St. Louis city and county score $790 million in Rams settlement
Updated at 1:55 p.m. Nov. 24
The long and winding saga over the departure of the St. Louis Rams is over.
St. Louis, St. Louis County and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, which operates the Dome at America’s Center, will get $790 million as part of the settlement in their lawsuit. That’s according to a joint statement Wednesday from St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.
“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,” the statement said. “The City, County, and STLRSA are still determining how settlement funds will be allocated. We will provide more updates as they become available.”
The groups sued the National Football League and Rams owner Stan Kroenke after the team moved back to Los Angeles in 2016. They accused the league of not following its relocation guidelines, breach of contract and misleading the public.
The lawsuit said the St. Louis region lost millions of dollars in revenue when the Rams headed back to California. Local officials also spent millions on a task force that put together a plan for a $1.1 billion football stadium along the Mississippi River in an effort to keep the team from leaving.
The settlement avoids a January trial in St. Louis, in which a jury would have determined whether the NFL violated its rules by allowing the team to leave Missouri.
Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University, said the settlement was "an unprecedented award in the history of sports business."
Rams ownership cited several reasons for bolting to the West Coast. A nearly 30-page document put together by the team and released in 2016 said the Dome paled in comparison to other NFL stadiums. It also questioned fan support and claimed that “compared to all other U.S. cities, St. Louis is struggling.”
That document largely glossed over the fact that at the time of their 2016 departure, the Rams hadn’t had a winning season since the middle of then-President George W. Bush’s first term in 2003.
The document came after the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed legislation that would have provided substantial public support for the riverfront stadium. And at the time, Gov. Jay Nixon was trying to put together a bond proposal that would have provided state financial support — which did not get a particularly warm reception from the Missouri General Assembly.
Some of the $790 million will go to the lawsuit’s attorneys. When the suit was filed, the law firms involved — including the one that Nixon joined after he left the governorship — agreed to a 35% contingency payment proposal. The St. Louis Business Journal reported that Nixon wasn’t involved or being compensated from the lawsuit.
After details of the proposal were reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some NFL fans expressed disappointment that the settlement didn’t include an expansion team. But that scenario never sketched out who would own such a team — or who would pay for the stadium.
The riverfront stadium proposal sparked an acrimonious debate over whether the city and the state should publicly finance a stadium. St. Louis County ended up not participating in that discussion after then-County Executive Steve Stenger bowed out of the proceedings.
With the Rams lawsuit in the books, the question now turns to how the money should be spent.
St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar, who represents the ward where the convention center is located, said some of the funds could go toward sprucing up the facility. The city and county approved a bonding proposal several years ago, but those renovation plans have stalled after the COVID-19 pandemic put a major crimp on hotel stays. Taxes from hotel rooms pay for the bonds for the convention center renovations.
He said the future of the Dome at America's Center, where the Rams used to play, also needs to be considered when deciding how to spend the funds.
“The Dome preservation payments are coming to an end," Coatar said. "And we do not have a consistent source of revenue to take care of that building. And I think that’s important for our convention business."
St. Louis County Councilwoman Rita Days, D-Bel Nor, has called for part of the Rams settlement to be used for a recreation center in north St. Louis County.
While noting that St. Louis County was affected by the Rams leaving, Coatar added that he hopes the majority of the money goes to the City of St. Louis — especially since the city was willing to pay for the riverfront stadium.
"The city bears the brunt of that damage and should be compensated accordingly," Coatar said.
The settlement will be the latest addition to a fresh pot of money for the St. Louis region.
St. Louis is slated to receive over $500 million from the American Rescue Plan, while St. Louis County is expected to get around $193 million. And the city and county will receive even more funds from the federal infrastructure bill, including money that could help rejuvenate the stalled efforts to expand MetroLink.
Coatar said that while fans may not have gotten everything they wanted from this deal, going to trial wouldn't have guaranteed that the region would get anything.
He also said the settlement sends a "very strong message" to sports leagues.
"2015 was one of those turning points where ... sports franchises were holding cities and municipalities hostage to try to extract public revenue for stadiums," Coatar said. "And I really think those days are probably behind us now. And this situation I hope is a strong message to the NFL and other sports leagues that you cannot treat municipalities this way."
Rishe said the outcome tells owners that if they're going to leave a city, they need to be honest about their intentions.
"The legacy of this particular case is that any team or league that's thinking about relocation, they're going to have to do it by the book," Rishe said. "They're going to have to be transparent. They're going to have to be forthcoming."