In effort to win St. Louis lawsuit, NFL disavows its relocation guidelines

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v St Louis Rams
Getty Images

The NFL doesn’t like being accused of making up the rules as it goes. The NFL often makes up the rules as it goes.

When it comes to the lawsuit filed against the NFL in the aftermath of the relocation of the Rams from St. Louis, the NFL is arguing (among other things) that the relocation guidelines can be ignored whenever the owners feel like doing so.

And so the league is disavowing the relocation guidelines as to the departure of the Rams from St. Louis. Years earlier, the league adopted the relocation guidelines as a tool for preventing teams that it doesn’t want to move from moving.

So, basically, the guidelines apply when the league (i.e., the owners) wants them to. And the guidelines don’t apply when the league (i.e., the owners) wants them to not apply.

The NFL’s lawyers made that argument in court this week, via Previously, that argument was made in documents filed by the league.

Excerpts from Commissioner Roger Goodell’s deposition illustrate the cake-and-eat-it balancing act that happens when the owners vote on a potential move, given the relocation guidelines. Basically, the owners ultimately have the power to decide individually whether a move should be approved. The collective outcome of the vote will control whether the move happens. So if enough of the owners choose to follow the guidelines to keep a team from moving, so be it. If enough of the owners choose to not follow the guidelines to let a team move, so be it.

Basically, it’s whatever the owners want to do. Whenever they want to do it. However they want to do it.

In other words, they make up the rules as it goes.

The NFL also argued that the relocation guidelines, even if they are binding, don’t create contractual rights for cities that host NFL teams. While other claims have been made by St. Louis over the relocation of the Rams, the question of whether the guidelines transform places like St. Louis into what the law would regard as a “third-party beneficiary” becomes a legal question for a judge, not a factual question for a jury.

As reported by, a lawyer who is representing Oakland in its lawsuit against the league over the latest relocation of the Raiders had this message for the next city that could find itself on the wrong end of the league’s relocation rules: “Watch out Buffalo.”

And Jacksonville. And Charlotte. And any other city whose lease with an NFL team is expiring. If the league wants the team to move, it will move. If the league doesn’t want the team to move, it won’t move.

Everything else is just words and details aimed at justifying whatever decision the owners make.

32 responses to “In effort to win St. Louis lawsuit, NFL disavows its relocation guidelines

  1. This illustrates the disparity between how much many fans care about their sports teams, and how little those teams care about the fans.

    If only fans would treat the teams accordingly: as a convenient local distraction that can easily be replaced by other distractions, rather than pouring their life and money into a team – often across multiple generations. It’s clear that teams only see fans as a commodity that can be easily exchanged for those in another town when it allows them to make an extra dollar.

  2. Ultimately, the league is engaging in legal gymnastics. Doing whatever it is that it wants to do, but contorting itself in a way that it can claim some principle that underlies those wants.

  3. “Basically, it’s whatever the owners want to do. Whenever they want to do it. However they want to do it.”

    You’ve just described capitalism.

  4. Google Jags new performance facility that the city council approved 60M for to split the 120M right next to the stadium. Next is stadium upgrades, then 4 seasons across the street baby. Duuuvvvaaalll not going anywhere. Suck that egg haters

  5. Sour grapes from St. Louis. Ultimately, the city would take the team back in a heartbeat, even knowing these loopholes can happen. As long as that is the case, the league can do whatever it wants. It only becomes a problem when cities start saying “no”.

  6. Teams are franchises of a larger corporation.

    If an Olive Garden franchisee wants to close a location in one town and move it to another, Olive Garden corporate can allow it or not allow based on whatever is best for them at the time.

    And when and if they do, they don’t face lawsuits from the town or their customers.

    I realize it’s more complicated than that, because NFL franchises may have leases or contracts with the cities themselves. But assuming those aren’t issues, then the company (the NFL) has the right to allow the franchisee to do whatever they want with their team.

  7. I am honestly not sure but weren’t the league relocation guidelines instituted because the league attempted to stop Al Davis from relocating and got slapped around by the courts because they had no rules?

  8. St Louis really burned their bridge to the ground in hopes of ever having a NFL franchise again. What a bad idea this was for them.

  9. Do cities or states own these teams? Maybe Bay? Well if I owned a team, if I paid 3B for it, I sure as crap would want the freedom to move team if the lease was up and there was a better deal out there. Eminent domain is nothing more then the government seizing your property. Nothing more.

