On May 13, 2022, the St. Louis Post Dispatch released an article entitled “Under Cover of Darkness.” Joel Currier, Ben Frederickson, and other writers co-wrote this article to explain what truly happened between the NFL and Stan Kroenke after he became a minority owner to help move the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995, and when he became their owner in 2010. Kroenke became owner by using his right of first refusal after current Jaguars owner Shaad Khan made an offer to purchase the Rams.
After he bought the club, Kroenke registered the Rams as a California company, although they were based in St. Louis. The article explains Jeff Fisher’s hiring in 2012 and its significance in helping Kroenke to set his plan in motion. In 2013, Kroenke began exploring Hollywood Park as a potential stadium site since his wife, Anne Walton, is an heiress to Walmart. Walmart planned to build a franchise in that area; however, they conceded that land to Kroenke after he negotiated an agreement with them.
During training camp in 2013, Rams COO Kevin Demoff received a call from Kroenke. Kroenke wanted Demoff to come out to the land to see the area, and he wanted to inform Demoff about his master plan. Years prior, according to Ben Frederickson and Randy Karraker from 101 ESPN, Kroenke, as a minority owner, was on the NFL’s Back to Los Angeles committee. He removed himself from this committee due to a “conflict of interests.”
According to the emails that were sealed as evidence, after Demoff visited the site, Kroenke made a conference call to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Steelers owner Art Rooney II, and then Texans owner Bob McNair, telling them Hollywood Park is a fantastic area for an NFL stadium, and he asked Goodell to keep the information “confidential.” Prior to Super Bowl XLVIII, at the NFL’s “State of the Union” press conference, Commissioner Goodell denied that he had knowledge about teams possibly relocating to Los Angeles. He denied that he knew about any land that is viable for an NFL stadium in the Los Angeles area.
The evidence that was brought to light last week by the St. Louis Post Dispatch details the events prior to the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles. An email expands upon the 2013 Hollywood Park visit Stan Kroenke made to seek land for an NFL stadium.
Thank you to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the email states:
In the following year, 2014, the Rams went to arbitration against the City and Visitor’s Commission and the Regional Stadium Authority, the Dome’s owners. The Rams demanded $700 million, in city funds, for the renovations to the Edward Jones Dome. They included a retractable roof and other renovations that satisfied the top twenty-five percent of the league’s stadiums clause in the lease the Rams accepted from the RSA. The CVC and the RSA offered a $125 million renovation plan to the Edward Jones Dome. The arbitrator ruled in the Rams’ favor, giving Kroenke and Demoff further momentum to force the league’s hand to allow them to leave St. Louis and move to Los Angeles.
In 2014, starting quarterback Sam Bradford tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a preseason game. Following that game, at 7:15 am central time, Rams Chief Operating Officer and Stan Kroenke’s right-hand man, Kevin Demoff, received a call from Kroenke, asking him if he wanted to see the development that occurred at Hollywood Park. Demoff was quoted as saying in the Rams’ relocation article presented before the owners a year later: “If you receive a phone call from your boss early in the morning, it’s either one of two things, you are being fired or they need your help or input on a project.”
This news first leaked to the public, and Demoff went on St. Louis’ flagship station, 101ESPN, saying the land was too small for a football stadium, and how everyone knows Stan is a real estate man, he is always looking for properties to expand his empire.” That season, Roger Goodell stated no teams were relocating during or after the 2014 season, as mentioned by Jim Thomas, beat writer for the Rams for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The following year, Roger Goodell told the league that teams could seek to relocate, and the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders filed for relocation following the 2015 season. This was Stan’s opportunity since the lease from the RSA stated that if the Dome was not in the NFL stadium’s top tier, 25%, following twenty years, the Rams could break the lease and seek relocation.
The Rams announced that they sought to move to Inglewood, California to the land Kroenke bought in 2013. The Raiders and Chargers announced a collaborative project in Carson, California. The NFL wanted two teams in Los Angeles, and the Rams project wanted them to be by themselves in the Inglewood area. The NFL assembled a relocation committee, and the committee voted for the Carson project 5-1. The Cincinnati Bengals owner, Mike Brown, felt bad for all three franchises because he believed the home markets should not lose their franchises due to monetary opportunities in Los Angeles, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
St. Louis Mayor, Jay Nixon, assembled a task force in 2014 to keep the Rams in St. Louis, headed by former Anheuser-Busch president Dave Peacock and local attorney Bob Blitz. The city and the task force followed the NFL relocation bylaws and guidelines that were assembled in 1984 by Pete Rozelle when there was an influx of teams leaving their home markets for cities that offered more money. They include, but are not limited to:
The extent to which the club has satisfied its “principal obligation” of “serving the fans in its current community. The Rams satisfied this guideline by serving their fans through the players’ charities, and by having season ticket holders and general fan events throughout the year.
