Aaron Donald #99 of the Rams during an NFL game between the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams on October 24, 2021, at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA.
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As the National Football League gears up to take on the city of St. Louis in a 4-year-old lawsuit, it’s betting that a Missouri rule will push the case to another part of the state.
City officials in St. Louis are seeking financial damages they claim they suffered when the NFL’s Rams departed in 2016 for Los Angeles. The move left the city with debt on the team’s former stadium, The Dome at America’s Center, which was built with public funds. The 2017 lawsuit alleged the NFL violated its relocation policy and said team officials misled the public about the Rams’ plans and failed to have good faith negotiations.
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Rams, has been trying to get the case moved away from the St. Louis area. The company has cited Rule 51.04, which allows for a trial to be moved if favoritism exists due to pretrial publicity. Parties in a case can ask for a change of venue by presenting evidence that “inhabitants of the county are prejudiced” or the “opposite party has an undue influence over the inhabitants of the county.”
An appellate court in Missouri is fully briefed and could rule on a change of venue this week, according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity due to the public nature of the case. The request for a location change in the case was initially denied by a St. Louis judge in August.
In the sports business world, executives are monitoring the NFL’s case in St. Louis. The suit could create the blueprint for local governments to seek compensation should a major pro sports team moves.
The suit alleges St. Louis lost between $1.85 million and $3.5 million per year in amusement and ticket tax collections, another $7.5 million in property tax and $1.4 million in sales tax, for a total of more than $100 million in lost revenue.
The battle not only pits the Rams against the city the team called home for 20 years, but also has caused tension between Rams owner Stan Kroenke and his counterparts across the NFL. According to ESPN, Kroenke angered other team owners last week by attempting to ditch his legal bills tied to the case.
An exterior view of The Dome at America’s Center prior to the St. Louis Rams 29-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in St. Louis, Missouri.
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Last month, a judge issued a roughly $44,000 fine to four NFL owners for failure to turn over financial documents. The owners have until Dec. 3 to submit the documents to Judge Christopher McGraugh in St. Louis, or face a contempt of court hearing, according to Bloomberg.
The plaintiff — the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority — seeks damages as well as a piece of the increased valuation associated with the Rams’ move to LA, according to suit. That total eclipses $1 billion.
“The city lost a valuable member, and it’s pissed,” Irwin Kishner, a sports attorney at Herrick Feinstein, told CNBC last month. “And it’s a city that’s looking for its piece of the pie.”
There’s no guarantee of a resolution anytime soon. Should the relocation request be granted, the city of St. Louis could appeal.
It’s not the only case to result from the Rams’ move west.
In 2018, the team settled a class-action lawsuit for $24 million after fans sued the organization to replenish personal seat licenses, a one-time fee that gives fans the right to purchase season tickets. NFL teams use the fees to help cover construction costs in stadium financing deals.