Kevin Demoff Shows That Even Fan-Friendly Executives Can’t be Trusted

Dec 17, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff looks on before the game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff looks on before the game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Don’t have celebrity role models, kids. They might leave your entire city hanging out to dry.

As someone who grew up with much of my life revolving around sports—as I’m sure many of you reading this did as well—I’ve long envisioned spending my whole life around athletics in some form or fashion. Once I accepted around age 11 or so that a lefthanded catcher with a batting average around .100 probably wasn’t going to make it in the majors, or around my mid-teens that I wasn’t even going to get a college scholarship as a 6-foot, 200-pound offensive lineman, my goal was to work in sports.

Right around the time when I was most impressionable from a career-planning standpoint, my hometown St. Louis Rams hired an intriguing young executive, bringing in 31-year-old Kevin Demoff as the Executive VP of Football Operations and Chief Operating Officer in January of 2009. Considering that Demoff was stationed in my home city and made his way up the ladder doing a few things that I also happen to specialize in—working as a sportswriter for his college newspaper, serving as the editor and web developer for Broadband Sports’s website, then serving as an editorial consultant for “The NFL Show” on Fox Sports Net—it would have been hard not to look up to him as a role model. As someone who’s long had a goal of ending up in management and getting there as quickly as possible, I thought Demoff was exactly the type of person that I wanted to be 15 or 20 years down the road.

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Fast forward six years, and I could not have been more wrong. My desires to work for a franchise have lessened somewhat, largely due to my realization of Mr. Demoff’s true motivation in life. If I do one day end up heading a professional franchise, though, I give that team’s fans my full permission to make my life miserable if I ever treat a fan base like Demoff has treated the good people of St. Louis over the past year-plus.

I understood when people told me not to have athletes as role models. I saw this play out in front of me as a young sports fan as St. Louis athletes like Leonard Little, Mark McGwire, and Mike Danton became engaged in major off-the-field controversies. As someone who’s only really “idolized” two athletes in his life—Mike Matheny and Kurt Warner, both of whom have done as much good for St. Louis off the field as they did on it—I apparently caught on from a young age. But was I too naïve to believe that an Ivy League-educated executive who talked so much about acting in the best interest of his team’s fans would actually do that, rather than one day casting depression among so many people in the city that I was born and raised in? Apparently.

Throughout a large chunk of Demoff’s tenure, he was publicly complimentary of St. Louis and announced it as his goal to make the experience great for Rams fans. Even with a fan base that was understandably paranoid about the possibility of the franchise moving back to its former home in L.A., particularly after Malibu resident Stan Kroenke exercised his right of first refusal in 2010, taking control and blocking the purchase of the team by former Rams season ticket holder Shad Khan, Demoff was consistently in the public eye and talked up the fans. Demoff, who was very active on Twitter and took frequent opportunities to attend public Q&A sessions until 2015, repeatedly brushed off talks of the team moving and expressed confidence in St. Louis. Many of his comments carried a tone similar to the one he made during a chat with fans on the Rams’ website in 2012, when he said, “I know people want to paint a doomsday scenario. But Stan has been emphatic on this point: He didn’t lead the charge to bring the Rams back to St. Louis to lead the charge out of St. Louis. Our goal is to build a winner in St. Louis not only in 2012, but in 2022, 2032 and beyond.”

Just to further show Demoff’s perceived commitment to the dedicated Rams fans in St. Louis, here’s a sampling of his Twitter feed over the past five seasons:

Even when rumors emerged about the Rams moving out of St. Louis, Demoff led on the fans in St. Louis and made them feel that the organization had confidence in St. Louis. First of all, he did it in early 2012, when conspiracy theorists freaked over the Rams’ plans to play three games in London. At that time, Demoff was confident enough to address the rumors on Twitter:

In October 2014, as rumors of the Rams having already made a decision to relocate were flying around—rumors that now seem to have been totally valid, considering that Kroenke bought the land for his Inglewood stadium in January of that year—Demoff cast them aside entirely in an interview on 101 ESPN in St. Louis, saying “There has been no decision made. There is no done deal. There is nothing like that.” Demoff’s statements now beg the question not only of why he shamelessly lied to his existing home market, but why he further wasted the city’s time. During that interview, Demoff continued to say good things about the fans of St. Louis and expressed hopes that the city could come up with a stadium proposal that would “further the community”, giving the city the opportunity to host events like the Final Four and neutral-site college football games. If Demoff already knew that Kroenke was ready to move the team, why did he get the St. Louis fans’ hopes up?

