest Ram in Fold Nurtures High Hopes for Future : Partner: Missouri businessman Stan Kroenke has agreed to buy a 30% stake in the team and has an option to buy out Georgia Frontiere if she should decide to sell.

January 18, 1995|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS — The press conference was over, the one-on-one interviews had been completed, and away from the public behind a draped-off area guarded by security, Ram officials began to relax.

Stan Kroenke, the newest Ram of all after agreeing to purchase 30% of the team, had spent the preceding two hours saying all the right things and looking very much like the proper businessman he is.

But now Kroenke could not contain himself. He grabbed a Ram helmet sitting on the table behind Georgia Frontiere and jammed it on his head, and the fact is, the man in the expensive suit looked funny.

But Kroenke was not deterred. A reported millionaire more than 500 times over, he picked up a football, began backpedaling and then whizzed a spiral past an astonished Frontiere to Milt Hyman, the team's attorney.

Boys will be boys, and at age 47, Kroenke has a new toy. Enos Stanley Kroenke, named for baseball players Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, has paid an estimated $60 million to become Frontiere's partner, and he will now have the opportunity to rub shoulder pads with Jerome Bettis, Sean Gilbert and Flipper Anderson.

"I think owning a professional sports team has always been something I have thought about," Kroenke said. "I think St. Louis represents an excellent opportunity."

Kroenke has first option to buy out Frontiere if she elects to sell, but the agreement he has struck does not provide any other opportunity to gain majority interest in the team. But Kroenke is taking the gamble that one day he will have the chance to become majority owner of the Rams.

"One can never tell," Kroenke said. "I think certainly the opportunity may be there. We'll just have to see how Georgia views all that. I'd be the last person to pressure her into something like that. But I'm from Missouri, and I think St. Louis deserves a team."

Kroenke attended several Ram games last season, and while NFL bylaws call for only one managing partner, Kroenke didn't sound like a silent one.

"The way our deal is set up, I will be involved in the day-to-day process, but certainly John Shaw is in charge of that now," Kroenke said. "But we will be involved."

Shaw, however, said Kroenke will have no say in the hiring of a coach to replace recently fired Chuck Knox or the discussion of trades or personnel decisions.

"He will have no say in the football operation," said Shaw, Ram president. "We have stressed to Stan the importance, since he has a presence in this community, of being involved in all the business aspects of the team."

Kroenke said he wants to learn about every facet of professional football. But when asked if he is being groomed to replace Shaw, who has talked in the past about leaving the Rams, Kroenke declined comment.

"I would say anything is possible," Shaw said. "It's not being contemplated at this time; it's not part of the deal."

Kroenke has the option of canceling his deal with Frontiere if St. Louis fails to meet the conditions of the move, and National Football League owners must still approve his involvement, although they approved him when he became involved in St. Louis' bid for an expansion franchise.

Kroenke, a resident of Columbia, Mo., spent the last year avoiding the media after a less-than-impressive appearance at a news conference during the expansion process. He hired a public relations firm to train him to deal with the media better but allowed himself to be interviewed only once in the last year.

Daryl Moen, the Columbia Missourian editor who lives two blocks from Kroenke, said, "He's a non-person here. If you're looking for newspaper clippings on him, there really are none."

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch did a profile of Kroenke a little more than a year ago and reported that he leases two late-model Mercedes, lives in a 10,672-square-foot mansion--the largest in Boone County--vacations in Acapulco and the Caribbean, is an avid University of Missouri fan, owns a twin-engine jet and is married with two children.

His wife, Ann, is a niece of the late Sam Walton and daughter of Wal-Mart co-founder James L. (Bud) Walton. Ann and Stan Kroenke received a huge chunk of Wal-Mart stock in 1974 as a wedding present.

Kroenke developed 20 shopping centers in Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin and Kentucky, with Wal-Mart stores anchoring most of his developments.

Kroenke will not discuss his business dealings. "I think people are entitled to their privacy," he said. "I'm an investor, and we have done very well in real estate."

While he won't talk business, he said he developed his fondness for football after watching Dan Devine's Missouri football teams enjoy such success.

"He was the winningest major college coach in the '60s and I got exposed to that," he said. "I found out how really exciting it can be when you're around a good football team."

But he's joining a team that is riding a seven-game losing streak.

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