What Happens to Charities When an NFL Team Leaves Town?
The St. Louis Rams are no more.
On Jan. 12, NFL owners voted almost unanimously to allow the franchise to relocate to Los Angeles, ending a long, ugly battle between team owner Stan Kroenke and the city of St. Louis. Kroenke wanted $700 million in renovations to the team's 21-year-old stadium, threatening a move to LA if the city wouldn't pay up. St. Louis proposed a new, $1.1 billion stadium, paid for with $400 million in public money, but it wasn't enough. Kroenke, who had pitched to the NFL a detailed relocation plan that included a new stadium complex on LA land he'd purchased two years prior, wanted out all along. The city never had a chance.
The move leaves St. Louis without an NFL team. And it leaves taxpayers on the hook for $16.2 million spent on studies for a new stadium and more than $100 million still owed on the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams' old stadium. But what does it mean for nonprofits in and around the city?
What happens to charities when an NFL team leaves town?
The NFL, as a whole, has a spotty track record of philanthropy. In 2013, a report revealed that just $11.25 of every $100 spent on merchandise during the league's "Pink October" campaign went to charity, while the league—as the primary retailer—pocketed significantly more. In November of last year, another report found that 18 teams received $5.6 million from the Department of Defense in exchange for military-tribute events. And in December, an ESPN investigation alleged that the NFL backed out of $16 million in unrestricted funds for a Boston University concussion study.
On the local level, though, there's no questioning the philanthropic impact an NFL team has on the surrounding community. A study by researchers at Boston College and the University of Maine found that the 23 NFL teams with publicly available records issued a combined $33.2 million in grants through their charitable foundations from 2005 to 2007. Many teams also develop extensive partnerships with local nonprofits, providing a host of non-monetary benefits—game tickets, food drives, community outreach—and affording partner-charities massive amounts of exposure through awareness campaigns and joint marketing activities.
The Rams were no exception. The team's "Community" page lists more than 30 different national and local charities, events and outreach programs as partners. One entry, "Staff Days of Service," lists an additional 70 charities St. Louis front-office staffers independently supported. Many of the 53 players on the team's active roster were also involved in personal philanthropic pursuits, either through their own charities or with local organizations.
The national programs, including American Red Cross, Wounded Warrior Project and Susan G. Komen, along with Play 60 and the NFL's other in-house programs, should be largely unaffected. It's reasonable to assume that the team will continue its involvement with them post-relocation—and even if it doesn't, those organizations will be fine.
Local charities may not fare so well.
According to tax filings, The St. Louis Rams Foundation has issued $3.5 million in "cash, grants, merchandise and tickets" since 1995—including $176,973 in grants in 2013—most of it to area charities. That's a lot of money that will no longer be available to local organizations, but it's far from the biggest loss. Consider what Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis (BAMSL) president Seth Albin said about his organization's 2015 "Motion for Kids" holiday party, hosted by the Rams.
“We’ve been doing this event for 27 years,” said Albin in an article on the Rams' website. “Today, we served 3,000 kids. When we first started doing this, we maybe helped a few hundred, but once we partnered with the Rams, that number doubled and tripled. Without the Rams and being able to do the event at the Edward Jones Dome, we couldn’t help as many of these kids.”
Then there are the hospital visits, the Thanksgiving meals, the fundraising events for local charities large and small—all of it gone, virtually overnight. And that may not even be the worst part.
In early January, as part of his plea to the NFL, Kroenke released a 29-page document detailing plans for his LA stadium complex and stating his case for relocation. The proposal included this passage:
Compared to all other U.S. cities, St. Louis is struggling. One recent study reports that St. Louis ranks 490 out of 515 U.S. cities and 61st among the 64 largest U.S. cities in economic growth in recent years. That same study reported that St. Louis had the lowest rate of population growth of any major U.S. city from 2008 to 2014—registering a loss of 1.74 percent of its citizens while most cities registered gains. Thus, the city of St. Louis ranks near the bottom of all U.S. cities of any size in terms of economic and population growth.
It was no secret that Kroenke desperately wanted out of St. Louis, but this was a scorched-earth assault on the city. The team had spent more than two decades forging relationships in the community, and in one paragraph Kroenke tore them down. It was, essentially, a warning to prospective team owners looking to bring an NFL franchise back to St. Louis: This is a failing city; avoid at all costs. One line from the proposal said as much: "St. Louis lags, and will continue to lag, far behind in the economic drivers that are necessary for sustained success of an NFL franchise."
Charities in St. Louis and its surrounding areas will survive. They will find ways to compensate for what they've lost in the team's departure. The Rams were a bonus—a boost to area organizations, not a necessity. But it may not be easy.
“It’s a tough time for this region,” Ryan Farmer, a spokesman for the St. Louis Area Foodbank, told Fox2now St. Louis. “I do think we’re strong enough to get through this. But it’s a blow.”