The extent to which fan loyalty to and support for the club have been demonstrated in the current community. Rams fans in St. Louis were loyal to the club. The task force went through the records and showed the Rams sold out every home game from 1995 to 2007.
The willingness of the stadium authority or community to replace a deficient current stadium. The RSA was willing to replace the Edward Jones Dome, and the task force came up with a new open-air stadium proposal along the Mississippi River, National Car Rental Field.
The extent the club received direct or indirect public support for its current facility. The public was still paying off the bonds to fund the Edward Jones Dome. The plaintiffs’ brief also stated that under the Relocation Policy, teams must work with diligence and in good faith to remain in their home community and cannot relocate unless the Policy is satisfied. With the Relocation Policy in place, the plaintiffs made substantial investments in the Dome. The plaintiffs paid expenses and interest on 30-year bonds used to finance the construction. The City and County both paid 25% of the bond obligations, including millions in maintenance expenses. The City and County each incurred bond cost obligations of $180 million. The City and County collected hotel taxes to service their obligations and paid these obligations out of general revenue funds. As shown in this paragraph, the Rams never worked with St. Louis.
The degree to which the club has engaged in good faith negotiations with the stadium authority and others concerning terms and conditions under which the club would remain in its current home territory. Arbitration is not good faith negotiations with the stadium authority. Kroenke never met with Governor Nixon or the task force to discuss good faith negotiations with the RSA and the task force and others concerning the terms and conditions under which the Rams would remain in St. Louis.
Lastly, the extent to which the owners or managers of the club contributed to circumstances that might demonstrate a need for relocation. Stan Kroenke contributed to circumstances that might demonstrate a need for relocation by filing the relocation report, in which he and the other supporters bashed St. Louis. They made St. Louis sound like crime took over the town. They said St. Louis could only support two professional clubs. The crime rate and violence were only growing higher, and the move to Los Angeles would put the club in a safer town, among other reasons why the Rams should relocate. If one googles “Rams relocation report,” there is a pdf that explains more than what is included in this article. The city followed these guidelines, but the NFL did not. Multiple media outlets, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 101ESPN, Pro Football Talk, among others reported that the NFL did not follow their own bylaws, although they were supposed to, through Roger Goodell’s deposition. This set up the plaintiffs for success, should the case have gone to trial.
Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and the owners created these guidelines two years after he lost the antitrust suit to Al Davis after Davis sued Rozelle for monopolization. Davis moved the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles to improve the team’s finances, and other owners followed his lead. Rozelle established these bylaws and guidelines to protect the home markets.
They, the local media and national outlets mentioned above found that from 2010 to 2015, Kroenke and Demoff lied when asked about relocation possibilities, both men stated they were doing everything to keep the team in St. Louis. Kroenke is on the record after he was interviewed in 2010 by the local media that he is a “Missourian and he had no plans to relocate the Rams.” He is named after two St. Louis Cardinals legends, Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial. As mentioned above, he helped former owner Georgia Frontiere to move the Rams to St. Louis from Los Angeles in 1995.
However, the task force found out that after the arbitration process, Kroenke planned to move the Rams without the city and the league knowing. However, this turned out to be false after the emails were released that Kroenke told fellow owners and Commissioner Goodell about the land at Hollywood Park. Owners and the Commissioner knew Kroenke wanted to move to Los Angeles, and they believed he was the man to do it since his net worth is in the billions, as his wife is an heiress to the Walmart stores. The Rams were worth around $600 million in St. Louis, in Los Angeles, they are worth north of $1 billion. This made financial sense to the NFL to “help” Kroenke move the Rams to Los Angeles, as they could maximize the revenues between the owners and the tv revenue.
The task force still fought its battle. They found a piece of land along the Mississippi River to build a stadium, and the St Louis Board of Alderman voted for the plan. They secured naming rights from National Car Rental. Their plan was to build an open riverfront stadium and revitalize the area. They poured $17 million into their efforts.
However, on January 12th, 2016, the owners voted on these projects. The Relocation Committee still favored the Carson plan. The first two votes among the owners did not reach the 24-vote minimum for either project. Seth Wickersham from ESPN reported that Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner and Stan Kroenke’s number one supporter, as told by owners, such as John Mara, the New York Giants owner, threatened the owners that they would not host Super Bowls, they would lose their piece of the pie on revenue sharing areas, and other penalties if they did not vote for the Inglewood project. The Bidwill family, the Cardinals owners, voted that the Rams should stay in St. Louis. Jones countered, asking him that didn’t his father, Bill Bidwill leave St. Louis for Phoenix because of city disputes and monetary issues in 1988. Bill Bidwill negotiated with St. Louis in good faith, but could not agree to build a new stadium in either downtown St. Louis or in the surrounding area.
