Image courtesy of HOK
The NFL stadium that was never to be
Like a coach defiantly running his football team on the field in full uniform two hours after a game has ended to protest a bad call, St. Louis has decided to sue the NFL for damages over the Rams’ departure to Los Angeles.
The bold legal initiative has roughly the same chance of success as the Los Angeles Rams winning the Super Bowl in a year that Haley’s Comet arrives. It begs the burning question:
Is this the stupidest thing any city has ever done or just one of them?
The lawsuit purports to represent the city, county, and Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority (RSA), although the only party claiming public ownership of the travesty is outgoing Mayor Francis Slay. Why Slay would do this to his legacy is as mysterious as the notion that 31 NFL owners engaged in something called “tortuous interference with business expectancy” by voting to allow the Rams to move.
Really? Do we also have a brilliant legal angle as to why the Rams and NFL owners were obligated to invest over a half a billion dollars in a new stadium that they wouldn’t own in a city that had declined a few years earlier to make improvements to the Edward Jones Dome? St. Louis could have forced the Rams to stay here through 2024 by simply keeping the stadium up to “first-tier” standards (as defined in arbitration), and while we all know that would have been absurdly expensive, it was our right to do so. And under the contract signed with the team in 1994, it was to cost the team and the NFL nothing.
Perhaps they should have also charged the Rams with “tortuous conspiracy to use crazy amounts of business leverage to cause us to enter into an agreement in 1994 that really turned out bad for us 20 years later.” That would be viewed in court with roughly the same seriousness as the notion that it was “fraudulent misrepresentation” for Rams owner Stan Kroenke to leave after suggesting in earlier press accounts that he preferred to stay.
Speaking of Kroenke, some of the sycophants in the sports media—the ones who canonized him before they didn’t—might want to ponder this little detail about the Evil One and his fellow NFL owners, who now have the title “defendant” added to their resumes by us: At least five of them, or their immediate family members, own Major League Soccer (MLS) franchises.
How do you suppose Robert Kraft’s New England Revolution and Arthur Blank’s Atlanta United FC and Paul Allen’s Seattle Sounders FC and Clark Hunt’s FC Dallas and Kroenke’s Colorado Rapids would view their dear friends in St. Louis today if presented with a vote on approving new MLS franchises?
It’s not that St. Louis had much chance of getting an MLS franchise once city voters prudently decided not to expend $60 million in general revenues toward a stadium. But just imagine if the vote had passed, and this ridiculous lawsuit had gone forward. That would have set the stage for an interesting vote among MLS owners on St. Louis’ franchise application.
See also: "Oh No, Another Stadium Deal"
That is now likely what the lawyers call moot. So for now, we’re left only to ponder an NFL lawsuit that is what the lawyers call frivolous.
It is, of course, going nowhere legally. But there is a real question as to who decided to attach to this embarrassing nonsense the good name of the city, the county, and the RSA. (OK, “good name” might be a bit generous, especially in the case of the RSA.) The lawsuit does represent one bit of comic relief: It turns out that the city and RSA, which were at one pointed embroiled in vicious litigation over a city ordinance requiring a public vote before public funds could be committed for the proposed NFL stadium, have miraculously patched up their differences.
Who decided for St. Louis to humiliate itself with childish petulance rather than move on from the Rams debacle with a sense of self-esteem and optimism about better supporting the town’s two great, truly local pro sports franchises (and countless other worthy civic institutions)? Did the city and county governments and RSA debate the notion of keeping this non-issue alive? If so, did the media miss the memo?
See also: "Escape From the Echo Chamber"
And finally there’s this: What is this travesty costing the taxpayers? Slay’s spokesperson Maggie Crane told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the two Clayton law firms involved—Blitz, Bardgett, and Deutsch, as well as Dowd Bennett—were handling the lawsuits on a contingency basis and would be paid only if they won. But in the same story, it was reported that the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Blitz firm “has been in the works for about two years,” dating back to before the relocation vote.
That would appear to coincide with the period in which the Blitz firm was billing at least $900,000 to the RSA as part of the $16 million or more having been wasted in the pointless stadium charade.
So how does the taxpaying public know that its extravagant payment to the Blitz firm didn’t include working on this frivolity? It doesn’t. But who’s keeping score? Not the media. Lawyer Bob Blitz, whose name is on the firm’s door, was virtually canonized locally as part Gov. Jay Nixon’s two-man “Task Force”—along with businessman Dave Peacock—that purportedly would keep the NFL in St. Louis.
So while Peacock and Blitz did their bad impersonation of the Ghostbusters (OK, it didn’t have a happy ending, but the premise was equally as realistic), Blitz’s firm received handsome billings for the project. At this point, the latest legal travesty is but a footnote.
This lawsuit needs to go away, even before the courts take care of that for us. It’s just one more civic embarrassment, the last thing that St. Louis needs right now.
Losing a pro sports franchise due to the machinations of greedy owners is no big deal. Losing your dignity is.
SLM owner Ray Hartmann is a panelist on KETC Channel 9’s Donnybrook,which airs Thursdays at 7 p.m.