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.
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.
FoS reader Brian Sweeney writes in with a hot tip: Search for “LA” on the NFL’s official team site, and you get this:
Now, this is almost certainly some artifact of a legacy link to the Rams’ former incarnation, which somebody decided should point to the St. Louis Rams page. (Especially given all those broken image links in there.) Still, it doesn’t come up with the Oakland Raiders page, now does it? Coincidence?
Conspiracy-theorize away, people of the Internet.
For some reason this took a day to filter over to my news feed, but on CBS Morning News on Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said for the first time that only one of the two L.A. stadium plans can succeed:
“We have two proposed, but we have to pick one or the other. It’s not likely we’ll pick both stadiums.”
This isn’t really any surprise — it’s hard enough to picture that there’s enough money from naming rights, personal seat licenses, etc., to get one nearly-$2-billion stadium built, so two would be downright inconceivable. Not to mention that one of the stadiums, the one in Carson, is supposed to be home to two teams (the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders), and there’s no way the NFL is going to let three teams move to L.A. all at once.
This whole L.A. battle, really, is turning into a multi-sided mess, where the various team owners are trying to pit Inglewood and Carson against officials in St. Louis and San Diego and Oakland in competition for who can offer the most lucrative incentives; and where they’re simultaneously all fighting for their fellow owners’ blessing as the team(s) that should get to take over the L.A. market and leave their old ones behind. If any team ends up getting to do that. Or wanting to.
Basically, remember that sports leagues aren’t secret cabals filled with supervillains working in lockstep; they’re more like the Evil League of Evil, simultaneously teaming up and competing with each other. I have no idea who’s going to win this battle right now, but suffice to say that none of the rich guys involved are going to be any less rich at the end of it.
The question of who can authorize taking tax revenue currently going to pay off the Edward Jones Dome and using it to fund a new St. Louis Rams stadium has gotten ultra-crazy, with these latest developments in the state legislature:
- The state senate passed a bill banning using the money to pay for a new stadium.
- House leaders got the funding ban stricken from the bill in conference committee.
- Senate leaders said the governor would go ahead with selling bonds based on the Jones Dome money at his own risk, because “we’re not technically obligated to pay” and could just refuse to appropriate funds to pay off the bonds, and bondholders wouldn’t like that much, now would they?
The plan to use the Jones Dome payments for a new stadium is in plenty of trouble as it is, because then somebody would still have to pay off the Jones Dome, and in the governor’s current plan that somebody is the city of St. Louis — which has a law prohibiting new stadium funding without a public vote, and lawyers willing to sue to enforce that provision. But state senators threatening not to pay the governor’s IOUs are a nice added touch. At this point, Nixon might want to just hold a referendum already, and pull out all the stops trying to win it — though it’d undoubtedly help if Rams owner Stan Kroenke were showing any interest in helping to do so, since he’s the guy with the money for a big-bucks ad campaign. What’s the world coming to when you can’t even count on the local billionaire to buy votes?
So St. Louis residents are threatening to sue to enforce the city’s requirement for a public vote on any stadium spending, eh? Well, the state-run Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority will see your threat and raise it, filing an actual suit on Friday against the city of St. Louis to exempt itself from any requirements to let voters decide on spending public money on a new Rams stadium:
The suit, filed in state court, says a 2002 city ordinance requiring a public vote is “overly broad, vague and ambiguous,” and asks the judge to rule that it either doesn’t apply in this case, conflicts with state statute or is unconstitutional.
Definitely one of those. Definitely.
To help understand what’s going on here, let’s travel back in time to 2002, when the Cardinals were in the midst of arranging public funding for a new stadium of their own, and local activists were trying to head off the city and county governments from approving it without letting actual residents have a say. The city referendum requirement passed 55-45% in 2002, and a similar county requirement by an even larger margin two years later, but courts subsequently ruled that since the money had already been allocated, it couldn’t be rescinded by the public vote requirement. All future stadium projects, though, would have to go before the voters.
That’s the clause that the Jones Dome authority is now objecting to, and it’s making a rather strange stand, arguing that because the referendums’ backers drew them up so stringently — they require a public vote on any “financial assistance” including tax breaks, tax-increment financing, free land, loans, or city or county bonds — that this is unacceptably broad. If they’d only been reasonable enough to leave some loopholes that the Rams could drive a stadium-sized truck through, then this lawsuit wouldn’t be necessary. Silly voters, expecting to get the right to actually vote on something meaningful.
