Billionaire Who Relocated NFL’s Rams Wants Trial Moved Out of St. Louis
(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Stanley Kroenke was nicknamed the “most hated man“ in St. Louis after moving his Rams football team out of the state in 2016. Now, he and the National Football League are trying to move the city’s billion-dollar breach-of-contract lawsuit out of a local court.
“Extensive pretrial publicity” warrants transferring the case to a different courthouse, Kroenke and the NFL said in a filing this month.
It’s the latest twist in a years-long fight that’s heading toward a trial next year -- and threatens to spill confidential details about NFL finances into public view. The trial scheduled to start in January, the month before Super Bowl LVI will be played at the Los Angeles stadium that the Rams now share with the Chargers, a team that moved to the city in 2017 after more than five decades in San Diego.
NFL team relocations have been controversial ever since the Baltimore Colts packed their equipment into Mayflower moving vans and fled in the night to Indianapolis in March 1984. Lawsuits over the defections, however, have struggled to gain traction.
Kroenke, the league and other team owners have argued the case against them has no merit and should be thrown out. The request to move the case from St. Louis circuit court -- known as a plaintiff-friendly venue -- was filed under seal. Kroenke and the league cited concern the bias against them among prospective jurors would only worsen if their filing was publicized.
Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, didn’t respond to phone and email messages seeking comment. Attorneys on both sides of the case didn’t respond to phone messages seeking comment. Representatives of Denver-based Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, whose international portfolio includes holdings in the U.K.’s Arsenal FC soccer team and professional basketball, ice hockey, lacrosse and soccer teams in Colorado, didn’t respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Michael A. Wolff, a retired chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court and a former dean of the St. Louis University Law School, said the change-of-venue request is a “desperation move” that’s unlikely to succeed, especially so late in the litigation. If Kroenke manages to get the case moved, it would go to another Missouri circuit court, Wolff said.
The St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County sued over the Rams move in 2017, calling it a violation of the NFL’s relocation policy.
The plaintiffs argue that the team’s departure robbed them of millions in tax revenue, including from ticket sales, concessions, earnings and property. St. Louis also alleges it spent $16 million planning for a new stadium before the Rams left the city. The claims in the case include fraud and illegal enrichment.
In the runup to the Los Angeles move, team officials described St. Louis as a “struggling” city that lacked the population and resources to support an NFL franchise. The Rams previously played in Los Angeles from 1946 to 1994, moving to St. Louis after the city lost its other football team, the Cardinals, to Arizona in 1988.
Rams officials belittled St. Louis’s offer to build a $1.1 billion riverfront stadium. “Any NFL club that signs on to this proposal in St. Louis will be well on the road to financial ruin and the League will be harmed,” they said in the relocation application.
The lawsuit alleges that Kroenke, a real-estate developer, planned to head west as early as 2013, but the league and club owners kept the move secret from the public while voting to approve it. Los Angeles, the second-largest television market in the U.S., was without a home football team for two decades until the Rams moved back.
In their defense, Kroenke and the NFL argue the league’s relocation policy was not a “contract” with St. Louis, but only a guideline, and that owners were free to exercise their “business judgment’ on what was right for the NFL.
Judge Christopher McGraugh in St. Louis has scheduled an Aug. 25 hearing on a request by Kroenke and the NFL to decide the case in their favor based on the evidence presented so far -- probably their last chance to escape a jury trial.
Meanwhile, McGraugh is allowing the plaintiffs to pursue financial information from Kroenke, the Rams and the NFL, as well as details about the net worth of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New York Giants owner John Mara, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt. All 32 NFL owners are defendants in the case.
St. Louis is pursuing punitive damages against the league and has indicated in court filings that the financial information will help it determine how much to ask the jury to award.
Kroenke, who attended the University of Missouri, has noted that his first and middle names, Enos and Stanley, were after St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famers Enos “Country” Slaughter and Stan Musial. He is ranked 260th on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index with an estimated net worth of $9.7 billion. His wife, Ann, is a daughter of Walmart Inc. co-founder James “Bud” Walton and has an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion.
Bob Mirbaha, who was a Rams season-ticket holder for 21 years, said he’d be disappointed if Kroenke gets the lawsuit moved out of St. Louis. He said he still supports the team and plans to travel to Indianapolis and Phoenix this year to watch the blue-gold uniformed squad mix it up on the gridiron.
“Love the Rams,” Mirbaha said in an interview. “Hate Kroenke.”
The case is St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority v. National Football League, 1722-CC0976, Circuit Court of St. Louis City, Missouri, Twenty-Second Judicial District (St. Louis).
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