Stadium Finance

St. Louis Is Suing The NFL And The Rams

This will be fun

Stadium Finance
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Apr 13, 2017 at 12:16 PM ET

The Rams have spent barely a year in their new Los Angeles digs but their former home in St. Louis isn’t done with them just yet. In a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the city and county of St. Louis, plus the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, the NFL is charged with breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and fraudulent misrepresentation.

Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the plaintiffs argue that Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the NFL were dead-set on moving the team to Los Angeles, public statements that they would listen to a reasonable counter-offer from St. Louis notwithstanding. If they willingly and knowingly lied, the lawsuit claims, they violated the NFL’s stated rules.

Specifically, a team can’t just pack up and leave whenever there’s another municipality willing to put a gift basket of financial incentives on the table. “No club has an ‘entitlement’ to relocate simply because it perceives an opportunity for enhanced club revenues in another location,” the policy states. Further, teams “are obligated to work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories.”

The lawsuit cites multiple occasions in which Kroenke and other Rams officials didn’t come close to meeting that standard. Instead, they told St. Louis fans and the city exactly what they wanted to hear.

Included is part of a 2010 Post-Dispatch interview with Kroenke in which he said: “I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis. I’ve always stepped up for pro football in St. Louis. … People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted.”

Another example came in 2014 from Rams executive Kevin Demoff after Kroenke bought land in Inglewood, Calif., that became part of the eventual site of the LA Rams’ proposed stadium: “I promise you, Stan is looking at lots of pieces of land around the world right now and none of them are for football stadiums.”

But as Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta reported, Kroenke had been working behind the scenes with now-Los Angeles Chargers owner Dean Spanos since 2013 to craft a credible plan to move both franchises, and spent the ensuing years working the ur-Good Old Boy Network that is NFL ownership in order to make it a reality.

And the lawsuit isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to the NFL’s relocation policy as a whole. “[T]he Relocation Policy and relocation process are a sham meant to disguise the avarice and anticompetitive nature of the entire proceeding. The Relocation Policy was adopted to avoid antitrust liability by circumscribing the members’ subjective decision-making, but, in reality, the Policy is ignored whenever convenient to pursue a greater profit,” the plaintiffs allege.

Before Kroenke left town, St. Louis did offer up a credible—well, credible as far as these scams go, at least—counteroffer: a $1.1 billion stadium in which the public would fork over $477 million in tax breaks and straight cash. The Rams shrugged and NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman said at the time that it wasn’t a “compelling proposal.”

In response to Wednesday’s filing, the NFL issued this statement:

“There is no legitimate basis for this litigation. While we understand the disappointment of the St. Louis fans and the community, we worked diligently with local and state officials in a process that was honest and fair at all times.”

St. Louis also spent millions coming up with plans for a new stadium, one that, according to the lawsuit, never stood a chance of succeeding. They also claim that the city stands to lose over $ $15 million per year in various forms of property, income, entertainment, and sales taxes now that the Rams are gone.

Should the various parties choose to settle, we’d miss out on what’s sure to be a juicy-as-hell discovery phrase and airing of the NFL’s dirty laundry, but if it does make it to trial, how fun would it be if the NFL’s lawyers were forced to argue that a stadium in St. Louis (or anywhere else) isn’t really worth nearly as much money as the lawsuit claims? Because it isn’t.