Missouri proposes $50m Rube Goldberg funding scheme for Rams so no one notices it’s spending $50m

The state-run St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority is set to ask for $50 million in state tax credits for a new St. Louis Rams stadium tomorrow, something that isn’t entirely a surprise, given that this has always been part of Gov. Jay Nixon’s stadium funding plan. Way down at the bottom of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, though, there’s a tidbit that’s worth exploring further:

Under one option to be presented to the finance board, the Dome authority would donate $100 million raised for the project to a nonprofit entity, which would then contribute $100 million to the board’s Infrastructure Development Fund.

In return for this contribution, the board would issue $50 million in tax credits to the nonprofit, which in turn would sell the credits and donate the proceeds to the Dome authority. The application says it expects to get about 95 cents on the dollar for those tax credits.

That’s a whole lot of paper-shuffling, but the interesting bit is at the end, where the state would be issuing $50 million in tax credits, but the Dome authority would only be getting $47.5 million in proceeds. That’s not a huge difference, but $2.5 million is $2.5 million, which raises the question: Why not just have the state give $50 million to the project directly, instead of mucking around with funneling money through tax credits and nonprofits?

I’m guessing here (Missouri locals and/or public finance experts, correct me if I’m wrong), but my assumption is that it’s so the headlines read “Dome authority to ask for $50 million in state tax credits” and not “Nixon proposes giving $50 million more to Rams.” It comes to the exact same thing, but for whatever reason some people think of tax expenditures as different from public spending, so apparently it’s worth $2.5 million to keep up this charade.

Rose Bowl nixes hosting NFL team, L.A. temporary stadium options down to Coliseum or playing in street

The Pasadena-controlled board that owns the Rose Bowl voted this week not to bid to provide a temporary home to an NFL team in Los Angeles, saying they would rather host an annual music festival instead. (The music festival wouldn’t be during the NFL season, but its environmental impact statement requires that the Rose Bowl not host pro football if the festival takes place.)

This still leaves the NFL with a bunch of options, but as the Los Angeles Times’ Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno report, they’re all problematic. Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium are baseball stadiums, and not only does the NFL hate playing in baseball stadiums, but baseball teams hate sharing digs with football, which messes up their schedule and tears up the grass. The Los Angeles Galaxy‘s StubHub Center in Carson only holds 27,000 — though NFL stadium consultant Marc Ganis tried to put a happy face on this to the L.A. Times, saying, “There’s something interesting about playing in a smaller facility, to start with creating a scarcity of tickets and increase the level of interest early on,” yeah, right — and is run by AEG, which already has no love for the NFL after having its own downtown L.A. stadium plan shot down.

That leaves the L.A. Coliseum, which would be fine but for two things: First off, USC’s lease on the Coliseum only allows it to host one NFL team, which would be a problem if, say, both the Raiders and Chargers needed temporary homes while waiting for a new stadium to be completed. Second, it’s really hard to get a bidding war going with only one serious bidder, so any team wanting to bunk at the Coliseum temporarily likely just saw its prospective rent go up.

This probably isn’t enough to be more than a speed bump en route to a new L.A. NFL stadium (and team), but given that the finances of such a project already look shaky enough, you never know which is going to be the speed bump that breaks the camel’s back. (Yeah, I know the metaphor doesn’t really make sense, work with me here.) The fight to be the future home of the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams still seems like a battle that no one can possibly win — it’s one reason I don’t expect any resolution soon, but I guess we’ll get some hints, maybe, following the August owners’ meetings.

Missouri won’t disclose possible illegal Rams spending on grounds it’s getting sued for illegal Rams spending

What did St. Louis, which already has more Rams stadium lawsuits than anyone can keep track of, need most? Why, another lawsuit, of course:

The suit says the Dome authority is “attempting to avoid disclosure of records that would indicate the nature of planned public expenditures for a new football stadium,” and asks the court to force the Dome to hand them over.

