The Rams and the NFL have left St. Louis, but their business there is far from over.
The City of St. Louis, the County of St. Louis and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority have sued the NFL and all of its teams (with many owners individually named as defendants) for damages arising from the relocation of the Rams.
The lawsuit generally alleges that the Rams secretly decided to move from St. Louis, that the Rams lied to St. Louis officials regarding the team’s intention to stay in St. Louis, and that the league failed to comply with the terms of its Relocation Policy in allowing the Rams to leave St. Louis.
The lawsuit, at pages 28-30, lists several false statements from Rams owner Stan Kroenke and executive V.P. of football operations Kevin Demoff. For example, Kroenke allegedly said in 2010, “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. And I’m stepping up one more time. I’m born and raised in Missouri. . . . People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy.”
Also, after Kroenke bought the land that will become the site of the team’s new stadium in Inglewood, California, Demoff allegedly said that it is “not a piece of land that’s any good for a football stadium,” and that the “size and the shape aren’t good for a football stadium.” Demoff allegedly said at a 2014 fan forum that there was a “one-in-a-million chance” that the Rams would leave St. Louis.
The various plaintiffs contend that extensive actions were taken and significant expenses were incurred in reliance on the statements made by the Rams and the provisions of the Relocation Policy in an effort to develop a new stadium for the Rams in St. Louis.
“The Rams never intended to engage in good faith negotiations with St. Louis,” the lawsuit contends at page 32. “In contrast to his prior statements, Mr. Demoff admitted in a January 2016 interview in Los Angeles that he ‘always dreamed that he could be part of bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles.’ He also admitted that Mr. Kroenke, who inspected the California property in the summer of 2013, called him at that time and told him that the location was ‘an unbelievable site’ for a football stadium.”
The lawsuit also focuses on comments from coach Jeff Fisher after his 2016 termination, during which he admitted that, upon being hired in 2012, he knew “that there was going to be a pending move.”
Apart from pointing out alleged inconsistencies in the team’s commitment to St. Louis and intended move to Los Angeles, the plaintiffs make this strong claim about the league’s rules regarding franchise relocation: “[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 that the move to L.A. unfairly enriched the Rams and the NFL at the expense of St. Louis, with more than $15 million in annual lost revenue. The legal theories are breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation by the Rams and Kroenke, fraudulent misrepresentation by the league, and unlawful interference with business expectations.
The Rams declined to comment on the matter, citing the team’s policy against commenting on pending litigation. The NFL provided the following statement to PFT: “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.”
The league will now be working diligently to defend itself against the lawsuit, which will likely remain in the Missouri court system because the Chiefs operate in Missouri. This eliminates the ability of the league to take the case to federal court, where defendants without a clear connection to a given state are more likely to get a more fair shake.