Wild card: Poor Stan Kroenke

Okay, he’s obviously not poor in the “I’ve got enough money to buy a freaking indoor lacrosse team”-sense, or in the sense that he deserves our pity, but in the “inferior / deficient / inadequate / lacking” meaning of the term. I do kind of like the middle definition, though, when used for some painful irony.

So I’m a little sore about the petulant scorched earth tactic to which Kroenke is resorting in a last-minute effort to convince his fellow NFL owners that his team is the prime candidate for relocation to Los Angeles. How would you feel if, less than six years ago, after taking over as the team’s majority owner, he indicated not even the smallest hint of ill will for our fine metropolis, and pledged his fidelity to the St. Louis region?

St. Louis Rams

robert-quinn-st-louis-rams1

The NFL named Kroenke the full owner of the Rams in August 2010. Since, his Rams are 36-59-1. He’s pretty lucky to have dodged the 3-13, 2-14, and 1-15 seasons that came immediately prior to the beginning of his supreme reign. Overall, attendance at the Edward Jones Dome hasn’t been spectacular since then, but in looking at the five seasons prior as well, there’s a tiny bit of evidence as to why.

You’ll notice, first, from 2005 through ’07, all 8 Rams home games each year averaged a sellout each, or pretty darn close (the Dome’s capacity is about 66,000). Even in dreadful 2007, when they went 3-13, did the Rams fill their home to about 94% of capacity every week. Obviously some fans got pretty sick of watching losing football (remember, last winning record: 2003), and attendance hasn’t topped 60,000 per game since.

Another figure that stands out to me is the lowest two attendance figures actually came during some almost-.500 campaigns, in 2010 and 2015. You’ll see that the first was immediately preceded by the abominable 1-15 outing; the ’09 Rams went 0-8 at home, to boot. So, as you can imagine, even after landing Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, confidence wasn’t exceptionally high. And while this year may be a little more difficult to quantify or represent, especially given the playoff expectations back in late summer, the pall of relocation undoubtedly caused a significant decrease in attendance at the Dome.

But that’s just one team, in one city. Certainly a vibrant four-sport (six, if you count the Major League Soccer and National Lacrosse League franchises Kroenke owns there) town such as Denver sells out every game, right? It’s certainly not Stan’s fault, right? Right???

Colorado Avalanche

131118_wip_21

Kroenke bought the Avs, along with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the Pepsi Center, home to both teams, in the summer of 2000. It’s imperative to know, when reading this chart, that there’s not a whole lot of need to go all the way back to the 1995-96 season, when the Quebec Nordiques first moved to Denver. The team sold out its eighth game of the season at McNichols Sports Arena; it continued when they moved in to their new digs at the larger Pepsi Center in ’99, all the way to October 2006, spanning an NHL-record 487 consecutive games.

Though the Pepsi Center is now on the smaller side for NHL arenas, the team’s attendance would still rank in the mid-teens (of 30 teams) if they continued to average a sellout a game for the season. Instead, they’ve consistently been mired in the mid-to-low 20s for eight consecutive seasons now.

So, to recap:

  1. Team relocates from the Great White North & almost immediately starts selling out every home game.
  2. Poor Owner buys team, sees immediate success with a Stanley Cup title in his first team (though he did mistakenly think the trophy was named for him) and makes playoffs the following four seasons as well.
  3. Team misses playoffs for first time (’06-07) since moving from the Great White North after ten consecutive trips; sellout streak broken, but attendance still near capacity.
  4. Two seasons later, attendance begins freefall; as of 2015-16, still has not recovered.

So, in the Colorado Avalanche’s first five seasons of existence (1995-96 through 1999-2000), they sold out all but 7 home games, made the playoffs every year and the conference finals on four occasions, and won one Cup. The next five seasons after the Poor Owner took over (2000-01 through ’05-06, owing to the ’04-05 lockout), the team continued its playoffs and sellout run, advancing to two conference finals and winning one Cup.

In the nine completed seasons since that (’06-07 through ’14-15), the team has consistently ranked in the bottom third of the league in average attendance and only made the playoffs three times–a second round exit and two in the first. Looking again at the table and chart I created for the Avs, it’s pretty clear that there’s a correlation between the team’s success on the ice and the number of people over the lengthy span of the 6+ month regular season. And Kroenke hasn’t done his team or, presumably, his pocketbook any favors over the past nine seasons.

Denver Nuggets

usp-nba_-san-antonio-spurs-at-denver-nuggets-4_3-534x357

Kroenke’s ownership of the Nuggets, co-tenants with the Avalanche, is a little more difficult to pin down. They generally weren’t very good for the decade before Kroenke took over, and attendance even dipped below 12,000 on a few occasions in the late ’90s. The team struggled, and attendance along with it, for the first few years of Stan’s stewardship.

