NEW YORK -- Stan Kroenke, the Los Angeles Rams owner, might be trying to renege on his promise to pay tens of million of dollars in legal costs related to his team’s 2016 departure from St. Louis. This revelation angered many NFL owners Tuesday, according to ESPN sources.
According to people present and those briefed, the legal update by NFL general counsel Jeff Pash during the owners' first meeting in person since December 2019 stunned many.
A spokesperson for the league declined to comment Wednesday. A spokesperson for the Rams also declined comment.
The St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority has been suing the Rams and other owners for four years. They claim that the league violated its relocation guidelines, misled people about its plans to leave St. Louis, and have cost the city millions of revenue. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the league a hearing and it has lost many of its motions.
All 32 teams were involved in the case, and it has cost millions of dollars in legal fees. Kroenke covered most of these costs under an indemnification agreement that he signed as part a relocation. Some teams have had to pay eight figure bills.
Kroenke and the league have been in talks for some time about the scope of the indemnification arrangement. However, owners were first informed of a shift in Kroenke's position shortly before Tuesday's meeting at InterContinental New York Barclay hotel. ESPN reported that the executives of each team were asked out by sources. Only owners, representatives from teams that did not send owners, and senior league executives remained.
Pash gave a detailed update on the lawsuit. Pash also included the latest argument of the league that the January trial should be moved to St. Louis to ensure an impartial jury.
ESPN reported that Kroenke stood up and said that he had invested in the league, and that he did everything the league asked. Kroenke apologized for the ongoing suit, but claimed that it wasn’t his fault.
Kroenke answered a few questions. Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner and a strong Kroenke advocate who supported the relocation and helped push it through during a contentious vote on January 2016, said that Kroenke had done a lot to help the league.
Sources told ESPN that Goodell then asked Kroenke to leave, an unusual request. He did.
Pash then informed the room that Kroenke's lawyers had notified the league that Kroenke was challenging the indemnification agreement signed by all three teams in the L.A. Derby in 2016, the Raiders, Chargers, and Rams on the morning before the vote.
Teams have been required over the years to provide eight years worth of telephone records and emails in order to be discovered. Christopher McGraugh, a St. Louis Circuit Judge, ordered Kroenke and five others to furnish financial records in order to assist a jury in determining potential damages. McGraugh also fined Clark Hunt, John Mara, Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots, and the Cowboys’ Jones for not providing complete records earlier in October. Kroenke has been paying almost all of the bills.
Sources claimed that the room was stunned by Pash’s update on Kroenke’s view of the indemnification arrangement.
Jones addressed his colleagues and reminded them that Kroenke was a good partner in engineering the league's return home to Los Angeles after 22-years absence and building a stadium many involved in its construction call "our $6 billion stadium."
Kraft was next, according to sources who said Kraft seemed to be speaking for everyone in the room about Kroenke's unfair position. Kraft spoke out about all the legal problems he'd had to go through. He was a member of a six-member L.A. committee in 2016. He claimed that if financial records were required to resolve lawsuits, it would discourage other owners from being on league committees or making consequential decisions for them.
Mark Davis, Raiders owner, reminded the room of the 2016 recommendation by the L.A. Committee to build a new Raiders-Chargers stadium in Carson, California. This vote was 5-1 in favor of Kroenke’s Inglewood project.
Mara spoke next, saying that Kroenke's position change was absurd and that the owners would not have voted to allow Kroenke to leave if he hadn't agreed to indemnify them. He stated that anyone in Houston at the time of the vote would have known this.
According to sources, Jones claimed that he had been handling the legal issues as well. He indicated that Kroenke and the league were not responsible for the problems, but that one owner's deposition was questionable. The name of the owner was not given.
In 2019, however, an ESPN report about the Rams-Chargers marriage revealed that the discovery in the lawsuit had led to an email from an official associated with the Carson proposal. This email detailed to St. Louis authorities all of the ways that the Rams appeared to have violated the league's relocation policy. It also provided a blueprint for St. Louis' lawsuit.
Kroenke's source says that now the Rams owner feels that some legal issues arose from that email. He believes that he should not be held responsible for any legal fees after building the stadium and agreeing that the Chargers would be a tenant at $1 per year.
Jones and Pash had a brief exchange, after which Jones asked Pash if Kroenke had attempted to settle the lawsuit.
Sources told ESPN that Pash had replied yes. Jones stated that Kroenke's settlement amount was in the billions. Pash declined to confirm the figure, but a source who was directly familiar with the matter told ESPN that it was less than one billion. However, he told the members of the meeting that it was higher than the net worth some of those present.
Sources described multiple owners speaking out.
Jim Irsay, Indianapolis Colts, suggested that Kroenke's owners call Kroenke into the room to answer any questions from members. Jones claimed that Kroenke should not do this without an attorney.
Art Rooney II, Pittsburgh Steelers, said that lawyers should handle all of these matters. Mara reiterated that no one in the room would vote for Kroenke's motion if it wasn't for full indemnification.
Sources told ESPN that Jones indicated at one point that Kroenke could sue the league for the indemnification agreement. Jones said that in 1995, the league sued Jones over sponsorship deals. He countersued.
The St. Louis lawsuit is currently in discovery and will go to trial Jan. 10, just weeks before Kroenke’s SoFi Stadium hosts Super Bowl.
The owners-only session also covered other topics, such as a discussion on the recent emails concerning the investigation into Washington Football Team workplace misconduct.
After emails from 2011 revealed that Jon Gruden had used anti-gay, racist and misogynistic language in coaching, Davis accepted Jon Gruden’s resignation. Goodell asked Davis why he only learned about the emails before they became public.
Goodell assured the room that Goodell wasn't responsible for the leak. Tanya Snyder (wife of WFT owner Dan Snyder) apologized to the group for the damage the league had suffered due to the investigation.