But Rams owner Stan Kroenke is probably now known by a number of other names in the city of St. Louis, many of them unprintable in this space, we’d guess.
Kroenke’s team is moving west, relocating to Los Angeles — away from the city where they built the Greatest Show on Turf, and fans screamed for Isaac Bruuuuuuuuucccccccce, and Kurt Warner connected with Ricky Proehl.
“Stan Kroenke, he should just go by ‘Kroenke’ now, one name like Cher or Madonna. Going by Stan is an insult to the St. Louis sports icon he was named after,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Benjamin Hochman wrote this week. “Stan Musial will forever be remembered as what was best of St. Louis sports. Stan Kroenke will forever be remembered for what was worst: moving the team so the billionaire could make more billions.”
Just who is this guy, who uprooted a franchise, and upset an entire city in the process? To start with: a sports mogul, a billionaire real estate developer, the man who married the daughter of a Wal-Mart co-founder.
Silent Stan doesn’t really gives a ton of interviews, though he did this week, to the L.A. Times, which noted that he “told jokes, slapped his knees in excitement and teared up at one point” during the conversation. That’s a little different from how he has been described previously: “enigmatic,” for example, or as “a man without anecdotes.”
“What makes Stan Kroenke tick … are you serious?” a friend of his told ESPN for a 2015 piece. “I have no earthly idea.”
Kroenke was born in Cole Camp, Mo., a tiny town about three hours from St. Louis, and raised in nearby Mora. He attended the University of Missouri, and his son, Josh, later played basketball for the Tigers.
“You never know who you’re going to school with until later in life,” William Smart, a high school teammate of the elder Kroenke’s, told the New York Times in 2010. “Stan was quiet, a good player and student. His dad was a good businessman and he got good training.”
As a kid in Missouri, “I loved to listen on the radio to the St. Louis Cardinals with my grandfather,” Kroenke told the Denver Post in 2007. “As I grew up, I played baseball, basketball and ran track. I think, at their best, competitive sports teach many valuable lessons about life.”
It’s easy to focus on Kroenke’s background when you think about how it all seemed so personal, when a copy of the relocation proposal to move the Rams to L.A. surfaced earlier this month, in advance of the NFL owners’ vote. St. Louis, it reportedly said, “lags, and will continue to lag, far behind in the economic drivers that are necessary for sustained success of an NFL franchise.”
An important thing to remember, though, is that while Kroenke has Missouri roots, he cannot call St. Louis his hometown. Kroenke was born in the state, but not the city, which, yes, does make a difference, said Hochman, the Post-Dispatch columnist.
“I think there is a distinct difference in being just from Missouri and being from St. Louis, and he’s not from St. Louis,” Hochman told The Washington Post. “I can’t imagine someone who was born and raised in St. Louis to then do this to St. Louisans.”
Today, Kroenke has an estimated net worth of $7.5 billion, according to Forbes. (His wife, Ann Walton Kroenke, is worth more than $4 billion, according to Forbes’ estimate.) And the Kroenke family’s vast empire doesn’t just include an NFL team — it spans across sports. Members of the family also own and operate the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. Stan is also the largest shareholder of the English Premier League club, Arsenal.
Stan Kroenke, who holds an MBA from the University of Missouri, explained to the Columbia Daily Tribune why he turned to sports as a way to make money.
“I always thought I’d enjoy it because the professional sports business is part business and part sports, and I love both of them,” he told the newspaper.
But long before Stan Kroenke got into professional sports, he began amassing his fortune in the world of commercial real estate, developing shopping plazas near or anchored by Wal-Mart stores.
He partnered with Missouri real estate developer Raul Walter to build out more than a dozen malls in the Midwest.
“They implemented what would become Kroenke’s basic, and wildly successful, business model: Buy huge parcels of relatively cheap land, build an anchor store, then watch the surrounding real estate exponentially increase in value,” ESPN senior writer David Fleming wrote.
Together with a friend, Kroenke later founded a real estate development company that operated nationwide, ESPN reported. Today, he’s the ninth-largest landowner in the country, per the 2015 Land Report.
Known for eschewing the public eye, this is how he responded to the Denver Post in 2007 about how the public should view his business ventures: “Personal recognition isn’t something I have been concerned with or thought about much. … I think if you work hard and are honest, then good things will happen.”
The paper recounted an anecdote that it described as “emblematic” of Kroenke’s style; he decided to dump about $3.3 million worth of wine down the drain after he purchased a highly-valued Napa Valley vineyard. The owners didn’t believe the wine’s quality was up to par.
“That was a tough decision to make, but it was the right decision. Nothing is worse than not delivering on a promise,” his vineyard partner, Charles Banks, told the paper. “Having a partner like Stan, who was willing to stand by it, you can’t find people like that.”
Amid all his business success, Kroenke’s “people want to make sure the public recognizes he was well-to-do before marriage,” Maclyn Clouse, a finance professor at the University of Denver, said in a 2010 New York Times profile.
To put it another way: Stan Kroenke is more than just a guy who married into a rich family.
Guy drives up-tosses St. Louis Rams gear w/ love notes to Kroenke + Goodell written on it out car window-speeds off pic.twitter.com/Bmp2vxv8vv
— David Carson (@PDPJ) January 13, 2016
Football in St. Louis
At the last-minute, Kroenke joined a group effort to bring an NFL team to the city in 1993. It failed, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, then a league vice president, reportedly offering some choice words to describe the disorganization of the pitch.
Two years later, Georgia Frontiere moved the Rams from California to St. Louis and Kroenke became a minority owner. But when he began making moves in 2010 to become the team’s majority owner, not everyone was sold on his tactics and intentions.
The late Bryan Burwell, of the Post-Dispatch, evoked terms such as “diabolical” and “Machiavellian” in 2010 when describing Kroenke’s machinations. “His actions reek of cold-blooded duplicity,” Burwell wrote. “How nervous should that make us if he actually ends up assuming full control of St. Louis’ NFL franchise?”
At the time, Kroenke pushed back against such characterizations, especially suspicions that he’d move the team back to Los Angeles. “I’m born and raised in Missouri,” he insisted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz in 2010. “I’ve been a Missourian for 60 years. People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy.”
Miklasz’s piece continued:
Kroenke mentioned that his mother-in-law, who is 86, attends every Rams home game as an enthusiastic fan. And she is accompanied to the games by her sister, who lives in the St. Louis area. Kroenke didn’t finish the obvious point, but I’ll finish it for him: Why would anyone believe he’d want to move the Rams away from beloved family members?
See you later, St. Louis
Fast-forward to present day, when he has become the subject of a Sports on Earth article headlined, “The most hated man in St. Louis.”
The relocation process has not been a smooth one in Kroenke’s home state.
“Kroenke blasts St. Louis in NFL relocation proposal,” read a Post-Dispatch headline earlier this month. The city’s alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times, was a bit more aggressive: “F— You, Stan Kroenke, and the Toupee You Rode in Under.”
And so on: “Kroenke fails St. Louis, flees town”
— Brian King (@kingbrian_) January 13, 2016
“It truly is bittersweet,” Kroenke told the L.A. Times. “I grew up in Missouri, and there’s a lot of wonderful people in St. Louis and Missouri. I’ll always feel that way about Missouri. I never dreamed I’d be put in this position. But at the same time, you’re not going to sit there and be a victim.”
On Wednesday, St. Louis mayor Francis Slay blasted the league, and made a point to thank “all the very strong and loyal St. Louis Rams fans.” On television, Andy Cohen, a St. Louis native, delivered a special post-vote message, slamming Kroenke during Cohen’s show on Bravo. And Hochman, who called being a St. Louis Rams fan a “special thing,” said it was unfair for ownership to direct blame at those who supported the team for years. He described fans’ anger and emotion in “This is Spinal Tap” terms: turned up to 11.
Asked to describe the current mood in St. Louis, he said: “It just feels like somebody punched you in the stomach and then as you fall to the ground, they kind of just giggle, and walk away.”