What did St. Louis gain with Rams lawsuit? – Daily News

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When the Rams and Raiders both left Southern California before the 1995 season, to the best of my recollection there were no lawsuits in response against the teams or the NFL. The general attitude in the region seemed to be: “Meh, we got along with you, we’ll get along without you.”

Which we did, for 21 football seasons.

Hell hath no fury like a city scorned? Depends on the size of the city, maybe. Or whether you can get your case before the right judge.

In case you missed it, the city and county of St. Louis and the region’s Convention and Sports Complex Authority received a pre-Thanksgiving windfall this week, a couple of months before the NFL, the Rams and owner Stan Kroenke were scheduled to go to trial before a St. Louis jury with the prospect of all kinds of league dirty laundry being revealed. (As if the Washington Football Team’s internal emails haven’t done enough damage in 2021).

The Missouri city is $790 million richer, payable by the end of business Christmas Eve, after a settlement between league, team and municipality was announced Wednesday. And while there might be a good amount of internal skirmishing over who is on the hook for how much of that amount, the league and the Rams are undoubtedly relieved that nobody will have to testify under oath.

Evidently, blackmail can be extremely lucrative.

To recap: The Rams moved back to L.A. – I prefer to think of it as repossession – in 2016 after the league chose Kroenke’s stadium project in Inglewood over a competing proposal in Carson from the Chargers’ Dean Spanos, who ultimately moved to L.A. in 2017 and wound up as Kroenke’s tenant, and the Raiders’ Mark Davis, who took his team to Las Vegas.

Oakland filed a similar suit over the Raiders’ departure but a federal judge dismissed it in the spring of 2020. San Diegans presumably settled for putting Spanos’ visage on dartboards throughout America’s Finest City, the city fathers probably figuring it wasn’t worth the trouble to take the owner to court.

St. Louis’ suit, filed in 2017, alleged that (a) the league did not follow its own relocation procedures and (b) those procedures amounted to a contract between the league and its cities, rather than just guidelines. It didn’t seem to have much more weight behind it than Oakland’s, but Missouri circuit judge Christopher McGraugh allowed it to go forward. When he felt compelled to order financial information from several NFL owners in advance of the trial – in anticipation, some believed, of a potential damage award – that struck some as overly partisan.

Irwin Kishner, executive chairman of the New York law firm of Herrick, Feinstein LLP and an expert in sports law, was quoted by The Athletic as saying it was a “very one-sided judiciary, the way that they’re coming down on the rulings. That said, when you’re dealing with local court systems, and you have a favorite child’s or favorite son-type bent – that’s what’s happening here, in my opinion – this (settlement) might make sense for that reason.”

It’s another definition of home-court advantage.

And remember, St. Louis opened the door to this move itself. The domed stadium that lured the late Georgia Frontiere to move the team from Anaheim in 1995 – following years of neglecting the product, we might add – cost $280 million to build. The clause in the original lease specified that the facility would be maintained and upgraded as necessary to remain in the “first tier” of NFL stadiums, basically the top eight.

By October, 2009, when your correspondent showed up for a Rams-Vikings game in the dome, it was obvious that the facility was not only out of that first tier but the second as well. I wrote at the time that it was “serviceable but aging” and added, “With the number of new facilities that have come online in recent years (19 in the 14 seasons since the dome had opened), this place probably isn’t in the top eight in any measure.”

The Convention and Visitors Commission, which operated the dome, proposed a $124 million upgrade in 2012, and sweetened it slightly but not by much when the Rams proposed $700 million in improvements and enhancements. An arbitration panel, asked to choose between the two plans and solve the dispute, selected the Rams’ proposal in July 2013, but the CVC rejected it and St. Louis Public Radio quoted organization president Kitty Ratcliffe as saying, “Spending close to $900 million solely to have 10 football games wasn’t deemed to be very prudent by anyone.”

That set in motion another portion of the lease, which was to run through 2025 but allowed the Rams to change to a year-by-year renewal after the 2014 season if that “first tier” specification wasn’t met. And if people in St. Louis complain that Kroenke was nosing around that Hollywood Park property in 2013 before buying a 60-acre parcel in January 2014 … well, wouldn’t you under the circumstances?

Bottom line: St. Louis had the opportunity to upgrade its dome and keep the Rams. It didn’t. And by the time the city came up with a last-ditch proposal in December 2015, for a new $1.1 billion stadium on the riverfront, with the city and the state of Missouri paying for half and the Rams and NFL the other half, Kroenke already had his L.A. plan ready for an owners’ vote in January 2016.

Bottom line II: Remember the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by committee? That’s probably what that municipally managed riverfront stadium would have turned into. Kroenke obviously preferred to be able to control the process if he was going to take the risk – and at more than $5 billion and counting for the massive Inglewood project, it’s some risk.

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