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St. Louis Rams Not a Done Deal : Pro football: Fox is unhappy and team could face problems in voting next week.

March 09, 1995|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Georgia Frontiere, it turns out, could be guilty of the NFL's worst case of premature celebration since Leon Lett.

Memories of her jubilantly upraised arms at a St. Louis victory party two months ago dimmed Wednesday as indications mounted that the Frontiere-owned Rams face a difficult fight gaining league approval next week to move the franchise from Anaheim to St. Louis.

What was once considered a done deal has come under recent attack by owners with financial concerns and, now, the Fox TV network, which paid the league $1.58 billion last year to broadcast NFC games that included the Los Angeles-based Rams.

Joe Browne, league spokesman, confirmed Wednesday that Fox officials have issued a letter formally opposing the move.

Sources say the letter demands a monetary rebate to compensate Fox for losing its "home" team in the nation's second-ranked TV market in exchange for a team in the 18th-ranked market.

Fox's position will be one of the factors raised at the league meetings next week in Phoenix when the issue is debated and perhaps decided. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue will give his recommendation Monday, and voting could begin Tuesday.

Under present rules, 23 of 30 owners must vote yes for a proposal to pass. Perhaps sensing difficulty in gaining that many votes in this case, the San Francisco 49ers are trying to change the rules so that only 21 yes votes are needed.

The 49ers and other NFC West teams are thrilled with the financial windfall that will come to those who will play the Rams annually in the new St. Louis indoor stadium.

Other owners, however, have begun to raise questions that have been amplified by the Fox threat.

"If a team leaves Los Angeles, I think that is going to cost the league 'X' millions of dollars in television rights, and that's not a smart move," said Lamar Hunt, influential owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. "This also deals with the whole presence of the league. You just can't have teams going different places willy-nilly."

Added owner Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers: "This is not a done deal by any means. They have a lot of tradition out there and, when they've done well, the money's been there. I think it will take some doing to get them moved."

If the move is not approved, the Rams could either file a lawsuit or agree to remain in the Southland, where they could resume a lease with Anaheim Stadium that extends through the year 2014.

League sources say owners are fearful of a lawsuit, the sort of which was won by Al Davis when he moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982.

"They will vote for the move because they know what is going to hit them the next morning if they don't," one club official said.

The answer to everyone's worries, as usual, appears to be money.

"There's a lot of money there," Seattle Seahawk President David Behring said. "It will be a very interesting week."

Owners want to share in the $70 million that was recently raised by the Rams through a personal seat license (PSL) program. The Rams and the St. Louis group are balking at including that money in normal ticket revenue sharing because of stadium and relocation expenses.

And the owners also want the Rams to pay a relocation fee. St. Louis paid the league $7.5 million when the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988.

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