At a time when Rams owner Stan Kroenke is creating the impression that he’ll move the franchise with or without the blessing of his business partners (and when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said Kroenke can do it), the NFL has begun to push back. Somewhat aggressively.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II, chairman of the NFL’s stadium committee, was as blunt as any Rooney ever is when explaining to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that the league believes Kroenke can’t do whatever he wants when it comes to relocating the Rams.
“I think we’re comfortable that we could stop a team legally from moving if it didn’t go through the process,” Rooney said. That process ultimately consists of 24 owner votes approving the move, which means that only nine owners can block relocation.
Rooney specifically went on the record with Farmer in order to further undo damage potentially done by Jerry’s Sunday comments to the New York Times — comments that were largely overlooked and ignored given the story lines emerging from the outcome of his team’s game against the Packers.
“I don’t agree with Jerry on that point,” Rooney told Farmer. “The majority view is that there’s a process the teams are going to have to go through, and I think everybody understands that in terms of the teams that may be interested, I expect that the process will be observed, and hopefully it will be an orderly process.”
The “majority view” of the league’s owners, however, would yield to the conclusion of a federal judge applying fairly basic principles of antitrust law.
Unless the antitrust laws have fundamentally changed since the last time the NFL tried to legally stop a team from moving to Los Angeles, that comfort could be misplaced. The argument would be fairly straightforward; the NFL consists of 32 independent businesses that can’t work together to place restrictions on the ability of any one of those independent businesses to take care of its own business, such as the selection of the place where the business will do business.
But the league, which likes to get its way even when applicable law would seem to suggest it won’t, wants to control the process, for multiple reasons. The league wants to be sure that the team is moving to a suitable stadium. The league wants to be sure that all efforts have been made to keep the team where it currently is (by, for example, squeezing as much money out of the taxpayer coffers as possible). Perhaps most importantly, the league wants to be sure that no one tries to move, and fails.
“We don’t want to have a team that gets itself in a situation where it has to file an application and go through a process where at the end of the day it could wind up being a lame duck, or even worse, having to go back to a city it attempted to move from,” Rooney told Farmer.
That’s a telling statement. For starters, it means that the approval process happens behind the scenes, with a team that gets the blessing in the back room to officially apply for relocation process has been guaranteed to get the blessing to move. It also unintentionally confirms the accuracy of Jerry Jones’ belief that teams can move absent the consent of at least 24 total owners, since the NFL doesn’t want a team to stay in a market that an owner has tried and failed to leave.
On that specific point, the damage already has been done. Kroenke, who said nothing about his intentions for years, suddenly announced that he’ll be building a stadium in Los Angeles. At that moment, the Rams became a lame duck in St. Louis. And if the NFL tries to keep him from moving, Kroenke will have to go back to a city where he attempted to move from.
None of that will matter in the end. The league will huff and puff, but Kroenke ultimately will be able to blow his house down in St. Louis. He has the money to wage a dream-team legal battle with the league, and the legal principles and precedents seem to be on his side. If he wants to move, the only question will be how hard the NFL will try stop it from happening before crying, “Uncle.”
Plenty of other owners may not like that, but that’s one of the things that can happen as franchise values continue to go through the roof, making teams purchasable by obscenely rich folks who never will replace a lifetime of me-first with league-first.