Jerry Richardson, then owner of the Carolina Panthers, tried to convince the owners that the Rams’ relocation is only one team, but the Carson project is more stable with the Chargers and the Raiders returning “home.” He argued St. Louis was the only city that put a viable plan together to keep its franchise. However, the owners, through a blind vote, voted 30-2 in Stan Kroenke’s Inglewood project’s favor. The two that did not vote for this project, as reported by Randy Karraker of 101ESPN and other sources were Bidwill and Richardson.
Wickersham also reported at an owners meeting earlier this year that in order to move to Los Angeles, Kroenke had to sign an indemnification clause, where all fees fell upon him. He argued that each club had to pay the settlement fees as well. Owners, like John Mara, were quoted as saying: “If we knew that you were not going to pay all fees, we would not have voted for your proposal.” As reported last night by CBS Sports, Kroenke agreed to pay all legal fees, and each club contributed $7.5 million to the settlement fee.
The Chargers, due to Dean Spanos’ reputation, had the first option to move to Los Angeles following the 2016 season. They exercised that option, and they are a tenant at SOFI Stadium. They only pay $1 to play their home games there. Jerry Jones’ Legends Company built the seating and the concessions at SOFI Stadium. Construction on the stadium was delayed due to the roof’s height and compliance with the FAA since it is near Los Angeles International Airport.
The Rams “miraculously” became better after Fisher was fired in 2016 after he helped move the team from St. Louis to Los Angeles. The Rams finished that campaign 4-12. They played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum until 2020 for home games until SOFI Stadium was constructed. Every year since 2016, the Rams have made the playoffs. Aaron Donald is one of the few remaining Rams that played in St. Louis.
Appropriately, the Rams won their first Super Bowl as a Los Angeles franchise at SOFI Stadium when they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20. They lost three years earlier to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
A few weeks ago, records were released, such as depositions, emails, and other sealed evidence that could have given St. Louis a $1 billion damage award, or possibly the Raiders relocating to St. Louis if they went to trial, as reported by Dan Lust and Dan Wallach, the “Conduct Detrimental” hosts. These records include the NFL Meeting Minutes from the Relocation Vote, Emails between Kevin Demoff and Greg Aiello, emails from Kevin Demoff and Tomago Collins, and an email with call notes between Commissioner Goodell and Kroenke. These were brought to light, thanks to the hard-working staff at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. These were evidence records the plaintiffs, the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority (RSA) were likely to use at trial against the NFL and its 32 clubs, had it commenced on January 10, 2022.
The lawsuit, which was initially brought forth on April 17, 2017, included claims for breach of contract against all defendants. They argued the RSA, the City, and the County are third-party beneficiaries of that contract. The NFL and the owners/franchises, including the Rams, intended to benefit the RSA, the City, and the County via the Constitution and Bylaws. Their second claim was for unjust enrichment against all defendants. The Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles increased the value of that franchise considerably and also benefitted the NFL by relocating an NFL team into the Los Angeles market with no cost to the NFL for a new stadium in Los Angeles. The increase in value of the Rams exceeds $700 million. By virtue of allowing the Rams to relocate, but without enforcing the Relocation Policy, Defendants received the benefit of the relocation/transfer fee. The Rams franchise also has received the benefit of an increase in the value of the franchise. The relocation fee and increase in value benefitted Defendants at the expense of Plaintiffs. Defendants received those benefits only by wrongfully depriving Plaintiffs of the opportunity to retain the Rams in St. Louis.
The third count, against the Rams and E. Stanley Kroenke was for fraudulent misrepresentation. the Rams and Mr. Kroenke made repeated statements that were intended to induce the Plaintiffs into continuing to support and finance the Dome and to spend money to create a new stadium for the Rams.
In a January 2016 interview, Mr. Demoff admitted that Mr. Kroenke, who inspected the California property in the summer of 2013, called him before he bought the site and told him that the location was “an unbelievable site” for a football stadium. Mr. Demoff stated that this call from Mr. Kroenke was one of the “moments in your life you never forget.” All of the following statements by Rams representatives were knowingly false:
On April 21, 2010, Rams owner Mr. Kroenke stated, “I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis,” and added “I’ve always stepped up for pro football in St. Louis. And I’m stepping up one more time. I’m born and raised in Missouri.” He further stated, “People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy.”
In 2011, Kevin Demoff, Rams Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Football Operations, said, “Our entire focus is on building a winner in and for St. Louis. The lease issue isn’t what we are focused on.” “We are proud of our … commitment to St. Louis and passionate about building a winner right here.”
