A federal judge in St. Louis ruled Wednesday that the Rams must refund deposits to some fans who purchased personal seat licenses during the franchise's two decades in the city and offer others the opportunity to buy season tickets to games in Los Angeles.
U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr.'s decision came in three lawsuits — later consolidated into one case — filed in the weeks after NFL owners voted in January to approve the Rams' relocation to L.A.
At issue are about 46,000 personal seat licenses to buy season tickets in St. Louis first sold by FANS Inc., the Rams' ticketing agent, and subsequently offered by the franchise.
In the 13-page decision, the judge said contracts with FANS Inc., terminated because of the move and "the Rams must now 'refund … deposit[s].'" How much the Rams could owe isn't clear.
"The court cannot fully grant judgment on the pleadings because the issue of damages will be wholly tied to what constitutes a 'deposit' under the contract," the decision said. "Damages will be determined at a later date."
Marc Ganis, president and founder of the Chicago-based sports consulting firm SportsCorp, helped implement the FANS Inc. deal. He said the deposit language was inserted into the contract to provide refunds in the event the NFL didn't approve the Rams' move to St. Louis in 1995. Even with the ruling, Ganis doesn't believe holders of the personal seat licenses are entitled to any money.
"I was there," he said, "and can tell you unequivocally that the number should be zero."
A spokeswoman for the Rams said the team doesn't comment on pending litigation. The contracts with the Rams, however, aren't contingent on the team playing in St. Louis and remain in effect until 2025. The judge called the difference in language between the contracts "inexplicable."
It's believed that fewer than 2,000 licenses were sold by the team rather than FANS Inc.
"In sum," the decision said, "the Rams agreement requires the Rams to use best efforts to secure tickets for seats at games where the transferred home games are played."
What's meant by "best efforts" in this situation isn't clear.
Two of the lawsuits maintained that the personal seat license contracts remain valid and sought the right to purchase tickets to games in L.A. The decision found those claims to be without merit if the licenses were purchased through FANS Inc.
The third lawsuit, filed by St. Louis resident Ronald McAllister, argued that the team's move invalidated the contracts and asked for refunds. McAllister purchased licenses in 1995 and 2005, paying $1,000 for each.
At least two other lawsuits over the licenses, separate from the consolidated cases, are pending.
Per terms of the NFL's relocation agreement, the Rams can't sell personal seat licenses for the $2.6-billion stadium they're building in Inglewood until February 2017 unless a second team agrees to join them at the facility earlier.
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12:45 p.m.: This article has been updated with a quote from Marc Ganis and background information.