Rush Limbaugh may be racing onto the gridiron without a helmet. The right-wing talk-show host is bidding to buy the NFL's St. Louis Rams with Dave Checketts, chairman of the NHL's St. Louis Blues. The team is one of the weakest franchises in professional football; Forbes ranks its value at $913 million, number 25 of 32 in the league.
Exactly what Limbaugh and Checketts are trying to buy isn't clear. The children of longtime owner Georgia Frontiere, who died last year, put up a 60 percent ownership stake in the Rams. Limbaugh, a Missouri native, didn't provide details of his bid, citing a confidentiality agreement with Goldman Sachs Group (GS) and the Frontiere family.
To be sure, even a bad NFL team can be a great investment, but if they buy the dreadful Rams, Limbaugh and Checketts will have their work cut out for them. St. Louis is very much a baseball town, thanks to the more successful Cardinals, one of the game's storied franchises. The Rams, who played in Los Angeles for decades, came to St. Louis in 1994 with an illustrious history -- the team won the first NFL championship in 1951. But since it won Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000, the Rams have struggled. This season, they're 0 and 4. "The Rams are very much an afterthought," Mike Lewis, a marketing professor at Washington University in St. Louis's Olin Business School, tells DailyFinance. "They don't have the history and longterm affiliation with the city to be a great hometown team."
St. Louis fans are not flocking to see the hapless Rams. "The Rams have had trouble filling the stadium with fans rooting for the home team -- and even filling the stadium period -- since the team's recent dismal seasons," The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently moaned.
Owning a sports team clearly is not for every rich fan. It takes herculean strength to resist the temptation to meddle in affairs you don't know anything about. Case in point: Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, whose frequent coaching changes have led some commentators to label him the worst owner in the NFL. And owning a team is no guarantee of profit. Real-estate developer Bruce Ratner recently sold the New Jersey Nets for less than he paid for it. The late Leonard Tose gambled away the Philadelphia Eagles at Atlantic City's blackjack tables; the Wilpons, owners of the New York Mets, were victimized by swindler Bernard Madoff.
Then there's the culture of the NFL, which tries to avoid controversy -- unlike Limbaugh, who welcomes controversy like an old friend. He got kicked off ESPN in 2003 for suggesting on-air that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was getting preferential treatment because he's African-American; prior to that, he famously battled an addiction to the prescription drug Oxycontin, which he had allegedly procured illegally. Surely, the league would want to investigate any of Limbaugh's past drug use.
There's no denying that Limbaugh's ranting has paid off handsomely. Last year, he reportedly signed an eight-year, $100 million deal to host his show, which reportedly reaches more than 30 million listeners. Even so, it seems unlikely that he could afford to buy the Rams by himself.
Yet he has what it takes to be a sports owner even kookier than Mark Cuban. Should Limbaugh buy the Rams, the viewers of YouTube will have plenty of eye-popping new material to gape at.
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