The backstory, as explained in the above-linked St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: law professor John Ammann and former state rep Jeanette Mott Oxford, who are already suing over a bunch of other things around the proposed Rams deal, got curious as to whether the state-run dome authority was illegally spending money on a new stadium plan without a public vote. So they filed a public records request for all communications surrounding the stadium plan.

At which point the dome authority said it couldn’t turn any of them over because of — you can’t make this stuff up — “pending litigation,” citing one of the other suits it’s facing, this one from several state legislators, over illegally spending money on a Rams stadium. And promptly got sued again, this time by Ammann and Oxford. It’s not quite the classic definition of chutzpah, but it’s close.

 

St. Louis countersues Missouri to block Rams stadium, hopes to actually lose?

The city of St. Louis has countersued against the state of Missouri’s suit claiming that it doesn’t need the city’s permission to build a new Rams stadium with public money. The new counterclaim says that not only does an existing city law apply that requires a public vote on any new stadium expenditure, but the state stadium authority doesn’t have the right to build a stadium where it wants to anyway:

The state law that allowed for the building of the Jones Dome — and is being used to authorize construction of a new stadium — required the dome to be located “adjacent to an existing convention facility,” the counterclaim says.

But the proposed new stadium, the city’s filing argues, is “located on the other side of a road” from the America’s Center and the Jones Dome, where the city currently hosts conventions.

That’s a pretty hardball stance for the city to be taking, and maybe should be taken as an indication that the mayoral Gang of Four is starting to have influence in other cities as—

Mayor Francis Slay is publicly supportive of the new stadium. City Counselor Winston Calvert said this suit gives the city a chance to get answers sooner rather than later.

The counterclaim, he said, “is a reflection of the fact that everybody is ready to get these issues resolved and move on.”

Okay, or maybe not.

The concern that St. Louis officials aren’t really interested in fighting the state’s suit — even to the point of filing counterclaims just in hopes of getting them dismissed — is precisely why several St. Louis residents have filed a motion to intervene in the suit as defendents, fearing that the city isn’t really going to mount a defense. I spoke with one of those residents on Friday, former state representative Jeanette Mott Oxford, who explained that she has standing in this case because not only was she one of the original petitioners who got the referendum on the ballot, but she once stayed in a local hotel and paid the hotel taxes that would be diverted to fund the new stadium. The case should go to trial soon: Oxford mentioned a June 25 trial date, but that may have been a different lawsuit, there are so many. We haven’t yet seen the state or the city suing itself over this mess, but I expect it’s only a matter of time.

 

USA Today report on NFL LA move may violate own unnamed source rule, says source close to journalism

Stop the presses! USA Today reported on Friday that it’s heard the NFL is exploring where a team could play temporarily in Los Angeles, maybe, while a new stadium was possibly being built, if that happens, possibly, says some guy:

The league plans to soon begin talks with existing stadiums in the Los Angeles area in an effort to provide temporary housing for any team or teams that might relocate there, if any, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports. The person asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.

This is totally expected, since the league needs to do due diligence if it’s going to consider approving a move of either the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and/or Oakland Raiders. And, for that matter, it’s also totally expected that the NFL might want to leak this to the papers for their own purposes, as a way of turning up the heat on St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland to get new stadium plans in gear already, instead of mucking around with whether it would be legal or whether it makes any sense. You might even wonder if USA Today is being used by the league here for PR purposes, with the whole “asked not to be identified” thing serving as cover so the NFL doesn’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions.

In fact, let’s see what USA Today’s editorial ethics policy has to say about basing stories on the testimony of unnamed sources:

The use of unnamed sources erodes our credibility and should be avoided.

Okay, that’s not a good start. But what about when, you know, you really really don’t want to avoid it?

