NFL fears an explosion soon in New England

September 18, 1991|By Will McDonough | Will McDonough,Boston Globe

BOSTON - The clock is ticking on Victor Kiam, and when it reaches the magic number, there will be an explosion heard across the National Football League.

As it stands, Kiam, on the day he observes his third year as owner of the New England Patriots -- Oct. 10, 1991 -- will lose control of the football team, unless. . .

"The league has been trying for weeks to help Kiam out of this mess and it hasn't had any luck," one top NFL source says. "They are still working at trying to get him the money, but as it is, if Kiam had to come up with it today to cover, he couldn't do it."

It's as simple as this. Kiam owes his partner, Fran Murray, $38 million, according to the terms of their ownership contract. Murray wants it on Oct. 10.

Reportedly, if Kiam cannot give Murray the money on that date, Murray, with the help of the league, will run the franchise for a period of 120 days, during which time it would be sold.

"The problem here is that Kiam never expected Murray to make '' the call on him," a source close to Kiam says. "When he did back in July, Kiam was caught off-guard. He has been trying to do everything he can to solve the problem. He knows Murray is in a bind, but at the same time, the league has been able to help him put together a bailout on this thing."

In 1988, Kiam purchased 51 percent of the Patriots from the Sullivan family, and Murray purchased 49 percent. It was written into the deal that at the end of three years Murray could "put" a call to Kiam on what Murray had invested in the franchise, plus a profit. The sum is supposed to be $38 million.

Murray says he needs to cash out so that he can spend all his time on being part of the ownership for a possible expansion franchise in St. Louis. Eleven cities have filed formal applications for an NFL franchise. Expansion is due in 1994, with two new teams. No city or ownership group has been selected, but St. Louis is considered a front-runner.

One easy way out for everyone concerned, except Murray, would be for Murray to extend his "put" another year or two to allow Kiam to get his financial house in order. However, Murray reportedly is being pushed by the banks, with loans well over $20 million to help to pay his end of the Patriots' costs.

The league has a dilemma. Twice in the past year, Kiam has had major offers to move the team. Reportedly, one (thought to be Jacksonville) would have guaranteed him $12 million more than he has been getting in Foxborough.

The NFL, however, told Kiam it did not want him to move. He agreed not to move before 1993, and in return, the league gave him an extension of $10 million on his debt limit, allowing him to increase it from the league limit of $35 million per club to $45 million.

The NFL's television contracts expire after the 1993 season. Sources close to Kiam say the league prevailed upon him not to move because it would allow NBC (which televises AFC games) to reopen the package and negotiate downward, costing the NFL millions of dollars.

Kiam has been trying to find the funding for Murray since July. He has had no luck. He has 22 days left. League sources say his chances of coming up with it are slim.

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