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.


The NFL’s official website has a “Los Angeles Rams” page

FoS reader Brian Sweeney writes in with a hot tip: Search for “LA” on the NFL’s official team site, and you get this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 10.57.43 AMNow, 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.

Goodell on L.A. stadium plans: Two enter, only one shall leave

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.

Missouri senate fails to ban Rams stadium funds, threatens to refuse to make bond payments instead

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?

Missouri sues St. Louis to duck public vote on Rams, because not leaving loopholes was “overly broad”

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.