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Editorial: Break up this abusive football cartel

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Football

The outright duplicity that guided the words and actions of Rams owner Stan Kroenke and National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, among others, were widely assumed but not proven beyond doubt in the public’s eye until the release of court documents behind the $790 settlement with St. Louis regional entities. The collusion among team owners and the league goes beyond deception. It constitutes a pattern of abuse so egregious that congressional action is necessary to yank the league’s limited antitrust exemption.

The public would have been left to speculate and read between the lines about the extent of NFL owners’ abuse if not for the dogged pursuit of the truth by a St. Louis legal team. The threat of exposure in an open court case led Kroenke and company to buckle. But unlike many out-of-court settlements that require documents to be sealed, these court records made it into the hands of Post-Dispatch reporters Austin Huguelet, Katie Kull and Joel Currier.

Some might argue that it’s time to let this go. The region got its payout. The Rams are gone. Why keep digging up the past? It’s important for all cities and their taxpayers to understand that the escalating financial demands these franchises make on their host communities might be based on deliberate deceit.

Sure, a bunch of billionaires had to pony up $790 million. While big for the plaintiffs, it’s chump change for people like Kroenke, who will continue raking in billions while correctly assuming that most football fans will focus on the game, not the duplicity behind it.

Kroenke began making serious plans to purchase 200 acres for a stadium site in Inglewood, California, in 2013 so he could move the Rams back to Los Angeles. Kroenke colluded with Goodell and others to keep the plan secret — especially from St. Louisans.

 

Goodell lied during a pre-Super Bowl press briefing in 2014 about a rumored move by the Rams. “There are no plans, to my knowledge, of a stadium development,” he responded about Kroenke’s land purchase. In fact, Goodell knew all about it and worked with Kroenke to keep the franchise relocation secret. Other team owners and NFL executives helped out.

They all played dumb as part of a plan to keep St. Louisans and government officials in the dark until the secret plan was a done deal. The move was effectively a fait accompli long before the league decided to follow its own bylaws regarding how and when any team could relocate. There was, in fact, no good-faith effort to negotiate keeping the Rams here.

So why should Congress grant this football cartel any special antitrust treatment, even if it’s just for TV rights? The NFL has morphed into an abusive billionaire business monopoly that deserves to be held to the same antitrust standards as all other U.S. business entities.

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