The identity of an unnamed source must be shared with and approved by a managing editor prior to publication. The managing editor must be confident that the information presented to the reader is accurate, not just that someone said it. This usually will require confirmation from a second source or from documents…

Anonymous sources must be cited only as a last resort. This applies not just to direct quotes but to the use of anonymous sources generally. Before accepting their use for publication, an editor must be confident that there is no better way to present the information and that the information is important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust. This is not to be taken lightly…

Unnamed sources should be described as precisely as possible. Additionally, reporters and editors should explain why the source could not be identified and if possible, add any information that establishes the credibility of a source on the subject matter in question.

Obviously, we as readers have no way of knowing whether USA Today’s managing editor signed off on this, whether a “second source or documents” was provided, and whether the information was “important enough to justify the broader cost in reader trust.” Still, at best, this seems like bending the “Don’t use unnamed sources unless absolutely necessary” rule for the sake of a juicy headline, even if it’s not a story that necessarily tells anyone much of anything. Which goes on all the time, of course, but that doesn’t make it any better a way of running a journalistic railroad.

 

Former state rep petitions to intervene in Rams vote suit, fearing city lawyers will just screw it up

The St. Louis Rams stadium funding lawsuit tangle continues to get messier and messier, with circuit court judge Thomas Frawley putting off hearings on the state’s suit against the city over a stadium vote requirement until June 25. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs in a different suit — this one trying to enforce the requirement for a city referendum on any stadium funding, as approved by voters several years back — are petitioning the judge to let them intervene in the case, on the grounds that city lawyers won’t fight the state aggressively enough, and … oh, hey, look, it’s Jeanette Mott Oxford, former state legislator and foe of past public funding for the Cardinals, who put in a cameo in Chapter 16 of Field of Schemes:

One of the three residents, former state Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, said she still hoped she’d be able to testify. The city has many needs, she said, for homeless services, public safety, affordable childcare and housing, “and yet millionaires and billionaires ask us to subsidize their professional sports projects,” she said.

“A case might be made to win my vote,” she said. “But I need to hear about it!”

Sure, you say you need to hear about it, Jeanette. But just because you want your say, and you and the rest of St. Louis voted to require that you have your say, doesn’t mean that the state’s lawyers and judges are going to agree that you’ll have your say. That’s not how democracy works in America!

Missouri gov to legislator suing over Rams: You liked your team’s pointless subsidy, you should be OK with mine

There’s still not much movement on the St. Louis Rams stadium front, but the non-movement is getting increasingly entertaining:

  • Six Missouri state legislators sued Gov. Jay Nixon, saying that he’s been illegally using money raised to pay off the debt on the Edward Jones Dome to start planning for a replacement stadium. Nixon also, of course, wants to use Jones Dome money to pay for building a new stadium as well, but so far he’s just been using it on planning costs — without getting legislative approval first.
  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon publicly called out one of the plaintiffs in the suit, state senator Rob Schaaf, for engaging in a “publicity ploy,” because Schaaf didn’t oppose the state spending $25 million on tax credits for a Kansas City Chiefs practice facility.
  • Everybody flipped out, including people who otherwise supported the Rams expenditure, and Nixon’s office had to issue a public statement clarifying that he didn’t mean to compare the cost of the two projects, or hate on the Chiefs, or in any way mean anything at all other than that Schaaf is a boogerhead. (NOTE: Not Nixon’s actual words.)

Meanwhile, one of the other lawsuits around the Rams deal — this one filed by the Jones Dome authority against the city of St. Louis for daring to insist that it’s voter-approved law requiring a public vote before spending stadium funds actually applies to spending stadium funds — is now on its third judge in a week, after the first one withdrew due to illness and the second was removed at the request of the plaintiffs. At some point maybe we’ll actually have a debate on how much Missouri is looking to spend on the Rams and whether it’s worth it, but for now it looks like the immediate future will be taken up with debating who if anyone even gets to debate it.

Extorting four cities for new NFL stadiums at once is hard, guys!

The Los Angeles Daily News’s Vincent Bonsignore has a good article up today detailing the careful balancing act the NFL needs to play in deciding which, if any, teams end up moving to Los Angeles:

Short of San Diego or Oakland stepping forward with satisfactory stadium plans for the Chargers and Raiders, which seems to be a long shot at this point, or [Rams owner Stan] Kroenke surprising everyone by accepting the stadium proposal Missouri leaders are hammering away at, the NFL is headed toward a potentially ugly fight in which owners will be asked to take sides with or against one other.

