Governor, St. Louis mayor speculate on money or expansion franchise in possible NFL lawsuit settlement

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St. Louis’ and Missouri’s top government leaders were praised on Wednesday for collaboration, teamwork and support for the region's major sports events.

After it was announced the 2030 Presidents Cup golf tournament would be played in St. Louis County, Republican Gov. Mike Parson and Democrat Mayor Tishaura Jones both agreed professional sports require some governmental support. But neither wanted to speculate on a possible settlement of the city’s lawsuit against the Los Angeles Rams and the National Football League.

The lawsuit claims the NFL disregarded its own relocation rules by allowing the Rams to leave St. Louis in 2015. St. Louis lost tax revenue from earnings, hotels, tourism and other sales taxes when it lost the team.

During the news conference, Professional Golfers Association representatives praised the St. Louis business community for its financial commitment and St. Louis Cardinals President Bill Dewitt III highlighted the support of those living within a 200-mile radius of the city.

“You better not talk about St. Louis,” Jones said. “That’s like talking about somebody's momma. Don't do it.”

Rams owner Stan Kroenke wasn’t complimentary of St. Louis as he convinced NFL owners Los Angeles would be a better home for his franchise. After promising to pay any legal fees if sued by St. Louis, last week several media outlets reported Kroenke is going back on his agreement to pay those fees. The case is scheduled to go to a jury trial in St. Louis in January. The NFL was twice denied a motion to move the trial out of St. Louis. The NFL's next step would be an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.

“We have just as much information as you do,” Jones said. “We don't get a lot of briefings. So we are waiting with bated breath to see what happens next. It seems to be going well and my hope is that a fair resolution is agreed to by both parties involved.”

If the case is settled before it goes to trial, some in the legal industry speculate the NFL would pay St. Louis more than a billion dollars. There’s also the possibility of St. Louis being awarded an NFL expansion team as the settlement.

“All I know is that once this is in the past, I would sure like to look at the future to see where we go in this state as far as opportunities for franchises for professional sports,” Parson said.

If St. Louis gets a financial settlement, Jones pledged the funds would be properly spent and accounted for.

“The people elected me to be transparent and be a responsible steward of our tax dollars,” Jones said. “I think that I’ve shown that so far and in my previous eight years as treasurer.”

Jones didn’t have any specific plans for spending more than a billion dollars for the city.

“First, we would have to pay our attorneys,” Jones said. “I think this might be an opportunity to get some low-hanging fruit as far as development, investing in our people and make investments that will be sustainable for many years to come.

“The first rule of finance is never spend money that you don’t have. So I haven’t even thought about how much it is and where it’s going to go. So much is still up in the air. We’ll see what happens.”

Parson said he hadn’t been closely following the lawsuit but hoped the region could soon move forward.

“Major league sports is always a huge issue,” Parson said. “You don’t want the past to ruin your future. Hopefully, they will get this cleaned up and worked out somehow, some way.”

When choosing between a financial settlement or an expansion franchise, Parson leaned toward having a cross-state rival for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

“I would sure be open to that conversation,” Parson said. “I think any time we can get an expansion (team), we’re ready for it, can justify it and make sure we can make ends meet. I think we’re interested in the NFL and any professional sports team coming to Missouri. I think it’s always an opportunity for us. I would say for college (tournaments) as well because those are big events and major pushes for our state.”

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