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How the Cardinals can increase their market share in a two-sport town

After a tumultuous off-season in local sports, the Cardinals have an opportunity in 2016 to unite St. Louis like never before.

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It's been a long off-season.

Ever since the St. Louis Cardinals were bounced in four games from the National League Division Series by the Chicago Cubs, their hated rival (yes, Baseball Broadcasting Industrial Complex, this no longer qualifies as a "friendly" rivalry just because fans are not resorting to physical violence), things have not gone according to plan. The Cardinals reportedly finished second in the sweepstakes to sign David Price, and the team's top two players in 2015 by Baseball Reference WAR each signed with the division rival Cubs, meaning most national prognosticators have tabbed the Cardinals, at best, settling for a Wild Card berth.

But things were also bleak locally beyond the Cardinals' relative inaction in free agency. The two St. Louis metro area Division I men's basketball programs, Saint Louis University and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, went a combined 17-43, and the 25-40 combined basketball record and lack of football bowl eligibility of the Missouri and Illinois teams weren't much better. Although the St. Louis Blues have been successful, they have been ravaged by injuries to key players throughout the season.

But nothing compared to the Rams. Nothing that has happened in St. Louis sports in the last 5+ months has come even close to damaging the psyche and sense of civic pride of the city and the region like the departure of the NFL for Los Angeles did.

Craig Edwards has correctly noted that the Cardinals do not need the Rams in St. Louis to survive. And while this is true, as much as some NFL writers tried to tow the company line, the Rams had a lot of fans in St. Louis: extremely passionate fans who spent their hard-earned disposable income to support a football team that ultimately not only left them, but also burned its local bridges on the way out.

Most people who patronized the Edward Jones Dome were Cardinals fans, though some were so only in the nominal sense. And fans who spent money on Rams tickets and merchandise, by definition, had less to spend on Cardinals tickets and merchandise.

After the Rams announced their move, the St. Louis Blues immediately marketed to alienated Rams fans. At its next home game after the move, the ceremonial opening puck drop was conducted by Blues owner Tom Stillman and Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt III (each wearing a jacket of the other's franchise). Additionally, the Blues offered Rams season ticket holders a low price on partial-season tickets.

To be clear, these were not acts of charitable benevolence. It is a business move. And it is a business strategy that makes sense for the Cardinals. While this may sound like it would be the Cardinals acting in a sinister way to make money, it has been executed tactfully by the Blues and could be done just as well by the Cardinals.

While fans have no reason to particularly care if a multi-billion dollar business in which they have no financial stake makes money, the Cardinals would make money by providing a service, a sense of a sports team that actually cares about their happiness, that many fans would happily and eagerly support.

At the moment, the Cardinals do not have any scheduled promotions to specifically court alienated Rams fans. I contacted the Cardinals ticket office and was informed that no ticket deals such as the Blues one are currently in the works for the Cardinals.

And on a certain level, this makes sense: the Cardinals have topped two million in attendance in every non-strike shortened season since 1980 while the Blues were buried at the bottom of league attendance as recently as 2007. While Blues attendance has improved and they arguably do not need to covet new potential dollars from Rams defectors, it would be crazy for them to not want as much money as they can get.

The Cardinals have not only cleared two million in attendance since 1980, they have cleared three million since 2003. That this coincides with the most successful period in franchise history is not entirely cause-and-effect (attendance across MLB has increased during this time and they opened a beautiful new stadium to replace a cookie cutter, multipurpose facility), but it certainly has not hurt the cause.

While Rams attendance dipped during a 15-65 five-year stretch from 2007 through 2011 which was the worst in NFL history, and dipped even further once ownership's desire to relocate became increasingly apparent, there were still over 52,000 fans per game at the Edward Jones Dome. While many of these people, to be sure, also attended their fair share of Cardinals games, and others were only interested in watching football, many others supported an inept-for-the-last-decade NFL team as a matter of civic pride.

To run a promotion as simple as what the Blues have run, one which specifically targets those inclined to purchase chunks of sports tickets, would give the Cardinals a chance to increase its attendance floor, which could be particularly beneficial if their worst fears about the rise of the Chicago Cubs come to fruition. And while a poorly executed plan could be perceived as crass opportunism, something subtle could help the Cardinals, more than ever before, become not just the most popular team in St. Louis, but more than ever, the team of St. Louis.