The NFL adopted its current relocation rules to prevent teams that it didn’t want to move from moving. The NFL, as in the case of the St. Louis Rams, allegedly ignored the relocation rules because it wanted the Rams to move.
In the aftermath of the $790 million debacle (although it could and should have been much worse) arising from the relocation litigation, some are saying the NFL would be wise to take another look at its relocation rules.
Ultimately, the NFL is going to do whatever it wants to do, in any and every given situation. In the case of the Rams leaving St. Louis and returning to L.A., Commissioner Roger Goodell tried to navigate the apparent disconnect between rules and reality by saying that, at the end of the day, the owners vote on whether and to what extent a relocation will be allowed.
As it relates to relocation, here’s the reality for the NFL. It makes far more sense to have rules that can easily be used to block a move that ownership doesn’t support than it does to have rules that would make it harder to justify a move when ownership wants a move to occur. When it comes to fighting one of their own or fighting a community they’ve abandoned, it always makes sense to pick the latter.
Assuming, of course, that the indemnity language is properly written to ensure that the owner who secures the ability to move has to pay the full and complete fees, costs, and judgments or settlements from any ensuing lawsuits, especially from the former home of the team.
There’s still a problem with applying the rules to stop certain moves and ignoring them to allow others. At some point, failure to consistently and accurately apply the relocation rules can become ammunition for an owner who wants to move but who isn’t permitted to do so.
The NFL’s business model creates a wide variety of potential antitrust violations. If 31 other businesses restrict the ability of one of them to choose where business will be done based on a set of rules that do nothing other than provide cover for the collective will of ownership as determined on a case-by-case basis without regard to precedent, consistency, or objective notions of fairness, the league eventually will set the stage for a rogue owner to fight back in court against a vote that denies the owner the right to move.
So that’s the real reason for taking a fresh look at the relocation rules. With an indemnity clause drafted in the absence of any actual or potential legal malpractice, the NFL’s future concerns have nothing to do with the next St. Louis and everything to do with the next Al Davis.