As the National Football League gears up to take on the city of St. Louis in a 4-year lawsuit, it’s betting a Missouri rule will move the case to another part of the state as early as this week.
City officials in St. Louis are suing for monetary damages they claim suffered when the NFL’s Rams left for Los Angeles in 2016. The 2017 lawsuit alleged the NFL violated its own relocation policy, saying team officials misled the public about the Rams’ plans and failed to negotiate in good faith.
The move left the city in debt on the team’s former stadium, The Dome at America’s Center, which was being built with public funds. According to the indictment, St. Louis lost between $1.85 million and $3.5 million a year in entertainment and ticket tax collections, an additional $7.5 million in property taxes and $1.4 million in sales taxes, for a total of of more than $100 million in lost revenue.
In addition to the NFL, the defendants in the lawsuit are Rams owner Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, the other 31 professional football teams and their owners. The defendants are attempting to move the trial from the St. Louis area by citing Rule 51.04, which allows a trial to be moved if there is favoritism due to pre-trial publicity. Parties to a case may request a change of location by providing evidence that “province residents are biased” or that the “counterparty is improperly influencing county residents”.
A Missouri court of appeals has been fully informed and could rule on a change of location this week, according to people familiar with the case who have requested anonymity due to the public nature of the case. The request for a change of location in the case was initially denied by a judge in St. Louis in August.
In the sports world, executives are following the case of the NFL in St. Louis. The suit could provide the blueprint for local authorities to seek compensation if a major professional sports team moves.
The battle not only pits the Rams against the city the team called home for 20 years, but has also sparked tension between Rams owner Stan Kroenke and his counterparts in the NFL. According to ESPN, Kroenke angered other team owners last week by trying to dump his legal bills linked to the case.
Last month, a judge fined four NFL owners about $44,000 for failing to submit financial documents. According to Bloomberg, the owners have until December 3 to file the documents with Judge Christopher McGraugh in St. Louis.
The plaintiffs — the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority — are seeking damages and some of the higher appreciation related to the Rams’ move to LA, according to the lawsuit. That total eclipses $1 billion.
“The city has lost a valuable member and it is angry,” Irwin Kishner, a sports attorney with Herrick Feinstein, told CNBC last month. “And it’s a city looking for its piece of the pie.”
There is no guarantee of a prompt solution. If the move request is granted, the City of St. Louis can appeal.
It’s not the only case that has resulted from the Rams’ move west.
In 2018, the team settled a class-action lawsuit for $24 million after fans sued the organization to supplement personal seat licenses, a one-time fee that gives fans the right to purchase season tickets. NFL teams use the fees to cover construction costs in stadium financing.
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— Dan Mangan of CNBC contributed to this article.