The Shifting Nature of Private Ownership

St Louis football fans awoke to a realisation worse than Essendon fans in losing 17 players from their current team, they were to lose their entire team!

Their loss is due to the team owner Stan Kroenke accepting an offer to move the Rams back to Los Angeles and play their games at what used to be Hollywood Park Racetrack. The development for the new stadium is expected to cost approximately US$1.8 billion.

While the good folk in Missouri are mourning the loss of the St Louis Rams, the LA supporters are jubilant; they know what it is like to lose your team having seen the Rams relocate to St Louis in 1995.

The Rams were originally called the Cleveland Rams and moved to LA in the 1946, then the LA Rams and subsequently St Louis Rams and back to LA.

The nature of sporting franchises in the US and private ownerships allow this quirk of the shifting locations. Baltimore lost the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984 and after trying to poach Cleveland Browns and LA Rams to Baltimore they eventually moved the Browns organisation with a new name based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem, The Raven. Apparently Poe spent some considerable time in Baltimore.

Cleveland subsequently established a new team, and retained the Browns name.

In Baseball there have been many inter-city transfers, Brooklyn Dodgers moved to LA, New York Giants moved to San Francisco, Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta, Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers, the list goes on.

The same trend has happened in NBA Basketball, NHL Hockey and of course the NFL.

Los Angeles is the second largest market in the US and is without an NFL Team. After the move from the Rams in 1995, there have been countless attempts to establish a new franchise and without the Commission approving a new team, the best option was to re-establish an existing franchise.

The economics of the move will eventually come down to the Stadium deal (note AFL), the Rams owners at St Louis did not own the Stadium. Crowd attendances are down, probably due to the team’s performance, however the opportunity to raise more money with the move and retain control of the Stadium deal is a major consideration in the move.

While St Louis fans should feel disillusioned by this development, I know how they feel.

I lost my team in 1982 when South Melbourne played the first of their games in Sydney and were renamed Sydney Swans in 1983.

I understood my team’s survival was based on this move and with sensitive administration, the South Melbourne heritage was maintained with the Sydney Swans. I still feel this is my team; the colours are the same, albeit with an Opera House sharing the logo with the Swan. While I hold the South Melbourne heritage close to my heart, I have enjoyed more success and good times with the red and white based in Sydney. My children will only know the stories of the Lakeside days through me.

We are fortunate in Australia that our AFL teams are not privately owned. Fans invest heavily in financial and emotional terms; they are what generate primary revenue for the clubs, membership, ticket sales, merchandise.

I am not convinced by the concept for private ownership; I know there are many examples of this working particularly with soccer/football in the EPL and Europe. The A-League had issues with owners like Clive Palmer, however teams such as Melbourne Victory and City appear to understand the fan base is as essential as having a successful team.

There were a few attempts of private ownership of AFL Clubs, North Melbourne had a crack as did Sydney Swans with Dr Edelsten and then a consortium to clean up that mess and then finally the AFL restructured the Club back to a member based organisation.

The St Louis/LA Rams owner, Stan Kroenke is not short of a quid. Married to the daughter of Walmart founder, James Walton, Kroenke’s wealth is estimated at US$7.7 billion. Initially investing with 40% ownership of the Rams when they moved to St Louis and then subsequently taking 100% ownership, he is entitled to do what he chooses with “his” team.

While the implications for the fans and myriad of small businesses that will be affected by this decision are enormous, there is a universally accepted theme in the US that you can do what you want with your money, it’s the American Dream.

I prefer my Australian Dream, singing “Cheer Cheer the Red and the White” on Grand Final day at the MCG with my kids.

About David Parker

A keen observer of all things sport and a Swans tragic, David likes to dabble in sporting documentaries including the Max Bailey doco for Fox Footy. David is currently filming a documentary on the Australian Cycling Men's Team Pursuit squad as they prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics.


  1. Ross Treverton says

    Great article David. I remember going with my father to ‘that’ meting at the Caulfield Town Hall. Dad was an ex South U19’s and reserves player who absolutely loved the club, but even amongst all the stirring speeches, admitted that ‘we have no choice’ concerning the move. I still love the club (Dad died just prior to the’05 flag), but my favourite victories are those where they wear the red V!

  2. Yeah can’t see it becoming much of a thing in Australia at the moment, David, beyond the existing history of the AFL. The idea was floated for the BBL franchises in the last week. Surely they are the golden egg laying goose for the state associations in their current form and untouchable. The other thing about private ownership & mobile franchises in the US is the ability for them to be able to use stadia built with taxpayer $. In 1995 taxpayers put $280 million into the Rams’ stadium and effectively still have $100 million in debt in relation to it – now without a football team to use it and pay rent. Will local governments continue to throw new stadia at billionaire franchise owners or be a bit cannier in their investments & co-investments?

  3. Private Ownership has largely been a failure in Australia. Despite constant attempts by the Murdoch press and various neo-liberal academics and economists to transplant the worst aspects of American business and political culture Australia remains committed to the concept of sporting clubs owned by members rather than entrepreneurs.

    You would be surprised how many Australians who are old enough to remember when we had the world’s safest airline and trains that ran frequently and on time, serviced by conductors and station staff rather than armed “safety officers” and state owned electricity providers that didn’t start bushfires because they were too cheap to maintain their poles and wires, still prefer publicly owned utilities. Australia has always been best served by a public culture both in sport and in life generally.

    But don’t believe that American sports fans appreciate the fact that franchise owners move their clubs across the country. In his book “Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Peter Golenbock tells the story of two Brooklyn journalists in the 1960s who decided to draw up a list of the three greatest villains of the twentieth century, They both came up with (in order) Hitler, Stalin and Walter O’Malley. Walter O’Malley was the man who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles,

Leave a Comment