National Football League team owners, including a deservedly humbled Stan Kroenke, appear to have averted embarrassing public revelations of their finances and double dealing by reaching a mediated settlement with the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority and St. Louis city and county. The Post-Dispatch’s Joel Currier and Ben Frederickson reported the settlement totals about $790 million. The deal effectively silences the complaint that NFL team owners short-changed St. Louis in their haste to move Kroenke’s Rams to Los Angeles.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a case highlighting greed, lies and malice should be put to rest forever. Left unaddressed is the apparent backdoor collusion among team owners that made the Rams’ Los Angeles move a fait accompli even as the NFL and Kroenke presented the public illusion of good-faith consideration of St. Louis’ bid to keep the Rams here. It was the assumption of good faith that prompted heavy expenditures at the local and state level to compile a package of incentives, including a publicly financed $1.1 billion riverfront stadium, to keep the Rams from leaving.
The effort was wasted because Kroenke had already made up his mind. At issue is a waiver, in effect since 1984, that effectively gives the NFL immunity from federal antitrust law, provided owners abide by strict guidelines when any team withdrawal from a host city is proposed. The league comprises teams that operate as individual, competing companies. Antitrust law exists to ensure competition and prevent unfair collusion.
From the beginning, the NFL dismissed the 2017 lawsuit as frivolous. “There is no legitimate basis for this litigation,” spokesman Brian McCarthy said at the time, asserting untruthfully that “we worked diligently with local and state officials in a process that was honest and fair at all times.”
Wrong. The lawsuit was entirely warranted and appeared destined to go in the St. Louis plaintiffs’ favor before Wednesday’s settlement was reached. As for the “honest and fair” part, depositions and statements by NFL personnel have made clear there was nothing remotely fair or honest about the entire charade of giving due consideration to St. Louis’ presentation.
Kroenke and his associates had been talking about a move to Inglewood, California, as far back as 2013. On his way out, he couldn’t contain the contempt he held for St. Louis, suggesting in his application to move the team that any NFL team investing in St. Louis would “be well on the road to financial ruin.”
A trial, set to begin in January as Kroenke prepares to host the Super Bowl at his new Los Angeles-area stadium, would undoubtedly have revived the antitrust question and forced the kind of public reckoning that billionaire team owners wanted to avoid at all costs. Which is why a $790 million settlement, pleasant as it is for St. Louis, should come as no surprise to anyone.
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