By JOE MUELLER
THE CENTER SQUARE REPORTER
(The Center Square) — On the night before Christmas, more than $513 million will appear in a joint account of the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority.
They’re not sure how they will spend it, but it’s the result of four years of litigation against National Football League team owners and the actions of Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke. After multiple attempts to throw out the lawsuit, it was scheduled to start in a St. Louis courtroom on Jan. 10, 2022, just weeks away from the Super Bowl to be played in the $5 billion stadium Kroenke built in Los Angeles after he moved the Rams from St. Louis in 2016.
As the Rams’ lease to play in its stadium in St. Louis was expiring, a group of city leaders in 2014 began spending about $18 million for plans to build a new stadium for about $1 billion. Its location would be less than a mile north of the existing stadium. But several media outlets reported Kroenke convinced the other NFL owners to approve the move of the team by criticizing St. Louis’ economy and loss of population.
Throughout the four years of litigation, many depositions were recorded, motions made, and in October four contempt of court charges were filed against the NFL, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and New York Giants owner John Mara for not turning over financial documents.
But the day before Thanksgiving, the NFL settled with St. Louis. It avoided the breach of contract trial by agreeing to pay $790 million to the three St. Louis entities. St. Louis law firms Dowd Bennett LLP and Blitz Bardgett & Deutsch will receive 35% of the settlement – $276.5 million – plus additional costs.
“This historic agreement closes a long chapter for our region, securing hundreds of millions of dollars for our communities while avoiding the uncertainty of the trial and appellate process,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said in a joint statement regarding the settlement. “The City, County, and STLRSA are still determining how settlement funds will be allocated. We will provide more updates as they become available.”
The settlement is believed to be the first of its kind with a city that lost a professional sports franchise because it was moved to another market. The trial might have focused on whether the NFL followed its own relocation guidelines.
The settlement calls for dismissal documents to be filed within seven days of receipt of the payment. Seven days after completing the dismissal documents, the settlement calls for all copies of confidential information and all notes to be destroyed.
Because of the uncertainty and confidentiality of the litigation process, Mayor Jones didn’t have much information about any settlement when speaking at a media event in early November.
“I think this might be an opportunity to get some low-hanging fruit as far as development, investing in our people and make investments that will be sustainable for many years to come,” Jones said. “The first rule of finance is never spend money that you don’t have. So I haven’t even thought about how much it is and where it’s going to go. So much is still up in the air. We’ll see what happens.”Many people commented on talk radio and social media that the settlement wasn’t enough. Many voiced concerns about the money being spent inappropriately by political leaders in the city and county.
Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square.