By: Patrick Rishe
When the courts force wealthy billionaires to turn over years of emails and phone calls, this usually spells endgame.
With a sizable settlement forthcoming to the injured party.
Well, the National Football League and Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams, may slowly but surely be moving towards a financial settlement with various parties from St. Louis and Missouri that would even make the famed Silna brothers blush…former owners of St. Louis’ ABA basketball team who arguably orchestrated the greatest deal in sports business history.
You remember Daniel and Ozzie Silna, don’t you? The brothers who owned the Spirits of St. Louis ABA team. The brothers who wouldn’t accept a $3 million buyout from the NBA in 1976 when the ABA folded and didn’t absorb the Spirits as an expansion. The brothers who, instead, negotiated what amounted to 57% of one share of the NBA’s media revenues in perpetuity…which accumulated to over $300 million by 2014. The brothers who were finally bought out by the NBA at the beginning of 2014 for an upfront payment of $500 million!
While I don’t know if the various plaintiff parties in the St. Louis region’s lawsuit versus the Rams will end up receiving financial restitution of this size, it’s increasingly looking as if an eventual settlement will emerge. Perhaps not in 2020, but eventually.
And here’s why:
- The recent ESPN article looking at the Rams and Chargers battling for Los Angeles relevancy dedicated a portion of the story to the growing “leaguewide headache” of the lawsuit pitting the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex against the Rams and NFL is “threatening everyone’s bottom line”.
- As the afore-mentioned article notes, “the St. Louis plaintiffs have quietly won every court motion and decision” to this point, including keeping the case in the courts and out of arbitration.
- The most recent victory being that the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Rams request to issue a stay to the plaintiff’s request to provide multiple years of phone records and emails for discovery.
And that’s where things begin to get dicey, financially speaking, for both Kroenke and other NFL owners.
- First of all, as the ESPN article noted, and as part of an indemnification agreement signed prior to the Rams relocating to Los Angeles, Kroenke must pay all legal bills for the teams and the league. And, apparently, the legal bills for some teams have exceed $10 million.
- As wealthy as Stanley is – with an estimated wealth of nearly $10 billion – I’ve got to believe that, eventually, his lawyers will advise him to “punt” and settle…especially if there is something especially damning in his past email or phone communications which seal his legal fate in this case.
- Furthermore, the ESPN article noted that St. Louis is now “seeking each owner’s cut of the Rams’ and Chargers’ $550 million relocation fees” (or about $35 million per team) as additional restitution. So as the bottom line of other teams now becomes potentially impacted, all the more reason to suspect pressure from within the league will be brought to bare upon the Rams’ owner.
In speaking with at least two lawyers not involved with this case about trends and procedures during the adjudication process, the message is pretty consistent. Namely, as the plaintiffs in this case keep winning court motions and decisions, this only strengthens the plaintiffs’ bargaining leverage.
And as one lawyer shared confidentially to me, “Can you imagine what might be on the owners’ emails and phone records? There’s no way that’s going to see the light of day.”
Translation…the odds of a sizable settlement in favor of the St. Louis plaintiffs’ only increase as (1) their side wins more motions and (2) the more salacious any potentially damning information contained in league or team communications.
The Rams and Chargers both have a Herculean challenge ahead of them…to fill SoFi Stadium on Sundays during the 2020 season and beyond in a crowded sports market where most NFL fans living in Los Angeles are transplants from elsewhere who will likely just assume visit their favorite local sports bar to watch their own home team.
But the Rams, the league, and other NFL teams may have an even larger Thanos-like challenge in avoiding a hefty financial settlement with parties from St. Louis.
A lawsuit that’s unlikely to evaporate into dust with a click of the fingers.