News in 2015 that sounded at the time like significant progress for the St. Louis task force working to keep the Rams in a planned riverfront stadium was not received well by Rams executive Kevin Demoff.
Demoff forwarded an email about the development, suggesting to a recipient that he should use an attached YouTube video as his official response to the task force securing National Car Rental as the stadium's sponsor.
The video was a short song titled, “(Censored) this (censored), I’m out."
Demoff's profane, sophomoric email was one of many examples revealed downtown Monday in a third-floor courtroom where Team STL lawyer Chris Bauman took advantage of his first opportunity to share without the limitations of a protective order some of what his team turned up in its quest to prove all kinds of wrongdoing by the Rams and the NFL in the league's relocation of the Rams to Los Angeles in 2016.
Hopefully four years into this thing you're familiar with my shorthand.
Team STL consists of Bauman and the other lawyers representing St. Louis, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority. Team Kroenke consists of the lawyers representing Rams owner Silent Stan, the Rams and the NFL. The civil case, as you know, is about how the Rams and the NFL allegedly wronged the region in all sorts of ways, especially by running roughshod over the same relocation guidelines the league pointed to as near gospel as the St. Louis task force made its push to keep the team by spending more than $16 million on plans for a new stadium, a last-chance effort to convince the team and the league to stay after the Rams did not receive the upgrades to The Dome an arbitration win said they were owed.
In terms of the tick-tock of this marathon suit's path toward a public jury trial, the news of the day Monday was that Team STL received clearance from Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh to pursue financial records from the NFL, the Rams and team owners Kroenke, Jerry Jones (Cowboys), Robert Kraft (Patriots), John Mara (Giants), Clark Hunt (Chiefs) and Jerry Richardson (former owner of the Panthers) in order to help a jury decide on possible punitive damages at next year’s trial. That’s another win for Team STL. It means the judge needed no more convincing about the claims made by Team STL against these defendants, and he didn't take long to think it over. He made the ruling quickly, and from the bench.
Judge McGraugh then gave a bit of a stiff-arm to Team STL for seeking the same financial information from other defendants in the case unless additional pleadings provided within 10 days prove why those details should be allowed. While that does not scratch those defendants from the case, protecting the financial data of as many defendants as possible was a win for Team Kroenke.
But the most interesting moments in Monday's more than two-hour hearing, by far, were the little grenades Bauman tucked into what he called, “the real story of the relocation."
Team STL has started piecing together a timeline that will continue to be filled in as trial nears, one that shows significant differences when it comes to what the NFL (usually former NFL executive Eric Grubman) and the Rams (usually Demoff) were saying to members of the public and leaders in the effort to keep the team compared to what was being said during discussions between Rams officials, owners, league power brokers and even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"Kroenke and the Rams always intended to move back to LA," Bauman told Judge McGraugh on Monday, a statement Kroenke would probably agree with.
"They never intended to negotiate in good faith," Bauman said.
Here's some of what we learned — some but not all of which was already known — through the Team STL discovery that was revealed . . .
• In 2006, to avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest, Kroenke asked Goodell to take him off the Los Angeles Committee designed to study the league’s NFL opportunities there. In 2010, as one of his first acts as majority owner of the Rams, Kroenke registered the team as a California company. During a phone call in October 2013, Kroenke told Goodell, the NFL’s general counsel and two other owners that he was going to buy two parcels of land at Hollywood Park in Los Angeles and build a stadium, and asked members on the call for their cooperation in doing so. At that time Kroenke announced his intentions to “stay under the radar screen” and remain “hidden” with his plan." Goodell told the group to respect Kroenke's confidentiality. When news of the land purchase later began to leak out, Demoff and NFL officials discussed how to handle the story in a series of emails. The league advised Demoff to steer the conversation toward a generic real-estate transaction to take pressure off Goodell, which is what happened. Then Goodell at a Super Bowl press conference soon after said he had no knowledge of plans for a stadium development. “That statement was a lie,” Bauman told Judge McGraugh, “It was intentional. And it was outrageous." And it continued, Bauman argued, a steady stream of the Rams and the NFL saying one thing while doing another.
• In 2015, the same year Demoff sent his juvenile YouTube video, then NFL executive Eric Grubman made a series of public comments that stressed the importance of the relocation guidelines and the importance they placed on good-faith negotiations between a team and its home market. Goodell, in his deposition, testified the relocation policy binds the NFL and obligates all teams and all owners. Goodell was shown the relocation policy during his deposition, specifically a section about clubs being obligated to negotiate in good-faith with their home territories. He testified that it is indeed mandatory. Yet exhibits referenced Monday by Team STL includes notes from Chargers official Carmen Policy regarding a conversation with Grubman that resulted in the understanding that while the relocation guidelines should be considered important, they could be amended or even ignored. Another exhibit includes a note from former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson that says the league can circumvent the guidelines entirely. Team STL argued the region was not only told the policy mattered, but received encouragement for working within the guidelines to try to keep its team.
• Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said during his deposition that he urged Kroenke to move the Rams to Los Angeles, that he lobbied other owners to let him move, and did so because it would benefit the league’s bottom line. Days after the relocation vote there was a contract signed between Rams and Kroenke and Jones’ Legends company, which handles everything from personal seat licenses to sponsorships. For Jones, this deal was on top of owners receiving $550 million in relocation fees for the Rams move. Jones had estimated the move would increase the value of each franchise $100 to $200 million. Jones and every other owner was sent a letter from the St. Louis task force before the relocation vote informing the owners of the task force's belief Kroenke had not practiced good-faith negotiations with his home market. Team STL is arguing that NFL owners approved the Rams' relocation despite knowing Kroenke did not operate in good faith with his home market, and knowing their decision would hurt St. Louis.
• Before and after Goodell sent a letter to the task force calling a request for $300 million in G-4 funding "fundamentally inconsistent" with how the league operates, examples proved that his claim was false. Bauman said $300 million in G-4 funding was discussed for another team in its home market months before Goodell made that claim, which damaged the task force's progress. Discovery also shows, Bauman said, that task force leader Dave Peacock was offered $300 million in league funding by a representative of the league. Bauman said $300 million was offered to San Diego and Oakland, and that $900 million in stadium financing was given to Kroenke in Los Angeles. "It was never fundamentally inconsistent," Bauman told Judge McGraugh.
• Team Kroenke lawyer Benjamin Razi used his time in front of Judge McGraugh to bemoan the length of the case, the scope of Team STL's "sweeping" discovery and the large number of defendants included in the suit. "They don't even know who all the defendants are," Razi argued. "They don't even have the respect to know who they are." Razi painted the picture of the Rams' relocation as nothing more than the free market at work. He argued there was no motive for the league to hurt St. Louis, and claimed the league has an open-door policy with the task force.
Countered Bauman: "You don't get to lie to make a profit. You don't get to keep information confidential while you are committing fraud. Those are our claims."
On the topic of relocation guidelines, where Team STL stresses the good-faith negotiations with the home market as being a big box that was left unchecked, Razi stresses a) the language that says the league can act within its own best interest and b) the language that allows teams to explore potential alternatives before a relocation is approved.
Razi pointed out that a federal judge in Oakland and a state court judge in Los Angeles tossed out cases that revolved around the breach of the NFL's relocation guidelines being able to support a legal case. This was a major point Team Kroenke made in its final attempt to get the case tossed. That Hail Mary, formally called a motion for summary judgment, is still in the air. Team STL got a chance to respond, and it has. Now Team Kroenke gets another chance to respond before Judge McGraugh makes a call. I don't think the case is going to get tossed at this point. If it doesn't, it's either trial or settlement. Team Kroenke could of course appeal any ruling that comes out of a trial. In fact, I'd expect it. That's if there's not a settlement. Some have suggested the NFL could want to have this issue wrapped up and out of the public eye before the Rams host the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. We'll see.
• Another Team Kroenke lawyer who spoke so softly you could only hear about one of every five words said a February 2016 email from Dave Peacock praised Kroenke as, . . . "one of the few very honest guys from the beginning. He wanted to move." This, the lawyer argued, is proof Kroenke did no misleading. Bauman countered by saying Peacock's email was based of information available before the discovery process, not after it. I bet we hear more about that email from Peacock.
• Of all the names mentioned Monday, none wound up wearing more mud publicly than Demoff. Kroenke's human shield is smothered in it. Kroenke testified in his deposition that he told Demoff in the summer of 2013 that the land the Rams owner purchased in Los Angeles was perfect for a stadium, which would make multiple public comments made by Demoff downplaying or downright dismissing that intent lies that could come back to bite him now. Remember the "there is no secret plan" line? Kroenke and Demoff were telling owners in 2015 the Rams were moving to Los Angeles. A move to San Diego or a lawsuit against the NFL were looked into as possibilities if the move was blocked. Demoff in 2015, which was the same year Grubman was insisting the relocation guidelines mattered and had to be followed, was forwarding negative articles to the league about St. Louis' murder rate and credit rating. A document circulated among Rams staff meant as a goodbye letter to be released after the relocation vote was internally titled as the “AMF letter,” which was short for, “Adios, mother (censored).”
Perhaps such celebrating was premature.
The judge said he needed more evidence before deciding whether to allow into evidence the financial records of other NFL team owners.