Donald V. Watkins
Competing for the Rams: The Inside Story
Updated: Oct 11, 2022
AN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE ARTICLE
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on September 16, 2022
I have written two articles about my efforts to buy the St. Louis Rams (now Los Angeles Rams) National Football League team. The first article is titled, "Chasing An NFL Team Ownership Opportunity," published on December 9, 2018. The second article is titled, "It's Time To Compete for an NFL Ownership Opportunity, Again," published on October 14, 2021.
In these two article, I shared selected documents that evidenced my quest to buy the Rams. Today, I am sharing the entire Rams transaction file on this acquisition effort, with the redaction of certain financial information that is subject to non-disclosure agreements and
personal identification information.
I hope this file serves as a guide for those who desire to compete for an NFL majority ownership opportunity. I am also preparing to compete again for such an opportunity.
The Thrill of the Chase
I have always wanted to own a professional sports team. On May 30, 2007, I thought the time was right to chase the opportunity to own an NFL team on this acquisition effort and I began the process.
On May 3, 2008, I submitted a package to the National Football League that contained a completed “Owner Background Form” and “Authorization and Consent to Release Records.”
On June 25, 2009, the NFL and St. Louis Rams invited me to make a written presentation to Goldman Sachs in New York regarding the purchase of the Rosenbloom family’s 60% interest in the Rams. Seymour Pierce, Ltd., a 135-year-old, independent London investment bank specializing in the sale and purchase of professional sports teams, arranged my financing for the Rams transaction.
After this presentation, Goldman Sachs vetted my background in international business and qualified me as a bidder for the Rams.
On July 28, 2009, Goldman Sachs invited me to submit a “written, non-binding offer” for up to a 100% interest in the St. Louis Rams Partnership. While the Rosenbloom family was selling its 60% interests, it remained unknown as to whether Rams limited partner Stan Kroenke was selling his 40% interest, as well.
On August 17, 2009, I submitted my written, non-binding offer to Goldman Sachs for the purchase of up to 100% of the Rams. Included in the offer was my detailed plan to liquidate certain Masada Resource Group assets that were owned and/or controlled by me, in my capacity as an equity member in a host of Masada entities and as the holder of a signed purchase option agreement to buyout the equity shares of one of the principal owners of Masada and its parent company.
I secured a $400 million loan commitment letter from Seymour Pierce for 60% of the Rams using my portion of the Masada assets that I owned, controlled, and optioned as collateral. Citibank, N.A. agreed to provide funding for the loan.
If needed, funding to purchase Kroenke’s 40% interest in the Rams was arranged through a Spanish-owned investment bank, via the sale of limited partnerships in the Rams.
After I submitted my bid, Goldman Sachs provided my acquisition team with a Confidential Rams Information Memo and other due diligence materials.
On October 12, 2009, Goldman Sachs notified me that I had advanced to the next round in the bid process. I was invited to make a “written, binding offer” for up to a 100% interest in The St. Louis Rams Partnership.
I was also provided a definitive purchase agreement as part of this bid invitation package.
Goldman Sachs reminded me again, in writing, that Stan Kroenke held a “right of first refusal” in connection with any sale of the Rosenbloom family’s interest in the Rams.
On October 22, 2009, my acquisition team submitted proposed modifications to the purchase agreement to make it mutually acceptable. We also submitted a binding financing commitment letter from Seymour Pierce for the purchase transaction.
The Waiting Game
On October 29, 2009, I submitted the “written, binding offer” Goldman Sachs requested. Afterwards, there was nothing further for me to do but wait to see two things: (a) whether I submitted the best overall bid for the Rams, and (b) whether Stan Kroenke was going to “tag-along” with the Rosenbloom family and sell his 40% interest, or exercise his “right of first refusal” to acquire the Rosenbloom’s interest in the Rams.
The wait was excruciating. Weeks turned into months and the wait dragged on. I communicated constantly with Seymour Pierce and JP Morgan, which had been Masada’s investment bank of record since September 4, 2001.
On the last day of the waiting period, Stan Kroenke notified the Rams organization and NFL that he was exercising his “right of first refusal” to become the sole owner of the St. Louis Rams. I was heartbroken, but not defeated.
I knew the NFL had a cross-ownership rule that prohibited a majority owner from also owning another professional sports franchise in America. Kroenke owned the Denver Nuggets at the time he exercised his “right of first refusal.” I thought there was a reasonable chance the NFL would strictly enforce the rule and reject Kroenke’s deal.
I was wrong.
On August 25, 2010, NFL team owners gathered in Atlanta to consider the sale of the Rams to Kroenke. At the end of the meeting, Kroenke was approved as the 100% owner of the Rams.
Kroenke has since relocated the team to Los Angeles and won a Super Bowl on February 13, 2022.
I am ready to resume my competition for an NFL ownership opportunity, as the team's majority owner. There are only 32 NFL teams in the world and I want to own one of them as part of the Carmichael/Varnado/Watkins family legacy in America.
Interestingly, Birmingham federal prosecutors strenuously objected to my introduction of evidence regarding the Rams acquisition transaction during my 2019 criminal trial. This evidence undermined their theory of the case that I was a shyster. No shyster could have withstood the intense scrutiny to which I was subjected by the NFL, the Rosenbloom family, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Seymour Pierce, and the other investment banks in America and Europe that assisted with the transaction.
Lloyd Peeples, the lead Birmingham-based prosecutor in my case, owned and operated a small pizza store in Homewood, Alabama that failed after one year of operation. Afterwards, Peeples was bailed out of his financial misery with a top job in the Birmingham U.S. Attorney's office. Peeples has a long and documented record of hostility towards socio-economic progress for blacks in America. This record has made Peeples a beloved figure in Birmingham's ultra-conservative, Republican-controlled and dominated, federal courthouse.
During my trial, Peeples admitted to the trial judge that my pursuit of the Rams was a real and legitimate transaction. Yet, the trial judge sustained Peeples' objection and blocked the jury from hearing this evidence.
In July 2022, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals led by 93-year-old arch-conservative Republican federal judge Gerald Tjoflat refused to overturn the trial judge's decision to exclude the evidence regarding the Rams transaction. Tjoflat is the same judge who, in 2014, tried to keep a philandering Republican federal judge in Montgomery, Alabama on the bench after he savagely beat his wife and was arrested for spousal battery.
I am highly confident that I can demonstrate to the NFL how and why I was railroaded during my 2018-19 criminal case in Birmingham. Of particular significance is this fact: In 2015 and 2016, unbiased career economic crimes prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey reviewed the same investor transactions that formed the basis of wire and mail "fraud" claims in the Birmingham case. The New Jersey federal prosecutors were professional in their objective review of the evidence. They concluded that my business conduct in these investor transactions complied with all federal laws. As such, they declined to bring criminal charges against me.
Finally, I recognize that no person has a constitutional right to own an NFL team. However, preparation, focus, perseverance, hard work, luck, and the ability to turn back the new-wave COINTELPRO forces in Alabama that oppose our progress will go a long way toward reaching this personal goal.
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