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St. Louis sues NFL over relocation of Rams to Los Angeles

The Rams played in St. Louis from 1995 through 2015. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

The city of St. Louis and other regional entities filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the NFL and all 32 of its teams and owners. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $1 billion in damages, claiming the league violated its own relocation policies in approving the Rams’ move to Los Angeles, a decision that inflicted great economic harm on the place the team had called home for 21 years.

The suit, filed in a Missouri Circuit Court on behalf of the city, St. Louis county and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, cited the relocation policy the NFL adopted in 1984 to avoid antitrust liability. The plaintiffs said the Rams failed to meet the “identified objective factors” for relocation and failed to negotiate “in good faith” with St. Louis authorities.

In addition, the team was accused of making false statements about its desire to remain in St. Louis and concealing a plan to move to Los Angeles that was hatched several years before the relocation bid, which was approved by the NFL in January 2016. The Rams, who originated in Cleveland before playing in Los Angeles from 1946 to 1994, began play last season at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum while they await construction of a $2.6 billion facility in nearby Inglewood, Calif.

“There is no legitimate basis for this litigation,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “While we understand the disappointment of the St. Louis fans and the community, we worked diligently with local and state officials in a process that was honest and fair at all times.”

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“In the years leading up to the Rams relocation request, Rams officials decided to move the team and confidentially determined that they would be interested in exploiting any opportunity to do so,” the lawsuit claimed. “Notwithstanding this intention, the Rams ownership and management made contrary public statements with the intention that Plaintiffs would rely on these statements.”

The suit cited the Rams’ owner, Stan Kroenke, as saying in 2010, “I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis,” and, “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.”

The Rams’ head of football operations, Kevin Demoff, was quoted as saying in 2012 that Kroenke “didn’t lead the charge to bring the Rams back to St. Louis to lead the charge out of St. Louis,” adding, “Our goal is to build a winner in St. Louis not only in 2012, but in 2022, 2032, and beyond.

News in 2014 that Kroenke, a billionaire real estate developer, had bought a large parcel of land in Inglewood caused widespread speculation that he intended to build a stadium there and move the Rams into it. The lawsuit cited Demoff as saying, “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.”

However, the lawsuit stated, “The Rams never intended to engage in good faith negotiations with St. Louis.” Jeff Fisher, who coached the team from 2012 through the 2016 season, was cited as saying in an interview in 2016 that “he was informed of the Rams’ plans to move to Los Angeles when he was interviewed for the coaching job.”

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Demoff was cited as admitting in 2016 that he “always dreamed that he could be part of bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles.” The lawsuit also quoted Demoff as saying that in 2013, Kroenke “called him at that time and told him that the location was ‘an unbelievable site’ for a football stadium.”

In the meantime, the plaintiffs said they “made substantial investments in the Dome” in St. Louis and “agreed to certain team-friendly lease terms” for use of that stadium, in the mistaken belief that the Rams would make a good-faith effort to stay in St. Louis. In addition, the plaintiffs took numerous “actions to develop and finance a new stadium complex suitable for an NFL franchise.”

The lawsuit also accused the NFL and its member clubs of failing to follow relocation policy requirements, calling that policy and the relocation process “a sham meant to disguise the avarice and anticompetitive nature of the entire proceeding.”

The relocation boosted the value of the Rams by nearly $700 million, according to a Forbes analysis cited by the lawsuit, which claimed that “increase in value was at the expense of Plaintiffs.” In addition, given that the Rams paid the league a $550 million relocation fee, “the move to Los Angeles enriched the NFL improperly.”

A spokesman for the Rams told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the team does not comment on pending litigation. The team’s new stadium is set to open in 2019.