THE CASE: St. Louis v. Silent Stan and the NFL
As the owner of an NFL franchise located in beautiful Los Angeles, California whose team just debuted a brand new $5.5 billion dollar stadium that looks like a spaceship from the Jetsons cartoon, it’s hard to imagine Stan Kroenke ever having a bad day. He has a young head coach, a brand new quarterback to lead an already talented offense and a menacing defense. Everything seems positive on the field. However, in a small circuit court room nearly two thousand miles east in the club's former home city of St. Louis, Missouri a legal battle as scary as Aaron Donald bull-rushing up the middle is beginning to gain traction.
An overhead shot of the brand new Sofi Stadium in Englewood, California (Patriot Post)
On Monday, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Christopher McGraugh denied all legal arguments made by the LA Rams, NFL and Kroenke to dismiss a civil lawsuit that was filed back in 2017 by St.Louis, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority. According to The St. Louis Business Journal, the plaintiffs are seeking more than $1 billion in punitive damages. The tent pole of the lawsuit is the complainant’s claims that Kroeneke and the league broke their own precedents for franchise relocations and did not negotiate in good faith when considering a move back to Los Angeles.
The team had originally called the ‘City of Angels’ home from the years 1946-1995. Following the 94’ season previous owner Georgia Frontiere decided the team needed a change of scenery following several losing campaigns in a row during the early 90’s. The Rams struggled to gain fan attention in Southern California as well as a lucrative television contract, having many of their games “blacked out” because they could not get enough fans to attend games.
The team arrived in St. Louis and began to find their new identity. They added dynamic wideout Issac Bruce and drafted eventual All-Pro offensive tackle Orlando Pace. The seasons from 1999-2003 could be considered the “heyday” of the Rams tenure in St. Louis as they appeared in two Super Bowls, 2000 and 2002 winning the former 23-16 against the Tennessee Titans.
Those golden years were short lived and the team quickly fell into the basement of the league. Frontiere passed away following the 2007 and her successors put their stakes for sale in 2009.
The reign of Stan Kroenke began on August 25, 2010 when the league unanimously approved his purchase of the club. When Kroenke purchased the team it became apparent that some major changes were soon to come. A critical piece of the lawsuit that could aid Kroenke and the NFL’s argument, would be the poor condition and atmosphere that was provided at the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams home turf. Per the contract between the franchise and the Sports Complex it was required that the stadium be in the “top tier of NFL stadiums” through the 2015 season. Multiple polls and reports showed failure of that standard with a last place ranking in a 2008 Sports Illustrated poll of all 32 NFL venues. With no solution reached in solving the ‘top tier’ issue of the team’s stadium, Kroenke called for the club to pack it’s bags and head West. They were in sunny LA for the start of the 2016 season but anger and heartbreak in the Midwest remained.
Kroneke had been nicknamed “Silent Stan” by the St. Louis faithful after he refused to speak about the team’s relocation. Chet Pleban, an attorney with extensive knowledge in breach of contract negotiations, was recently quoted in an article by KSDK.com describing the argument for the defendants.
“They lied. There's no other way to describe it. You talk about a nice phrase, 'fraudulent misrepresentation', I call it lying. And now they'll testify under oath, are they really gonna say the same thing? Under oath are they really going to deny they did and said these things? I doubt it."
If the plaintiffs can prove this statement true, the case would be all but closed and the city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri would begin to count their money in the courtroom. No matter what the outcome, the case is groundbreaking and will be followed closely by every NFL executive. I can even imagine some owners making the trip to the ‘Gateway City’ much like the finale of Seinfeld where all the characters find their way to Latham, Massachusetts. Jerry Jones as Uncle Leo, Art Rooney could be J. Peterman, Kenny Banyan of course is Jets owner Woody Johnson.