Worse, if it ultimately comes down to a vote, the team or teams losing out will report back to their local markets with tails decidedly between their legs and left vulnerable while trying to revive new stadium talks.

And that, in a nutshell, is why you’re hearing a lot of rumor and innuendo right now, and no real action, especially on the part of the NFL: Any step forward by one team’s plans would mean a step backward for someone else’s — and the last thing the NFL or its owners wants is for anyone to lose leverage in negotiating a stadium deal. So the endgame here is going to have to be carefully calibrated to ensure that everyone gets a deal they can live with before anything gets finalized. (Bonsignore’s solution — let the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers move to a shared stadium in Inglewood, and take $400 million from their relocation fees and stadium revenues and give it to the Raiders for a new stadium in Oakland — almost certainly won’t work, since it’s unlikely there’s an extra $400 million in profit just sitting around in any Inglewood finance plan, but hey, an article can’t have everything.)

Instead, let’s watch Hollywood Park racetrack get blowed up to make way for either Kroenke’s Inglewood stadium if it ends up getting built, or for something else if it doesn’t. Momentum!

MLS commissioner to stop by St. Louis, soccer fever erupts in local newsrooms

MLS commissioner Don Garber is dropping by St. Louis today to check out the city’s NFL stadium plans in person, and you know what that means: Lots of news reporting that Ohmygosh the MLS commissioner is coming to town we’re gonna get a team we’re gonna get a team! The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz actually wrote two articles about Garber’s visit, one a more straight-news rendition, the other a hyperventilating ode to the awesome depth of St. Louis’s soccer fandom:

Given the obvious hunger for the beautiful game in a city with a prestigious and celebrated soccer heritage, there’s little doubt St. Louis would embrace an MLS expansion franchise. The immense network of fans spans generations, with an enduring identity cultivated by amateur soccer and decades of participation and passion.

Total number of home games played to date by the minor-league Saint Louis F.C. franchise in its entire history: three. But those 15,000 people really like soccer. And lots of people went to indoor soccer games in the 1980s before the Steamers folded!

St. Louis actually probably has as good a shot as any city of getting an MLS franchise, less because of its rich soccer history than because Garber has already pretty much signaled that every city that can come up with a stadium and $100 million for an expansion fee is going to get one eventually. A new Rams stadium certainly wouldn’t hurt the city’s chances, but then it would depend on Rams owner Stan Kroenke wanting to cough up the $100 million expansion fee for a team (Garber don’t want no renters in his league), so it’s all still very much a ways down the road. Not that that should stop people from spinning theories about how Kroenke will sell the Rams and/or St. Louis stadium czar Dave Peacock will end up owning an MLS team himself, because the Internet, you know.

NFL actually issues official response to why its website has a “Los Angeles Rams” page

So that was interesting: When I reported yesterday on the Los Angeles Rams page that was hidden on the NFL’s website and wrote, “Conspiracy-theorize away, people of the Internet,” I thought maybe we’d get a crazy Reddit thread out of it. Instead, the news (or “news”) got picked up by Yahoo Sports and Bleacher Report and tons of other places, with someone even reporting that it showed up on a St. Louis TV station.

And now, it’s gotten an official response from the NFL, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Alex Riethmiller, NFL vice president for communications, said, “It’s a bug in the system that, when you manipulate the URL, will pull up a legacy team from that city if no current one exists.”

So everyone can officially calm down, okay? There’s also a Boston Patriots page, and the Patriots aren’t moving back to Boston. It’s just the way the search function on the NFL teams page is coded, and no particular team is singled out for — sorry, what’s that, NBC Sports’ Mike Florio?

But the glitch has its limits. Inserting “POT” unfortunately does not return a page for the Pottsville Maroons.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.