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By early 2015, Demoff rather publicly became the point man as the Rams began their attempt to relocate. He spearheaded the cancellation of the Rams’ annual FanFest at the Edward Jones Dome, as well as numerous other fan events that had previously taken place on a yearly basis. Ultimately, Demoff ended up being so involved in the move to L.A. that he was the man who delivered presentations to NFL owners and league personnel, pleading for the league to save the Rams from hopeless St. Louis and transport them to sunny Los Angeles. He was repeatedly accused of leaking information to Los Angeles reporters to sabotage the St. Louis stadium task force’s progress, and he openly leaked the Rams’ relocation statement that tore the city of St. Louis to shreds to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week.

In that proposal, which Demoff certainly had a hand in planning, the Rams make their fair share of derogatory statements about St. Louis and its fans, such as the assertion that “Any NFL Club that signs on to this proposal in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin, and the league will be harmed”, as well as the bizarre generalization that “Compared to all other U.S. cities, St. Louis is struggling.” The Rams insinuated that despite their status as a member of the NFL, a league that dominates the market share for American professional sports, the attitudes and spending capabilities of St. Louis fans made them ill-fit to compete with MLB’s Cardinals and the NHL’s Blues. Kroenke, Demoff, and company appeared to cast blame on their fans for not attending games in droves simply due to the fact that Kroenke spent to the cap and invested in an expensive coaching staff (all of which led to a 35-58-1 record during his tenure as principal owner in St. Louis).

Even after he had the nerve to leak the brutal desecration of St. Louis to the press, Demoff sweet-talked the St. Louis fans after the Rams’ relocation bid had been approved on Tuesday, saying that “Our goal was to win championships and make progress in St. Louis…I don’t think we said anything about the fans in the relocation proposal…we’ve never tried to lay this at the feet of the fans, and I wouldn’t try to do that today.”

I’ve heard some people defend Demoff to an extent, saying that there are only 32 jobs like his in the world (the Cleveland Browns vehemently disagree with that sentiment, by the way), and that he needed to do everything in his power to make his owner happy. I can understand that to a degree; a person in a high-level executive position such as his has to deal with the bottom line and address the needs of the man who’s paying the bills. You would think, though, that any person with a conscience would at least deal with some level of internal struggle when tasked with ripping the heart out of a football fan base and telling them what they wanted to hear—not what they needed to—literally throughout the whole process.

For me, I think of this situation much like I think of losing a loved one who’s been chronically ill for a long period of time. You fully expect the death, just like I’ve been mentally prepared for the possibility of the Rams leaving for years now, yet it still stings hard in the end to lose something that’s been part of your life for such a long time, even if it wasn’t that enjoyable over the past several years.

Next: Rams to Move to Los Angeles, Chargers Free to Follow

I fully understand the business motives of Kroenke’s (and, by extension, Demoff’s) decision to leave St. Louis. I don’t, however, respect or understand the way they handled the treatment of the loyal fans in St. Louis, however discouraged and disappointed some of those fans may have been over the past few years. It would have been totally possible to lead a tasteful relocation process without deceiving—and then putting down—the St. Louisans as much as Kroenke and Demoff did, and I will never be able to respect the way that they treated the people of our community.

So while I will be able to survive without what’s likely to be a 13th straight non-winning season of Rams football, I will walk away from this frustrating (and now depressing) process with one ever-lasting lesson: don’t treat strangers as influential figures. They may end up stabbing your city in the back.