Judge Approves Class Action Lawsuit for Fans Who Bought Rams Merch Before Team’s Move to LA
This has proven an interesting week to be a Los Angeles Rams fan. On Sunday, the high-scoring NFC champions could muster only a field goal in losing Super Bowl LIII to the New England Patriots, and on Wednesday, the franchise found itself having to deal with another formidable opponent: disgruntled former fans. Their desire for a class-action lawsuit surrounding merchandise and tickets met with favor from a judge in St. Louis, the city that the Rams had called home from 1995 until 2015 when they relocated to California.
The 2016 through 2018 seasons mark the second time that Los Angeles has been the organization’s home base, as the Rams spent the period between 1946 and 1994 in the nation’s second-most populous city. Based on this legal confrontation, one can conclude that the ownership team should have never instigated a return to the West Coast, with Missouri-situated devotees seeking a favorable verdict in their quest to recoup money spent between April 21, 2010 and January 4, 2016.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains, said residents of the Show Me State are declaring “Show me the money,” holding that the organization and the NFL essentially blindsided them concerning the team’s future in St. Louis. That supposed hoodwinking, they contend, led to the now-only-good-for-enjoying-nostalgia purchases of tickets and affiliated products. Dubbed Pudlowski, et al. v. The St. Louis Rams, the lawsuit touches on numerous topics that are quite connected to the promo world, including integrity, honesty, reliability and responsibility.
Aside from teaching us that athletes devote incredible amounts of time to bettering themselves in the pursuit of championships, sports also shows us that nothing lasts forever. Some examples include the death of dynasties, the decision by players to switch teams for better chances at winning titles (not to mention accumulate more money) and the relocation of teams. No matter the size of a market, franchises are all seemingly prone to at least some consideration that they will move.
Across all sports, we have seen some organizations move from fairly big markets to unlikely destinations (think the Seattle Supersonics and their departure for Oklahoma City to become the Thunder) and tiny markets seek greener pastures (consider the Quebec Nordiques rebirth as the Colorado Avalanche), but this situation sees two large cities duking it out over loyalty and presumed hypocrisy. Since the NFL is a massive moneymaker, this incident should be required reading, so to speak, for many reasons, with Chris Creamer, of sportslogos.net, noting that “Depending on the penalty the Rams face (if anything), it could force teams to announce intentions much sooner or add a disclaimer to all merchandise sales acknowledging the risk.”
Imagine buying a ballcap or jersey for your favourite team and then they relocate shortly after?
St Louis Rams fans sure know the feeling, and they've filed a class action lawsuit to recoup some of the money spent on that merchandise.
— Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet) February 7, 2019
If we look at the first element of his contention, one wonders just how much sooner an organization would have to announce its desire to relocate. Would the period need to be extensive? Come to think of it, what would even count as “extensive”? While losing a city to another metropolis certainly hurts, one could argue that fans should suck it up and see transitions as part of business, meaning that teams and franchises would continue to sell, guilt-free, tickets and merchandise of a team that is destined to have a new location and possibly even a new name.
The new city-new name duo often resounds as the more common example (see the earlier mentions as well as swaps such as the Hartford Whalers becoming the Carolina Hurricanes, the Montreal Expos rechristened as the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Thrashers transformed into the Winnipeg Jets). So the fact that the “Rams” nickname, not to mention the retention of the “Chargers” when that team moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, remains intact might be enough reason for the lawsuit to end up failing.
Regarding Creamer’s second point, including a disclaimer might seem very trivial, as the Rams could argue that fans should automatically know that a team could find another home down the road. While relocations are definitely not the norm, there should, hypothetically speaking, come among fans the common sense conclusion that if times become tight enough, their team might need to vacate its given city. The Rams could even argue that buying merchandise affiliated with a team is like buying the jersey of a player on said squad. In other words, much like that performer will not be on the team forever, the franchise could suffer the same fate from a geographic perspective.
We have touched on the mix of feelings that could come about when organizations decide to make changes to their on-the-field representation and also how franchises have elected to market their future as a relocation plan unfolds. Regarding the Rams, whose time in St. Louis yielded the team’s lone Super Bowl title, it could definitely end up that the plaintiffs successfully argue that team ownership violated their trust as impassioned followers. But the decision could also yield the conclusion that the team did nothing to compromise fans’ enjoyment of its efforts, no matter how frustrated they are to be St. Louis inhabitants who have to root for the “home team” in another time zone.