The NFL has agreed to pay the City and County of St. Louis $ 790 million to settle a four-year dispute over whether the league violated its own relocation guidelines to pave the way for the Rams’ move to Los Angeles in 2016, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a civil lawsuit, a group that included the city, county and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority said Rams leaders, NFL officials and owners of other teams had encouraged the group to trying to build a new stadium to keep the franchise going. St. Louis officials spent $ 17 million on the design and plans for a new stadium, but the league ignored those efforts without explanation and team owners voted to allow the Rams to move to California, according to the complaint.
Rams owner Stanley Kroenke, who has tried in recent weeks to reduce the extent of his liability in the case, is expected to pay the full settlement.
The payment is in addition to the $ 550 million relocation fee that Kroenke paid the NFL for the right to move to Los Angeles. He also spent around $ 5 billion to build SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., Which the Rams share with the Los Angeles Chargers, and which will host the Super Bowl in February.
The victory of Saint-Louis is bittersweet. While the settlement money will help offset some of the financial loss in tourism and entertainment costs, it will not heal the psychic damage caused by the departure of a second NFL franchise.
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In 1988, the city lost to the Cardinals, who moved to Arizona. St. Louis drew the Rams to Anaheim, Calif., In 1995, in part because it had already built a domed stadium, but the lease with the NFL franchise gave the team the ability to research. other options for sites later.
City fears were heightened when, in 2013, Kroenke purchased the Hollywood Park Racetrack, which spanned 260 acres of land in Inglewood, California. The Rams would then not commit to a long-term deal to stay in St. Louis, increasing the likelihood of a relocation.
To fight back, then-Missouri Governor Jay Nixon formed a task force that drew up a plan for a new outdoor stadium near the Mississippi River that included a naming rights partner and public funding to cover some construction costs.
At the same time, a committee of six NFL owners recommended that the league allow the Chargers and Raiders, who were also looking for new venues, to jointly build a stadium in Carson, Calif. Yet in January 2016, the entire cohort of league owners voted 30-2 to let the Rams move to Los Angeles. As consolation, the Chargers got the right to move into the Rams’ new home if they couldn’t get a new stadium in San Diego.
In 2017, a team of lawyers that included Bob Blitz, a member of the Missouri task force, sued the league on behalf of the city and county of St. Louis, and the stadium authority, which had no plus the Rams as an anchor. tenant.
“The Rams and the NFL knew that the plaintiffs were spending an enormous amount of time and money developing a new financing plan for the stadium complex and encouraged the plaintiffs ‘commitments by misrepresenting the process and the Rams’ intention.” , wrote the lawyers in their complaint.
The settlement, which came just weeks before the start of a trial in St. Louis, was a rare and very public defeat for the NFL. unfavorable decision which would invite other cities in the future to continue the league after the departure of their teams.
But the prospect of team owners being forced to testify about how they make the decision that a team can move, and the potential damage that could exceed $ 1 billion, led the league to reach a deal. The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The NFL has pushed back lawsuits from cities it had previously dropped. Most recently, the league’s southern city of Oakland, Calif. After the Raiders were allowed to move to Las Vegas in 2017. But this lawsuit, which is under appeal, was filed in court. a federal court.
St. Louis filed his lawsuit in state court, and the judge in the case has repeatedly pushed back the league’s efforts to move the trial. Much of the case remained under seal, but the league had suffered a losing streak and a jury trial of a dozen Missouri residents was likely until the league decided to settle down.