Which NFL teams will go to LA? No one can predict, but here are some predictions anyway

I’ve been trying to think of what to say about yesterday’s NFL non-action around moving teams to L.A. or not — in short, the owners of the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers submitted presentations on the same L.A. stadium plans that we all already knew about, then no one decided anything — and while I was thinking, Barry Petchesky of Deadspin went and did it for me:

It’s a simple matter of math at this point. The NFL is going to move at least one team—Giants owner Steve Tisch says “it’s better than 50-50” that a decision will be made by the 2016 season—and Oakland is the only chopping-block city currently unwilling to offer its team’s ultrawealthy owners hundreds of millions of dollars to stay. Mark Davis has no attachment to the Bay; sentiment doesn’t factor into it.

Good for Oakland, honestly. It—like St. Louis, like San Diego, like every single American city—has much more important things to spend its limited funds on. But this remains sad news for Raiders fans, who seem likely to lose their team, possibly as soon as next year. It’s not fair, but the NFL has all the leverage, because if Oakland won’t make any concessions, there are other cities that will. The only way the stadium scam will ever be stopped cold is if politicians everywhere simultaneously decide sports leagues don’t deserve handouts. It’s hard to see that happening in the near future. It’ll be even harder when politicians look at football-less Oakland, and know the NFL will be more than happy to call their bluff.

Well, maybe. Undeniably, Oakland has the least close to anything resembling a viable football stadium plan: Whereas St. Louis is offering the Rams to go halfsies on a stadum and isn’t sure how it’ll come up with its half, and San Diego has a plan to pay for maybe a third of a stadium that the Chargers hated the minute it left the presses, Oakland has hopes that maybe one day there will be a plan that can actually debated, but not very strong hopes at that. So with three teams and five slots (counting L.A. as two), it’s hard to picture Oakland not ending up an empty chair when this is all over.

That said, it’s never as simple as all that. What happens next is the NFL owners all sit around and figure out how to decide on which teams should most logically move for next season — oh, sorry, they figure out how to exploit the current situation to make the most money. For the time being (the course of the 2015 season, certainly), that should mean speaking ever more loudly about how two teams will be moving to L.A. in 2016, in order to keep fans and elected officials in St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland panicked that they not be one of the two.

What happens, though, if — okay, when — we get to January and the three non-L.A. cities are still all in their various states of incomplete deals? Sure, you can set ever-shorter deadlines, you can fly Roger Goodell into town to frighten the state legislature, but eventually you need to decide whether to have your bluff called or not. Which means deciding whether to take the offers on the table from existing cities, or selecting Door #2, whether that be Inglewood or Carson.

And here’s where we run into unknowns again, because we simply don’t have a clue how lucrative the L.A. market is compared to the certain cost of being on the hook for paying for virtually all of the cost of building stadiums in Inglewood or Carson. And for that matter, the NFL may not know either. It all remains a massive game of chicken with unreliable information all around, which is no doubt one reason why the league has been stalling as long as it can, in the hopes that somebody makes somebody an offer they can’t refuse.

If I had to guess, I’d see three options. In one, Rams owner Stan Kroenke gets approval to move to L.A., then either the Raiders or Chargers join them. Whichever team is left out immediately starts threatening to move to St. Louis in order to get a better deal out of it current home town. In the second, the Chargers and Raiders move to Carson as planned, and Kroenke probably takes whatever deal he can get in St. Louis, though he’d lose a ton of leverage at that point. (One reason why option one is more likely to be approved by the NFL.)

Option three is the status quo: The NFL owners can’t come to an agreement, and decide to let things drag on into 2016. I’m not sure I’d say it’s likely — there’s little to be gained from stalling much longer than they have already — but it is 100% possible. Just keep in mind that none of this has to do with what makes sense: It’s a bunch of people demanding ransom in a chaotic situation, and those can often end in unexpected ways.

St. Louis mayor: No need for vote on Rams stadium subsidy, because football is “fun”!

If you saw Tuesday’s report that the city of St. Louis had lost its defense of a referendum requirement for any spending on a new Rams stadium and wondered, “Hey, given that the city is for the Rams stadium and was against the referendum requirement in the first place, how hard did they really fight for it?”, well, you can start wondering a lot harder:

Mayor Francis Slay said Wednesday that he would not call for a public vote on a new downtown football stadium, nor would he appeal a judge’s decision invalidating the city ordinance requiring such a vote.

Moreover, a National Football League team is so important to the region and its residents, the city does not have to break even on its investment in the new stadium, Slay said in his first interview after the judge’s ruling this week.

“Having an NFL team in a city is really, I think, a huge amenity,” he said. “It’s one of the things that make living in a big city fun.”

Okay then! The mayor thinks that the NFL is fun, fun enough to be worth losing money on (he doesn’t say how much money), so why ask his constituents what they think? That’s what Rudy Giuliani would have called the absence of leadership, though some people might have another word for it.

Anyway, there’s still a chance that Jeanette Mott Oxford and friends will be able to intervene with an appeal of this week’s ruling, so stay tuned. I’d say it’s a sad day when citizens have to sue their city to get it to enforce its own laws, but then Giuliani was ahead of the curve on that, too.

St. Louis judge tosses out ballot requirement for Rams stadium, says voters didn’t say “Simon says”

Both my laptop and I are sick today (pretty sure neither of us caught it from the other), but I do need to note the big development in St. Louis, where Circuit Court Judge Thomas Frawley ruled that the 2002 city ordinance requiring a public vote before taxpayer money is spent on a new sports facility is “too vague to be enforced,” and struck it down, meaning it wouldn’t apply to any new Rams stadium.

The backstory, as I described it back in April when the state filed suit against the city ordinance and when I didn’t have a headache:

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.

Frawley has now essentially agreed with the state dome authority, saying that because the 2002 referendum was silent on such matters as whether police and fire services can be supplied to a new stadium without a vote, the whole ordinance needs to be scuttled. There’s still the question of how strongly the city defended the ordinance in court, given that Mayor Francis Slay supports building the Rams stadium — a group of citizens, including some who introduced the 2002 initiative in the first place, sued to intervene in the defense, but Frawley tossed out their request as well. (A separate lawsuit filed by the citizen group is still in progress, and they will likely try to appeal yesterday’s ruling as well.) So for now, the law of the state of Missouri is that if the people of St. Louis wanted a say in spending money on sports venues, they should have worded it more carefully.

For now, though, this is obviously a big step forward for the Rams stadium plan, since it now means the state just has to worry about how to finance $400 million for a new stadium plus $100 million left on the old one from the same taxes that were approved to build the Jones Dome — which seemed a mathematical impossibility back when it was first proposed, even before Gov. Jay Nixon said he’d skip using the $6 million a year in county tax money if it would require a public vote. (The county had its own public-vote requirement passed in 2004, and it remains in place.) That would leave $18 million a year to pay off $500 million in expenses, which simply can’t be done — but at least if Nixon can conquer math, he no longer needs to worry about winning over St. Louis voters as well.

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.