Rams find franchise buyer in Illinois

Friday, February 12, 2010

The sale still has to be approved by the NFL owners

ST. LOUIS -- The majority owners of the St. Louis Rams have agreed to sell the team to an Illinois auto parts magnate who reportedly doesn't want to move the team.

The Rams confirmed the pending sale Thursday and scheduled a late afternoon news conference to discuss details.

If approved by a 75 percent vote of NFL owners, Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, the children of famed Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, will sell their 60 percent stake in the team to Shahid Khan, the 55-year-old president of an auto parts manufacturer, Flex-N-Gate, in Urbana, Ill.

The sale first was reported on the website for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the online newspaper Globe-Democrat.com. Unidentified NFL sources told STLtoday.com that Khan is a Rams fan who is committed to keeping the team in St. Louis.

Forbes magazine recently estimated the Rams franchise has a value of $913 million, 25th out of 32 teams, though some experts have said a more realistic sale price will be closer to $750 million.

Stan Kroenke, a billionaire from Columbia, Mo., owns the remaining 40 percent of the franchise as well as the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids plus a large stake in the Arsenal soccer club. A spokesman for Kroenke did not respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press.

The sale of the Rams has been expected since Frontiere's death in January 2008. Her children are both involved in other interests and neither has ties to St. Louis.

A group headed by St. Louis Blues owner Dave Checketts also was interested in buying the Rams. Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh initially was part of the Checketts group but was dropped in October after adverse publicity about his involvement.

The sale has raised concerns in St. Louis, which lost the Cardinals franchise after the 1987 season when Bill Bidwill moved the franchise to Arizona. Several games last season were not sold out, though that was partly due to the on-field performance -- at 1-15, the Rams had the worst record in the league.

Khan did not return calls to his home or company by The Associated Press.

According to federal court records in Illinois, the Internal Revenue Service has accused Khan and his wife, Ann, of improperly sheltering $250 million in income between 1999 and 2003, reducing their taxes by $85 million. In an interview with The (Champaign) News-Gazette in early 2009, Shahid Khan said the couple paid the IRS $68 million to settle the dispute, but insisted he'd done nothing wrong.

"There isn't a hint of a criminal issue here," Khan told the newspaper, saying he planned to try to get the money back through litigation. It wasn't clear whether he's taken legal steps since then to recover the money and an IRS spokesman declined comment Thursday.

Forbes last year ranked Flex-N-Gate as the 229th largest private company in the U.S., with an estimated $2.14 billion in annual revenue. The company says on its Web site that it has more than 9,500 employees at plants and other facilities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Spain.

St. Louis was without an NFL team from 1988-94.

The NFL passed over St. Louis for the smaller Jacksonville, Fla., market when it awarded an expansion team in 1993. Two years later, civic leaders convinced Frontiere, a St. Louis native, to move the team from Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest market, back to her hometown.

The Rams within a few years put together a powerhouse team that won a Super Bowl a decade ago behind Kurt Warner and the rest of the "Greatest Show on Turf." But lately, the Rams have been one of the NFL's worst teams, going 6-42 from 2007-09. A loophole in the Rams' lease allows them to move after the 2014 season if the Edward Jones Dome is not deemed among the top quarter of all NFL stadiums by various measurements. The dome is fast becoming one of the league's older venues, and getting it into the top quarter seems unlikely.

The city's Convention & Visitors Commission spent $30 million upgrading the facility before last season, installing new scoreboards and video boards and upgrading club seating.

Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and David Mercer in Champaign, Ill., contributed to this report.

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