Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

No More Ghosts St. Louis, for the Love of Sports, Shakes Bum Rap

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

No More Ghosts St. Louis, for the Love of Sports, Shakes Bum Rap

Article excerpt

At the new Kiel Center last Saturday afternoon, 20,149 fans reveled in St. Louis University's upset of Cincinnati.

A few hours later - after the basketball floor was hurriedly pulled off the hockey rink - 19,866 folks poured in and saw the Blues lose to the Vancouver Canucks.

Not bad for one day in St. Louis sports. This frenzy was more an indicator than an aberration, a vibrant sign of life in what was becoming an athletic graveyard.

"I think in the last 10 years, St. Louis has really, really developed," Blues President Jack Quinn said. "It's always been a good sports town. It's developed into what you could consider an outstanding sports town."

The Cardinals drew more than 2 million fans in their last 12 full seasons - and became the first ballclub outside Los Angeles to draw 3 million. Average Blues attendance has grown almost 7,000 a game in the past 12 years.

In that same span, the average crowds at St. Louis University basketball games climbed from fewer than 2,000 a game to more than 16,500. Single events like the PGA Championship and U.S. Olympic Festival also drew record crowds here.

"I always thought St. Louis got a bad rap for being a great baseball town, not a great sports town," said Bing Devine, vice president of the St. Louis Sports Commission and a former baseball, football and soccer executive here. "I never did believe that argument. It was talked about by so many outside the city - and inside it, in the community - that people believed it."

That notion kept resurfacing in the city's bid to get a National Football League expansion team, But on Tuesday, FANS Inc. announced that personal seat license applications for the transplanted Rams would exceed 50,000 by the end of the week.

"I guess you'd say it's almost a relief," said Chuck Knight, chairman and chief executive officer of Emerson Electric. "The enthusiasm, the excitement, the response of St. Louis through this whole process has been unbelievable. I hope we maintain this good feeling about ourselves."

Quinn ticked off some major sports markets, mentioning Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York. "I don't think, pound for pound, they have the love and support the franchises here have," he said.

In the last four decades, though, St. Louis has lost the Browns of the American League, the Hawks of the National Basketball Association and the Cardinals of the National Football League. The Spirits of the American Basketball Association folded, as did various indoor soccer teams, and the Blues nearly moved to Saskatoon.

Hence, the ghost-town image.

"A lot of that is because of the inability of the leadership of our community to come up with the facilities," Devine said. He believes football Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill "would not have left if he could get a stadium anywhere close to the one they have now. They never could get together and decide whether to build it in the city or the county. He always felt he was a second-class citizen, that he'd get the second-best of everything.

"When you get back to the Blues, you get back to the facility. Everybody knows the other facility is obsolete. The Arena grew old. It was very difficult to maintain. Now there's a new one here, downtown, and everything changed."

The $135 million Kiel Center is up and thriving and the $260 million indoor football stadium will be completed later this year. Those facilities put this once-lagging city in the upper tier of professional sports markets.

Just a few months ago, though, there wasn't much sign of life on this new sports landscape.

Baseball and hockey were idled by simultaneous work stoppages and the pursuit of the Rams looked like a longshot. Former mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl believed the community was suffering as a result. …

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