Last week, four Missouri residents brought a class action lawsuit against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis Circuit Court stemming from the announcement that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is relocating the team to Los Angeles. Kroenke leaves behind more than $100M in debt on the Edward Jones Dome and another lawsuit over the Dome’s “Concrete Ring of Death”. The fans claim that Kroenke mislead them and other Rams’ fans to believe that the team would remain in St. Louis and that they relied on Kroenke’s deception in purchasing tickets, merchandise, and concessions.
The Fans point to a number of quotes from Kroenke reflecting his so-called intentions to keep the Rams in St. Louis after he purchased the team in 2010, including:
- “It is not our desire to ever lead the charge out of St. Louis.”
- “I’m going to attempt to do everything I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis.”
- “I’ll do my damnedest” to secure the Rams’ future in St. Louis.
They go on to allege that, despite these sound bites to the contrary, Kroenke never intended to keep the team in St. Louis. To support this position, the fans quote the Mayor of St. Louis, Francis Slay (who has been Mayor since 2001):
The notion that the Rams put forth consistent efforts to negotiate a solution to their stadium situation dating back to 2002 was most disturbing. I have been Mayor of St. Louis since then and I – to this day – cannot ever remember meeting Stan Kroenke, much less engaging with him in any conversations about the future of NFL football in St. Louis. It’s not for lack of trying.
The fans argue that, because of Kroenke’s deception, they, and other Rams’ fans, suffered a loss equal to the cost of the tickets, merchandise and concessions purchased from the Rams.
The Fans’ Legal Case
The fans sue under a single Missouri state law, the Merchandising Practices Act. Under this law, it is illegal for a person to use “deception, fraud, … misrepresentation, … or commission of any material fact” in connection with the sale of merchandise. The law is intended “to preserve fundamental honesty, fair play and right dealings in public transactions” and is similar to many other state statutes seeking to protect consumers from deceptive acts of businesses.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The proposed class is a large group with the potential to have a massive damages total.[/pullquote]
One of the initial challenges that the fans face is proving that Kroenke deceived them. Reading Kroenke’s quotes carefully, he never actually promises that the Rams will stay in St. Louis. On the other hand, he does clearly state that he will do his best to keep them there and, based on the Mayor’s quotes, he did not follow through with that promise.
Assuming that the Fans can demonstrate that Kroenke’s and other Ram executives’ statements, as described in the lawsuit, are deceptive, the next hurdle will be to certify the class. In addition to the four named Plaintiffs, the proposed class includes any Missouri resident who purchased tickets, merchandise, or concessions from the Rams between April 21, 2010 and January 4, 2016. As you can see, this is a large group with the potential to have a massive damages total (all ticket, merchandise, and concession sales by the team from 2010-14).
Notably, Plaintiffs only seek relief under state (and not federal) law. This keeps the case in Missouri state court, which the plaintiffs undoubtedly hope will provide a favorable venue and jury pool, considering how St. Louis residents currently view Kroenke:
— Roy White III (@RDubThree) January 15, 2016
Prior Fan Relocation Lawsuits
Fans have not had much success suing franchises based on relocation. In fact, the Rams themselves have defeated a relocation related lawsuit before. When the team moved from L.A. to St. Louis in 1995, a fan sued claiming that the team had breached its contract with season ticket holders because they were unable to renew season tickets in L.A.
The court dismissed the case stating, “just because a team has played for years in a particular location and has always done something a particular way does not mean that it must always do so.” The court went on to note that the Plaintiffs only course of action was to “give up on the team when he felt it had given up on him.”
After Art Modell relocated the (old) Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996, two lawsuits were filed against the team. In the first, an angry fan sued the team because the announcement midseason of the move deprived fans of “the entertainment, the aura, the enthusiasm of a Cleveland Browns Football team in 1995, and in the future.” As you may have guessed, the court dismissed the case (in other news, “the entertainment, the aura, and the enthusiasm” still have not returned to Cleveland football).
In the second suit, a fan claimed that the Browns breached its contract with season ticket holders because the value of their remaining game tickets were diminished after the midseason relocation announcement. Five years after the suit was filed, and after Plaintiffs were able to certify their class, the parties settled the case and each class member (season ticket holder for that season) got $50.
The overriding theme in these lawsuits (as well as other lawsuits where fans attempt to sue teams) is that fans have an exceptionally difficult time demonstrating that they were injured (a requirement in almost all civil cases, including this one). When a fan purchases a ticket to a sporting event, they buy a license to attend the game and nothing more. For example, when a fan sued the New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, and the NFL for $61M based on alleged damages due to the Patriots alleged actions in the Spygate scandal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit stated:
[Plaintiff] failed to set forth a legally cognizable right, interest, or injury here. At best, he possessed nothing more than a contractual right to a seat from which to watch an NFL game between the Jets and the Patriots, and this right was clearly honored… [His ticket] unambiguously stated that ‘[t]his ticket only grants entry into the stadium and a spectator seat for the specified NFL game.’…Here, [Plaintiff] undeniably saw football games played by two NFL teams.
In this case, the fan plaintiffs will likely run a similar barrier. As noted earlier, one thing that the Plaintiffs are required to show is an ascertainable loss of money. In an attempt to show this, they claim that they were deceived in purchasing tickets, merchandise and concessions. But when they bought their tickets, they went to the game. When they bought their team jerseys, they wore them to games. When they bought their hot dogs, they ate them.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When a fan purchases a ticket to a sporting event, they buy a license to attend the game and nothing more.[/pullquote]
In other words, how did the fans lose money even if Kroenke deceived them? If the fans had prepaid for 2016 season tickets and the team was moved, there would be an ascertainable loss of money because they paid for something that they did not receive. But that is simply not the case here.
Similar to the many cases before it, Rams fans are likely to have a difficult time proving that Kroenke injured them by moving the team to L.A. It might be time to “give up on the team when he felt it had given up on him.” At least spring training is right around the corner.
Can’t get enough? Read the full lawsuit: