Great. Another St. Louis Rams relocation article. Seriously, this happened a week ago! It’s like beating a dead ram at this point.
Rest assured, this article is different…
Last week, the NFL finalized the approval of the St. Louis Rams to relocate the franchise back to Los Angeles, capitalizing on a lucrative L.A. market, and stripping St. Louis of its professional football franchise for the financial gains of a small handful of billionaires. Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke led the effort, with help from his rich but lower-relative-net-worth cronies in the NFL league offices, bringing to an end a long, deceptive, and corrupt relocation process. Now we’re dealing with the media aftermath, characterized by a barrage of articles from news outlets across the country, sharing the news, sorting through the emotions, and debating the ethics (or lack thereof) exercised by Kroenke and the NFL.
But even before all of these events transpired, people have been talking about Stan Kroenke and the Rams’ potential relocation for years. Amidst countless articles on relocation speculation, one topic seems to have always come up: Stan Kroenke as a successful businessman…a businessman, businessman, businessman! It’s always mentioned, either as a way to identify him through his day job (developing real estate), or to explain his emotionally-void methods for evaluating the Rams’ move to L.A
That’s about where it stops, but isn’t it about time we take a deeper look at that? Kroenke has a number of skills that have made him a successful in business: a long-term outlook on his investments, the ability to evaluate and act on his options objectively, and a track record of results. But what about his abilities as a business leader, skills that will be required if he’s going to succeed in leading the people in a fickle, you-better-win-or-we-don’t-show-up L.A. sports market?
I recently revisited a number of articles that characterize traits of successful business leaders, and came across this one in Forbes Leadership: “15 Ways to Identify Bad Leaders” by Mike Myatt. Here, Myatt describes 15 characteristics that are detrimental to the success of leaders in the long run. Below, I discuss 5 of those in the context of Mr. Enos Stanley Kroenke:
1.) When there’s a failure to communicate: …Show me a leader with poor communication skills and I’ll show you someone who will be short-lived in that position.
It’s almost unfair to kick off with this one, because it’s too easy. We’ll start with the basics: the last time Stan Kroenke communicated to his fans in St. Louis was in 2012, when he announced Jeff Fisher as the new head coach of the team. It’s not like anything worth communicating about took place during the 4 years between then and now, like maybe why he bought 60 acres of land in the L.A.-suburb of Inglewood, or maybe to actually take part in the “good faith negotiations” for a stadium in St. Louis, or at least attempt to explain why his team continued to finish with a below 0.500 record EVERY…SINGLE…SEASON!
…fast-forward to the NFL owners meeting on January 12, 2016. It’s a safe bet that his net worth was his primary tool that drove fellow NFL owners to his way of thinking, because it’s certainly not his public speaking skills. Following the vote, Stan kicked off his speech with an energy-inducing “Uh…well” before stumbling through his acceptance speech for winning the L.A. market (see below), which included some disjointed comments about helping “people with lower incomes” and how exhausting the whole process had been…somehow the fans — whether in L.A. or St. Louis — just happened to get glossed over.
Stan Kroenke’s career has obviously not been “short-lived,” but then again, his ethical misalignment seems to be a recent development in his professional style. Regardless, if communication abilities are any indicator of success, maybe we need to look toward his other characteristics…
2.) It’s all about them: If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self” they will not engender the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. An over abundance of ego, pride, and arrogance are not positive leadership traits. Real leaders take the blame and give the credit — not the other way around.
Stan Kroenke’s 4 years of silence did nothing to instill trust, confidence, or loyalty in the Rams’ St. Louis fan base. Quite the opposite. When he finally did decide to communicate, it came in the form of a scathing 29-page relocation application, bashing the city of St. Louis it almost every category possible, from its economic climate to fan support. The document states that despite significant investments in the team that “resulted in a 52% improvement in winning percentage over the 5 years before Stan Kroenke became the controlling owner,” that attendance had started to fall well below the league average.
To provide a couple areas of clarification, Stan Kroenke:
- a. took credit for spending to the salary cap (something every NFL owner should be doing anyway)
- b. boasted about the on-field progress (turning a horrendous team averaging season records of 3–13 into a regular ol’ losing team averaging 7–9 records)
- then c. blamed the fans — his customer-base — for not showing enough support (which despite his claims, were still filling the stadium to a respectable 89% capacity to support a team that hadn’t had a winning season in 12 years)
Is it just me, or is Stan patting himself on the back for his efforts, while blaming his poor results on the group of people he should have been serving? I think so, but maybe his customers in L.A. will receive better treatment, though I doubt it. In his press conference, Stan made sure to finish his speech with a final endorsement for the most important stakeholder in this process:
“It’ll be a lot of fun for ME…to build a great stadium for our league and for Los Angeles.”
