This Sunday, there will be two cities full of people rooting against the Los Angeles Rams. Perhaps not explicitly for the seemingly immovable New England Patriots, but definitely against the Rams: New Orleans, thanks to a blatant no-call that sealed their NFC Championship loss, and St. Louis, thanks to the piles of useless St. Louis Rams gear filling their closets.
In their third season since moving back to Los Angeles, the Rams are fighting for the NFL title — following the 11-season-long playoff drought that concluded their time in St. Louis.
“The Rams going back to the Super Bowl has left a bad taste in St. Louis’s mouth, not only because of the way they left, but because of the way that St. Louisans were portrayed as not supportive of a really bad organization,” explains Justin Boyd, marketing director for a chain of Missouri sports bars called Hotshots.
In 2019, the city is still paying for the stadium that it built in 1995 to bring the Rams to St. Louis in the first place. The core of the Rams’ Super Bowl-bound team — Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald — was assembled thanks to draft picks accrued after nine straight losing seasons that St. Louis fans feel were the result of intentional neglect, a sentiment that was reinforced when Rams COO Kevin Demoff spoke about how a four-game losing streak in 2015 helped expedite relocation discussions.
As a result, many football fans in the city now reject the sport — at least at a professional level — on principle. Boyd says NFL viewership at Hotshots has dropped dramatically, and given the fact that the Patriots — the team that the St. Louis Rams lost to in their final Super Bowl appearance — are the only other rooting option, Super Bowl Sunday seemed like it would be unprofitably quiet. Enter schadenfreude: not only is the bar putting Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s face on its urinals and dartboards, as it did just after the team relocated (ex-Rams fans, Boyd says, stole the first run of urinal screens while they were in use), patrons will get $1 off a pitcher every time the Patriots score a touchdown.
“Hopefully, when they lose, we’ll host a big party the day after the Super Bowl with $1 beers for everyone,” says Boyd. “That’s our way to celebrate, and maybe dance in the endzone a little bit on their demise.”
That frustration with the team — and specifically Kroenke — has translated into not one or two, but four lawsuits tied to the Rams’ departure from St. Louis. The broadest in scope is a suit brought by the City of St. Louis, St. Louis County, and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority against the Rams, the NFL and the 31 other NFL teams and their owners alleging breach of contract and fraud, among other things. Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch, the firm representing the city, confirmed that the suit is currently in the discovery phase. Most recently, the Missouri court rejected several motions from Kroenke and the NFL’s lawyers to move the case to arbitration, a net positive for the city.
Additionally in 2016, four fans filed a suit against the team that alleged the Rams violated Missouri’s Merchandise Practices Act by “misleading consumers who bought tickets and team merchandise,” according to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; another seeks to nullify language in the Rams’ St. Louis lease that would have given them favorable future real estate rights.
The sole successful suit so far was brought by a class action of fans who had purchased Personal Seat Licenses, which entitle owners to buy season tickets in a particular seat in the stadium for the duration of the license. St. Louis Rams PSLs lasted for 30 seasons; the team stayed in St. Louis for 21. In a settlement reached last fall, the Rams agreed to refund PSL owners for 30 percent of the cost of the license, and agreed to pay attorneys’ fees in addition to the settlement amount.
“The Rams left here in a way that everybody thought just betrayed us,” says Rick Cornfeld, a St. Louis attorney who specializes in class action suits and a former St. Louis Rams season ticket holder and PSL owner. “I got a call from another lawyer, Tony Bruning, and he said, ‘Rick, we oughta sue the Rams.’ I said, ‘For what?’ And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know — but I’m sure we can figure it out.’”
So they amassed the PSL class action, a decision that — as Cornfeld puts it — was less about the money than it was the desire to get something back for the community and especially for the team’s most devoted fans. They’ve gotten everything they asked for in the out-of-court settlement, but it’s not a cure-all. “People will still feel pain,” says Cornfeld, who took his now-97-year-old father to every home game up until the move.
As anyone who’s loved a sports team can attest to, fandom can be as personal as it is performative and fun (or performative and salty, as might better describe any fans who have had their favorite team move to a new city). In St. Louis, the sting has led to understandable cynicism about the business side of sports.
“The NFL doesn’t care about the fans,” says Boyd. “And it’s not only in St. Louis — look at other markets, like Oakland and San Diego. Ultimately it’s about the cash. I think St. Louis can be kind of a warning signal to all NFL markets that if something better that comes along, they won’t hesitate to throw you away like a piece of trash.”
And if a themed dartboard or urinal cake helps fans feel — for a minute, at least — like they’re the ones in control, where’s the harm in that?