For the last year, I’ve been reporting a book about American sports stadiums. During that time, I have gotten to experience some pretty cool things in and around our nation’s many – and ever-growing – sports venues, from ball-hawking at Wrigley Field and painting the mound at Fenway Park to laying down floor tiles during an arena changeover and visiting an Alabama sod farm, where stadium grass is grown. Last month, I partied with Oakland Raiders fans at what could have been the team’s final two games ever played in that city. It was a specter that hung in the parking lot air as heavily as the charcoal and weed smoke.
As it turns out, the Raiders are staying put – for now, at least – while the Rams head west, after a landslide vote by NFL owners this week to allow the team to relocate from the ‘Lou to L.A., where they are to make good on what might be the first $2-billion stadium development.
On the one hand, I feel badly for the people of St. Louis (and everyone who gets played by the stadium game), who had to go through this elaborate charade – Stan Kroenke was never staying, people – and are now losing a professional football team for the second time in less than 30 years.
On the other hand, losing the Rams may be the best thing that could have happened to St. Louis. In fact, Roger Noll, a professor emeritus at Stanford and something of an original gangster when it comes to stadium economics, had been advising local officials to let the Rams go all along. “What they should do is let the Rams move,” Noll told me while the team’s fate was still pending. “Let the NFL approve that. Let the NFL turn down Carson [the Raiders-Chargers joint proposal], and then go after the Raiders, because they can get them much cheaper.”
Assuming the Raiders aren’t headed to the town of Ted Drewes and toasted ravioli, that leaves St. Louis on the wrong side of a bad breakup, stuck with an unwanted dome. Going forward, what’s to be done with the newly vacant facility should be the city’s most pressing question, unless the St. Louis Zoo is willing to accept a white elephant.
Hoping to be helpful, I spent a few hours digging through my notes, looking for inspiration. Here are five ways to repurpose the stadium. You’re welcome, St. Louis.
1. Remember the Good Times
It hasn’t been that long since Kurt Warner and crew were the Greatest Show on Turf. Why not relive the glory years with a shrine to the Rams of the late-’90s and early-2000s? Among other exhibits, there could be a golden microphone for Marshall Faulk, who true fans know didn’t do his best work on Sundays but days later, at Mike Duffy’s bar for Tuesday karaoke. Or how about matching wax sculptures of Warner and his wife, Brenda, to see if grade-school kids can tell which is which? (Think of it like the “Double Check” feature from Highlights magazine.) And for a touch of class, how about a welcome fountain, made with a pool of Dick Vermeil’s tears?
2. Reenact Naval Battles From the War of 1812
I’m serious. Flood the floor and have at it. Not only could it be educational, but it also taps into an ancient tradition, from when Titus staged sea-fights inside the Roman Colosseum.
3. Cook the World’s Largest Pizza
Anyone who has spent his or her college years in St. Louis has attempted the Pointersaurus challenge from Pointer’s Pizza at some point (and if you haven’t, that’s because you were drunk and you don’t remember). But when you really think about it, what’s so impressive about a 28-inch pie featuring two meats or four veggies? Sure, it weighs over ten pounds, but let’s put those old concession stands back to work and make something folks can really be proud of. (Unlike the 2015 Rams.)
4. Let the Bears Play There
No, not those Bears. The WashU Bears! It’s true, on campus, the D-III school’s football team barely attracts enough fans for a morning minyan, but pathetic turnouts aren’t stopping the Georgia State Panthers, who are likely to take over Turner Field after the Braves move to Cobb County, and who have been playing before laughably low crowds at the Georgia Dome since 2010.
5. Make a Money Pit
Because that’s what your new stadium would have been, anyway. No, no, I kid. But you did just save a ton of cash by not shelling out public subsidies to a filthy-rich owner. So, take that money, go to whatever the opposite of Coinstar is, and then fill the Edward Jones Dome with a Scrooge McDuck-like money pit. Every citizen gets a chance to swim. (Bonus points for backflips.) Or, you know, just throw it at another NFL team. I’m sure they’ll stay for good next time.