In case you missed it, Aaron Gordon had a good overview at Vice Sports yesterday of stadium state-of-the-art clauses and how they screw over taxpayers, citing me lots. In particular, Gordon noted that one of the big problems with these clauses — which tons of local governments continue to agree to — is that “state-of-the-artness” is a legally fuzzy concept:
According to the Rams’ lease, such things are measured by at least 15 different components: “everything from luxury boxes to club seats, lighting, scoreboards… regular stadium seating, concession areas, common areas (such as concourses or restrooms), electronic and telecommunications equipment,” as well as locker and training rooms, and the field itself.
But, according to an analysis by Kristen E. Knauf in the Marquette Sports Law Review, this doesn’t provide much clarification. What is state-of-the-art lighting? How does one rank NFL locker rooms? Does a state-of-the-art concession area mean better food, shorter lines, Apple Pay compatibility? The lease doesn’t provide any details. It’s up to an arbitrator to decide, and that arbitrator just so happened to side with the Rams in 2005. That triggered negotiations for a $30 million stadium upgrade, which was completed in 2009.
It’s worth a read, especially if you’re a local government official who is considering signing one of these clauses. In fact, if you happen to be standing near a local government official, consider printing this out and smacking them upside the head with it. History will thank you.
The question of whether the voter-approved law requiring a referendum before the city of St. Louis spends any money on a new Rams stadium isn’t going to be left up to elected officials to decide: St. Louis University law school professor John Ammann and three students have promised to sue the city if it tries to spend any money on the project without a public vote.
Ammann said he believes any city assistance — even vacating streets — will trigger a city law requiring a public vote.
“If one person at City Hall is working on this, well, then that’s financial assistance for the project,” Ammann said. “The law is pretty broad. It says ‘direct’ or ‘indirect.’”
This has been the likely outcome ever since it was revealed that Gov. Jay Nixon’s plan for funding the stadium was to have the city take over bond payments on the old stadium (which, under this theory, is grandfathered because it was approved before the referendum law) and use the state money thus freed up to pay for a new one. Still, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is fairly freaking out, concluding that “If the city has to hold a public vote before devoting its $6 million, NFL owners could question the plan’s legitimacy.” Foolish humans! Legitimate plans are not voted on by the people! They are imposed by the galactic emperor!
I’ve been saying for a while now that the Los Angeles NFL relocation melodrama is likely to drag on most of the year, and now it’s official:
NFL Executive Vice President Eric Grubman, the league’s point man on L.A., dismissed conjecture that a vote of owners is imminent, saying “that’s based on the fact there’s been an awful lot of progress made on the two sites in Los Angeles, and it’s beginning to be tangible.”
“But the fact is we’re not planning for a vote in May or any time soon,” Grubman said. “We have a process. It’s deliberate. There are steps that need to be taken, and I think that’s much more likely to be later in this calendar year at the soonest.”
That all makes sense, as right now the game that the owner of the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders are all playing is to play their home cities off against L.A. to see where they can get the most lucrative deal, and setting an early deadline would only cut off the bidding war prematurely. Still, that “at the soonest” is an indication that the NFL may be ready to let the L.A. war go on into early 2016 — or beyond? — so be ready for a long, long stadium shakedown season before we find out what’s a bluff or whose is going to be called.
It’s not quite building atop the site of ancient Indian burial mounds, but it’s still another sign that the St. Louis plan for a new Rams stadium isn’t going well: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has told St. Louis County officials that he doesn’t want the county involved in the stadium financing plan, because the county would require a public vote and then it might lose, duh.
That would solve one problem, but create another, by blowing open a $6 million a year (roughly enough to pay off $100 million in construction costs) hole in Nixon’s proposed stadium budget, which already has enough holes as it is. Jones Dome chair Jim Shrewsbury, a Nixon appointee, painted this move as a way to convince the NFL that Missouri is serious about getting a stadium passed quickly, but the NFL cares about who’s going to pay for stadiums (preferably not them), not just whether they can proceed without public votes, so this looks like out of a frying pan and into the fire. It’s starting to seem more likely that Stan Kroenke might actually pull the trigger on an L.A. move, though with a $1.86 billion price tag, you have to think that at least part of him is hoping that Nixon finds enough spare change so that he doesn’t have to.