Kroenke expected to be approved as Rams new owner

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By Len Pasquarelli and Howard Balzer
The Sports XChange/CBSSports.com

ATLANTA -- In 1971, the British rock group Faces, featuring front man Rod Stewart, produced a best-selling album titled A Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Blind Horse.

Nearly 40 years later, NFL owners are hardly blind horses. But the nod and the wink are still pretty good.

And those silent but solid assurances should be enough to get businessman Stan Kroenke approved as the new St. Louis Rams owner when the league assembles here Wednesday for a one-day meeting.

"He's a good man and, obviously, we feel comfortable with Stan," Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, a member of the nine-man finance committee, told The Sports Xchange. "He's as good as it gets. You can't just let good people go, that's for sure, and he's a good one. He's got the kind of financial wherewithal you can't ignore. And, while he's not a guy to grab the mic [at league meetings], he knows the room and he knows the game. He respects the league and he respects the sport, and it will be good to have him."

Kroenke, 63, has been recommended unanimously by the finance committee, NFL vice president Greg Aiello confirmed Monday. The unanimous endorsement by the committee, which carefully reviewed all facets of the Kroenke bid, was first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday afternoon.

The committee not only approved Kroenke's purchase plan -- he will buy most of the remaining 60 percent of the team he didn't already own as a minority stockholder in two phases -- but also agreed with his blueprint for dealing with the league cross-ownership rules. Because he owns all or part of four different franchises in other cities -- the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, the Colorado Rapids soccer club and a 29.9 percent stake in the Arsenal soccer club in England -- Kroenke is not in compliance with those guidelines.

That's where the nod and the wink come in.

League owners, at the endorsement of the finance committee, will allow Kroenke to cede control of those teams to unnamed family members. Kroenke's son, Josh, is already an executive with the Denver Nuggets.

One finance committee member, who spoke anonymously, told The Sports Xchange that Kroenke will still "probably contribute financially" to the other sports club, but will abdicate any "decision-making role" in them.

Said finance committee chairman Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints: "Everything is going to be [in compliance]. The plan is above-board, and there wasn't much debate about it at all."

Neither, apparently, was there much or any discussion about Kroenke's plan to purchase the team in two parts. That was what Shahid Khan, who first gained the approval of current owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriquez (the children of the late Georgia Frontiere) planned to do. Kroenke, who in April exercised his right of first refusal to any stock sale -- at the time he owned 40 percent of the franchise -- essentially matched Khan's bid and his plan.

It is believed that Rosenbloom and Rodriguez, his sister, will retain a very small stake in the club when the sale is completed.

One member of the competition committee said the sale documents included time frames for Kroenke to come into even further compliance with the NFL's cross-ownership rules. Kroenke has owned his 40-percent stake in the team since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995. Included in his agreement with the franchise was the right of first refusal on any sale of the remaining shares.

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, who is also a member of the finance committee, played a major role in pushing through the agreement on how the cross-ownership issue would be handled, several committee members agreed.

"This has [Bowlen's] blessing," Irsay said. "I've spoken to him personally about it and he's good. Clearly, with the Avalanche and Nuggets in his back yard, his input was critical ... and he's all for it. He knows a good owner when he sees one."

Until her death in January, 2008, Frontiere owned 60 percent of the team. Those shares were inherited by Rosenbloom and Rodriguez, who decided to sell their interests because of the large estate taxes owed the government. While they remained owners, Rosenbloom and Rodriguez have been paying interest on the estate tax to the IRS.

Kroenke is ranked No. 392 in the Forbes listing of the 400 wealthiest Americans, with a reported net value of $2.9 billion. His fortune was largely made in real estate and development, but his wife, Ann, is independently wealthy herself as the daughter of James (Bud) Walton, who died in 1995, and who co-founded Wal-Mart with his brother Sam.

To approve the sale, 24 of the 32 teams have to vote yes. In reality, only 15 of the remaining 23 teams have to agree with the committee's recommendation, and one of those 23 teams is the Rams.

"Stranger things have happened," said Atlanta Falcons owner and committee member Arthur Blank. "But I really think that the recommendation is huge."

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