  10. Some of you are missing the legal point here…You cannot have a company with bylaws and a constitution then only follow them when you feel like it. That is illegal. Thats why the NFL is saying that those were just “recommendations” and are not contractually binding and this case should be thrown out. The NFL is in a pickle with St. Louis and they know it. This is the hail Mary attempt to get this thrown out otherwise its going to trial in Jan 2022. We know this a hail mary, because once the US Supreme Court refused to hear this case they had to come up with something else. This is the scorched earth approach. Essentially telling the courts our bylaws are rubbish and we really don’t have to follow them if we don’t want to…uhm ok.

  11. I hope the NFL gets creamed in this lawsuit, but mostly because Kroenke has to indemnify the league for any adverse result.

  12. Ultimately, that argument will probably prevail. Guidelines within a private entity are exactly that and can be ignored at the whim of the powers that be. If the NFL contracted with St. Louis and promised to follow those guidelines then that is a different story but from what I understand that isn’t the case. So whether they followed their own internal rules isn’t likely material in a legal sense because they’re not binding in any way.

  13. This entire matter is not about relocation of the Rams. It is about not following your own rules/guidlines for the relocation and lying about what you were doing. Read the suit, the depositions and the answers provided.

  14. The term Guidelines implies guidance on how to approach a situation. The term Rules implies something stronger. The fact that this article refers to them as guidelines makes me question whether it’s really fair to blast the owners. It also means it will be fair in the future for any ruling to go against the NFL when they try to use this level of documentation to support their legal position.

  15. Now I totally understand Spygate, Bountygate, Deflategate, “Gategate,”etc. The NFL and the Owners can just make it up as they go along! They’ll let nothing stand in their way.

  16. The Jaguars lease is for another decade. And the city council is finalizing approval for a new headquarters/training center for the team. That is the first step in moves needed for the team to sign a new lease.

    They aren’t going anywhere.

  17. To the people saying owners can do whatever they want with their team, would that include paying for their own stadiums and stop using tax payer money?

  18. The City of St Louis was in breach of contract and is ticked they blew a bunch of money on a proposal the owner only gave lip service too. Too bad. No one contractually owed them a thing other than a glance. And that turrible owner went and built his own stadium elsewhere with his own money (plus the rent he gets from the Chargers). No bilking of the City like what went on in St. Louis with old Georgia. But, oh ya, he’s the bad guy here… Next.

  19. Is this news to anyone? The NFL and Roger Goodell do what the owners want. Simple as that.

  20. I love the Olive Garden comparison and other companies….. but Olive Garden did not get millions of dollars in tax payer money to help fund the building of their restaurant.

  21. The key word, of course, is “guidelines.” That is, suggestions for actions. Not mandates. Not laws. Nothing codified or enforceable. “Guidelines” are essentially window dressing creating a veneer of fairness, due diligence and thoughtfulness. Pshaw. The 32 billionaires and their stooge Goodell will run the league as they see fit. For maximum profit. And that’s as it should be.

  22. Maybe states and municipalities should let owners with teams worth billions of dollars foot their own stadium costs completely. No favoritism, no greasing the wheels to purchase property, no glad-handing, no accepting political donations.

    These owners are going to do what they want. So let them.

    But DO NOT give them public money.


  23. Sour grapes. Cities bend over backwards to hand money to teams, business relocating, etc. Really makes no sense because the it’s not like teams have unlimited choices for a home city. Amazon is not relocating to some small city because it’s not enough local talent or talented people don’t want to live in small cities. A bit too easy to forgo tax dollars that you never collected compared to using the money for cleaner city, crime enforcement, more jails, attorneys and judges to keep those jails filled.

  24. bkinacti0n says:
    August 27, 2021 at 12:41 pm
    Sour grapes from St. Louis. Ultimately, the city would take the team back in a heartbeat, even knowing these loopholes can happen. As long as that is the case, the league can do whatever it wants. It only becomes a problem when cities start saying “no”.

    Here’s the error in your theory though, St. Louis didn’t say no. St. Louis and the State of Missouri were offering to build an open air stadium on the Mississippi River downtown. Kroenke never negotiated in good faith. Kroenke knew when he bought the team (via the right of first refusal) that he could escape the lease and move to Los Angeles.

    Keep in mind, Kroenke bought the land that the stadium is on almost two years before a vote was even taken.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.