But the Nuggets did a complete 180 after selecting Carmelo Anthony with the third overall pick in the 2003 draft. They found unprecedented success, making the playoffs in ‘Melo’s rookie campaign and the next nine seasons thereafter, including the three playoffs following his mid-season departure in February 2011.

Following the 2012-13 season, which saw the franchise’s highest winning percentage since joining the NBA in 1976, a certain owner had at least some say in the firing of head coach George Karl. They also lost their general manager and vice president, who was expected to assume GM duties, to other franchises during the offseason.

Now in their third season after the shake-up, the team is far from success on the court; that is very readily reflected in their attendance figures for the 2013-14 through current seasons. Indeed, as strong as the link between winning percentage and team quality appears to be for the Avalanche, it may be even stronger for the Nuggets. And that means, as long as Kroenke pussyfoots around with a bad team, as many fans probably won’t attend games.

Colorado Rapids

20150519_022750_colorado-rapids

Doesn’t Pablo Mastroeni have a magnificent mustache? Certainly better than that goofy porn-stache a certain Poor Owner sports.

Kroenke purchased the Rapids, along with the NLL’s Colorado Mammoth, from Anschultz Entertainment Group in late 2004. Their attendance figures are a little wonky for their first decade in existence, given that they played in the same stadium as the Denver Broncos: first Mile High Stadium, then Invesco Field at Mile High (now Sports Authority Field at Mile High). This is largely because their annual July 4th game drew in excess of 40,000 fans between 1997 and 2005. As you can see in this table I created, average attendance for league matches during that time was almost always well under half that figure. In 2000, almost four times as many fans attended the Independence Day game as what the team averaged throughout the season, which means that fewer than 10,000 fans attended each of the club’s other home games. But I digress…

Since 2007, the Rapids have played in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, whose regular capacity is a hair over 18,000. Interestingly, from 2007-2011, (including their lone MLS Cup in 2010), when the team accumulated nearly half of all points available to them (for a point of reference, the two 2015 conference champions both accrued just under 60% of possible points), they averaged under 14,000 per game and never exceeded an average of 15,000 in a single season. Over the past four seasons, while their percentage of points amassed has actually fallen below 40%, the team has averaged over 15,000 fans in attendance per game.

Ultimately, the correlation between winning and attendance for the club hasn’t been particularly strong throughout its history, especially when compared to Kroenke Sports & Entertainment’s other holdings among the professional ranks. So perhaps Kroenke knows what he’s doing when it comes to soccer, which should be encouraging to supporters of Arsenal FC.

Colorado Mammoth

Colorado Mammoth v Vancouver Stealth

Stan’s other property in American pro sports is a member of the indoor National Lacrosse League; they occupy the Pepsi Center and were acquired along with the Rapids from AEG in 2004. With Kroenke paying the bills, they’ve won one title (2006) and been among league leaders in attendance every year, even in spite of a 60-72 record since 2008. Furthermore, the eight times in nine seasons in which they’ve qualified for the NLL playoffs since their lone championship have each resulted in a first round exit. And that’s with eight teams making the playoffs in a nine to thirteen team league or, as currently constituted, six of nine teams advancing.

Kroenke, however, has hit upon the formula for stability in the NLL (and other similar, lesser-known leagues): namely, ownership by the Colorado Avalanche and the ability to use game day employees from the Pepsi Center with the NLL has helped to trim costs that other independently-owned franchises must absorb after ticket, concession, and merchandise sales and any advertising and television deals.

Conclusion

Given the relative success (or lack of substantial failure, as in the case of the Colorado Rapids) of his non-Big Four holdings, Enos Stanley Kroenke just probably isn’t cut out for owning a franchise in one of the Big Four leagues. The Colorado Avalanche have had some unprecedentedly bad seasons for attendance in recent years; Denver Nuggets fans appear more fickle than any, given the high correlation between winning percentage and attendance since 2000; and St. Louis Rams fans finally stopped showing up after several years of sub-par football.

I, for one, wouldn’t mind if St. Louis was rid of Kroenke, so long as it meant we could keep a football team (preferably the one we already have). Likewise, Denverites should be wary of the recent lack of success by the Avs and Nuggets. I hope, for their sake, that he doesn’t resort to similar threats in order to get a brand-new publicly-funded stadium to replace the tiny, decrepit, almost-twenty-year-old Pepsi Center.

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Wild card: Poor Stan Kroenke

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s