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League Owners Reject Rams' Move to St. Louis

March 16, 1995|T.J. SIMERS and BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PHOENIX — NFL owners overwhelmingly rejected the Rams' proposed move to St. Louis on Wednesday, leaving the team to plot legal action and contemplate another year of football somewhere in Southern California.

Although the NFL never made a specific financial demand of the team, one of the key sticking points in negotiations is the league's desire that the Rams pay at least $20 million into a stadium fund to either help build a new stadium in the Los Angeles area or renovate Anaheim Stadium, sources said. The Anaheim facility is believed to need at least $50 million in renovations.

The stadium fund money would be in addition to the Rams' offer to the league of more than $25 million, which constitutes 34% of the $74 million raised in the sale of personal seat licenses in St. Louis.

League owners voted 21-3 against the Rams with six abstentions, including the Raiders. Only Tampa and Cincinnati joined the Rams in voting for the move.

"They arbitrarily decided we should develop a stadium trust fund for Orange County or Los Angeles," said John Shaw, Ram president. "It's an idea that's just been floated in the last few days and I still don't know what it means. There's no precedent for it, and I still don't know what they're talking about."

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue also said negotiations broke down over a request by Fox TV, which paid $1.58 billion to broadcast NFC games for four years, that it be compensated for the loss of its team in the Los Angeles market.

Shaw said the league never intended to approve the move and accused Tagliabue of not informing owners of the team's offer of $25 million from seat licenses.

"The other owners will know about it--only when they read it in the paper," said Georgia Frontiere, Ram owner.

A league spokesman said, "That's not true. Ownership was fully informed of the Rams' offer."

Tagliabue said the Rams' terms failed to follow shared revenue guidelines in the sale of personal seat licenses.

In St. Louis, government officials and civic leaders who worked to bring the team to their new $260-million stadium reacted angrily and vowed that court would be the next venue for the fight. Missouri Atty. Gen. Jay Nixon said earlier this week that he would file a federal antitrust suit against the league by the end of the month, claiming restraint of trade, if it blocked the move.

Said George (Buzz) Westfall, St. Louis County executive: "Litigation is usually a last resort, but we're at that point now. If the NFL isn't prepared to play in our stadium, perhaps they'd like to pay for it.

"Maybe we'll have the last laugh if we win a lawsuit, but there's going to be a lot of tears until then."

Tagliabue, while hinting continuing negotiations might still lead to the Rams departure, said the league wants Los Angeles to remain a two-team market and the stadium fund is essential to maintain an National Football Conference identity in the area. The Raiders are an American Conference team.

A Ram official said the Cincinnati Bengals have already expressed an interest in the Los Angeles area if the Rams move on. If the Bengals moved to Los Angeles, it would force the NFL to realign its divisions, something that has already been talked about among NFL owners.

"I swear to you," said a Ram official, "the Rams will eventually be playing in St. Louis."

The Rams' offer of more than $25 million to the league is now off the table, Shaw said. The team has called a meeting for Friday with attorneys and representatives from St. Louis to plan their next move, but club officials conceded chances are now certain they will file an antitrust suit in Missouri.

The NFL is restricted from seeking a favorable venue with a suit of its own until after March 31 because of an earlier agreement it made with the Rams. A Rams official said the most likely course of action will be for the team to play in the Los Angeles area this season after joining with FANS, Inc., the city of St. Louis and Missouri's attorney general in filing an antitrust suit in federal court. By remaining in Los Angeles area the team enhances its claim for damages and eliminates the risk if unsuccessful in court.

"We want to find out the resolve of St. Louis," Shaw said, while indicating he is "extremely" confident of the Rams' chances of being successful in the courts.

Ram legal advisers estimate the team might be entitled to $150 million in damages if left with a two-year courtroom battle to win their way to St. Louis. The team, however, is also concerned about losing prospective minority partner Stan Kroenke, who has made an offer to purchase 30% of the team contingent upon its move to St. Louis.

Like Kroenke, the Rams have the option of walking away from their deal with St. Louis now that they have failed to win approval. Shaw said that option remained open, but the Rams could be in line for an estimated $1.5 billion in damages if successful in court after losing the entire St. Louis deal.

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