Yeah, Stan. We’re all excited for you too…
3.) Sing a little Kumbaya: While love and leadership are certainly two words you don’t often hear in the same sentence, I can assure you that rarely does great leadership exist without love being present and practiced…Empathy, humility, and kindness are signs of leadership strength-not weakness.
After ripping apart his home state in his relocation application, Stan tried singing a different tune in his letter regarding his decision to move the team:
“I am a Missouri native named after two St. Louis sports legends who I was fortunate enough to know on a personal level. This move isn’t about whether I love St. Louis or Missouri. I do and always will. No matter what anyone says, that will never change.”
Gosh, that sounded nice…well, minus the whole line about being named after Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial (but do I really need to go back to bullet #2?). Whether this was a formality or just an attempt to save face, these words do not align with his actions. If love and leadership are connected, there just hasn’t been any empathy, humility, or kindness that would qualify Kroenke for exercising either of these two L-words.
4.) Not paying attention to the consumer: Leaders not attuned to the needs of the market will fail. As the old saying goes, if you’re not taking care of your customers, someone else will be more than happy to. Successful leaders focus on the customer experience, which in turn leads to satisfaction and loyalty…If you ignore, mistreat, or otherwise don’t value your customer base, your days as a leader are most certainly numbered.
Stan, meet the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues. These are the guys that have been taking care of your customers: the passionate sports fans in St. Louis. But you wanted to hear that, right? Because St. Louis is only a “2-sport town” as you mentioned in your 29-page rhetorical whiplash against the city, which helped get you the go-ahead to up-and-leave for L.A.
News flash: the Los Angeles area has 7 other existing professional sports teams to compete with for market share (not even including the collegiate level), and a handful of them are actually good. Other news flash: the Rams still suck. Good luck with that capturing market share thing…
On-field issues aside, Stan Kroenke just might be the worst example of community and fan engagement of any professional sports owner in history. His nickname of “Silent Stan” was well deserved, and while his complete disconnection during his 5+ years as full owner of the Rams was likely just a calculated ingredient in his extended relocation ploy, he did nothing to connect with his customer base. Owner engagement with fans likely won’t win a Super Bowl, but at least it will let them know one’s intentions to take action, and garner even the smallest amount of goodwill.
While it’s a sad state of affairs that Stan Kroenke can rely primarily on power instead of influence and authority to sway people to his side, power and all the money in the world won’t get fans to come watch a losing product. Start brushing up on those customer experience skills, Stan. That might be your only hope for survival in L.A.
5.) When leaders fail to lead themselves: A leader who lacks character or integrity will not endure the test of time…if they are prone to rationalizing unethical behavior based upon current or future needs, they will eventually fall prey to their own undoing. Optics over ethics is not a formula for success.
Stan Kroenke is certainly not an individual of integrity or character (or personality for that matter, as those of you that watched his press conference will surely agree). Stan was quoted in 2010 stating that he would make every effort to keep the Rams in St. Louis:
“I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis. Just as I did everything that I could to bring the team to St. Louis in 1995. I believe my actions speak for themselves.”
Welp, his actions did speak for themselves, and they reflected just the opposite. The entire relocation process was justified based on a rationalization of unethical behavior for immediate and future financial gains. While lying to the media and general population seems to be a business practice that backfires for everyone with the exception of the NFL, I can’t help but wonder if it will eventually come to a head with owners like Stan Kroenke. It’s one of the many questions that remain relative to the pending success or failure of the NFL’s return to Los Angeles.
Mike Myatt concludes his article on leadership with this:
“The moral of this story is leaders need to be honest, have a demonstrated track record of success, be excellent communicators, place emphasis on serving those they lead, be fluid in approach, have laser focus, and bias toward action.”
You can’t deny Kroenke’s success in a handful of these categories; you don’t become worth $7.5 billion just by marrying into the Wal-Mart empire. But while Stan has a track record of financial success and was focused in his actions to move to Los Angeles, those actions have been void of honesty, open communication, and a penchant toward serving others.
Stan Kroenke may be an effective businessman, but he is no business leader. While he seems to think he’s risen to an incontestable level of power, Stan is still a regular ol’ man just the rest of us. But with his talents, business acumen, and wealth, it’s just too bad he couldn’t have been a leader as well.
Have your own thoughts on Stan Kroenke’s business practices? I encourage you to share them in the comments so that we can continue the discussion further.