The NFL will pay $790 million to settle a lawsuit over the Rams' relocation

The Rams' owner, Stanley Kroenke, is anticipated to pay the full sum, putting an end to a four-year legal dispute over the team's 2016 relocation to Los Angeles.

According to two persons who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the NFL has agreed to pay the city and county of St. Louis $790 million to settle a four-year lawsuit over whether the league broke its own relocation criteria to allow the Rams to relocate to Los Angeles in 2016. A league spokesman confirmed that a deal had been reached, but he wouldn't say how much it was worth.

In a legal suit, the city, county, and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority claimed that Rams executives, NFL officials, and other club owners pressured them to try to build a new stadium to keep the franchise. Officials in St. Louis spent $17 million on drawings and plans for a new stadium, but the league ignored them without explanation, according to the complaint, and club owners opted to allow the Rams to go to California.

Rams’ owner Stanley Kroenke, who has been attempting to limit his involvement in the lawsuit in recent weeks, is expected to reimburse the league for the majority or all the settlement.

The pay-out comes on top of the $550 million relocation fee that Kroenke paid to the N.F.L. for the right to move to Los Angeles. He has also spent roughly $5 billion to build SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., which the Rams share with the Los Angeles Chargers, and which will host the Super Bowl in February.

The victory is bittersweet for St. Louis. While the settlement money will help offset some of the financial losses from tourist and entertainment fees, it will not compensate for the emotional trauma of losing a second NFL franchise.

The Cardinals left the city in 1988 and relocated to Arizona. The Rams were brought to St. Louis from Anaheim, Calif., in 1995, in part because it had already built a domed stadium, but the team's lease with the NFL franchise allowed them to look for other venues afterwards.

When Kroenke bought the Hollywood Park Racetrack, which sits on 260 acres of ground in Inglewood, Calif., in 2013, the city's anxieties escalated. The Rams then refused to sign a long-term contract to stay in St. Louis, increasing the chances of a move.

To fight back, Missouri's then-governor, Jay Nixon, convened a task committee that devised a plan for a new outdoor stadium near the Mississippi River, complete with a naming rights partner and public funds to cover some construction costs.

At the same time, a group of six NFL owners urged that the league allow the Chargers and Raiders, who were both looking for new stadiums, to work together to develop one in Carson, Calif. Despite this, the league's owners voted 30-2 in January 2016 to allow the Rams to relocate to Los Angeles. The Chargers were given the option of moving into the Rams' new stadium as a consolation prize if they were unable to find a new home in San Diego.

In 2017, a group of lawyers led by Bob Blitz, a member of the Missouri task force, filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of the city and county of St. Louis, as well as the stadium authority, which no longer had the Rams as its anchor tenant.

“The Rams and the N.F.L. knew that Plaintiffs were spending vast amounts of time and money to develop a new stadium complex financing plan and encouraged Plaintiffs’ commitments through misrepresentations regarding the process and the Rams’ intent,” the lawyers wrote in their complaint.

The settlement, which came just weeks before the N.F.L.'s trial in St. Louis was supposed to begin, was a rare and public defeat for the league. The league fought the lawsuit because it didn't want to set a precedent by agreeing to a settlement or risk an adverse verdict that would encourage other communities to challenge the league after their teams left.

However, the risk of team owners being forced to testify about how the league decides whether a team can move, as well as the possibility of $1 billion in damages, prompted the league to negotiate an arrangement.

The NFL has fended off challenges from communities it has previously abandoned. The city of Oakland, California, most recently sued the league when the Raiders were allowed to relocate to Las Vegas in 2017. That complaint, however, was brought in federal court and is currently being appealed.

The league's complaint was filed in state court, and the judge in the case repeatedly denied the league's requests to relocate the trial. Much of the issue was kept under wraps, but the league had a string of losses, and a trial in front of a jury of a dozen Missouri residents was on the horizon unless the league opted to settle.