In 2012, Mr. Demoff stated in an interview posted on the Rams' official website that Mr. Kroenke “has been emphatic on this point: He didn’t lead the charge to bring the Rams back to St. Louis to lead the charge out of St. Louis. . .. Our goal is to build a winner in St. Louis not only in 2012, but in 2022, 2032, and beyond. This city deserves better NFL football and that is what we are focused on every day.”
In 2012 at a news conference, Mr. Demoff stated: “Our goal is to build a winning organization on and off the field in St. Louis, and that continues to be the goal for the next year, three years, 10 years, 20 years. Believe me, nobody would be happier than me to announce a long-term agreement to keep the team in St. Louis. We want this team to be successful and win for our fan base that has been loyal to us for so long, including some terrible stretches of football.” He further stated, “We want to build a winner in St. Louis for our great fans who have stuck with us through tough times, and you have my pledge we will do everything we can to be successful in St. Louis,” and “the last thing we want to do is let our fans down who have been so loyal to us.”
Prior to the 2012 season, Mr. Demoff stated: “There is a lot of noise about the stadium situation, but it’s just that, noise. Our focus is on improving the football team and bringing our long-suffering fans the joy you deserve…. I can’t even fathom letting down our loyal fan base.”
After the 2012 lease arbitration, Mr. Demoff stated: “I think the one thing that is important for fans to know is that if the arbitration does not solve the issue, it’s not all gloom and doom from that point. We still have two years left on the lease before it goes year to year and then you’ll get to the point where most cities are when a lease is expiring. Then we just have to sit down and figure out how to get a new lease.”
In a 2014 season ticket holder event after Mr. Kroenke’s purchase of the site in Inglewood, California became public, Mr. Demoff stated that the California land was “not a piece of land that’s any good for a football stadium. The size and the shape aren’t good for a football stadium.”
At a 2014 fan forum, Mr. Demoff stated there was a “one-in-a-million chance” the Rams would move.
After Mr. Kroenke’s purchase of the California site, he stated, “We have yet to decide what we are going to do with the property but we will look at all options[.]”
On or about February 11, 2014, after Mr. Kroenke purchased 60 acres of land for a stadium project in Inglewood, California, Mr. Demoff, when asked if the land was for a new stadium in Inglewood, stated “I promise you. Stan is looking at lots of pieces of land around the world right now and none of them are for football stadiums.” Mr. Demoff made these statements on behalf of the Rams and on behalf of Mr. Kroenke.
The fourth count was for fraudulent misrepresentation against all defendants. On about January 30, 2015, prior to the relocation of the Rams, Roger Goodell stated that the NFL “want[s] all of our franchises to stay in their current markets.” On about January 16, 2015, Mr. Grubman stated that the NFL has an “obligation, which we take very seriously” to do whatever it takes to keep NFL teams strong in their existing markets. The acquisition of the Los Angeles property was announced on January 5, 2015. At that time, Mr. Goodell stated that the NFL was not aware of any plans to relocate the Rams to Los Angeles, but also admitted that Mr. Kroenke had kept him and the NFL informed of the acquisition. At this time, the NFL was in fact aware of Mr. Kroenke’s plans or was recklessly indifferent to the truth of the statement by Mr. Goodell.
The fifth count was for tortious interference with business expectancy against all defendants, except the Rams. The plaintiffs had a valid business expectancy in an ongoing relationship with the Rams based on the existing established relationship and prior experience between the Rams and the plaintiffs and on the fact that the Relocation Policy imposed on the Rams a duty of diligence and good faith negotiations. There was a probable future business relationship between the Rams and plaintiffs that created a reasonable expectation of economic benefit to the plaintiffs based on the regular course of prior dealings between the parties. The defendants knew of the plaintiffs’ business relationship with the Rams and of the plaintiffs’ expectancy of an ongoing and future relationship with the Rams. The defendants intentionally interfered with the plaintiffs’ reasonable business expectancy by approving the Rams' relocation petition. The move was approved by all the non-Rams Defendants collectively through their association, the NFL, and in the vote that was taken to permit the move. Lastly, Ben Frederickson, writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported yesterday that Commissioner Goodell denies that anyone was misled about Stan Kroenke’s plan to move the Rams after he bought the land in Inglewood, and the team and the league insisted Kroenke did not buy it to build a new stadium.
Attached is the link to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the exhibits released by the St. Louis Circuit Court and obtained through the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Alex Patterson is a 3L at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. He played football for seventeen years as an offensive and defensive lineman. He graduated from Lindenwood University-Belleville in 2018 with a Bachelor’s in Sports Management. He can be followed on Twitter @alpatt71.