Patriots might not be long for New England If stadium isn't built, relocation is likely

March 22, 1992|By Will McDonough | Will McDonough,Boston Globe

BOSTON -- It took three years for time to run out on Victor Kiam. And if things don't change dramatically in the Boston area quickly, it will take less than that for the Patriots to be playing their home games outside New England.

The fact is, either a new stadium has to be built or the Patriots will be sold out of town. You can bank on it.

James Busch Orthwein is simply an interim owner, as he replaces Kiam in the majority role. He moved into the picture to bail out his friend-partner Fran Murray for two years.

In that time, Murray will try to put together a local group to buy out Orthwein and let him return to St. Louis to head the expansion franchise that will be granted to that city as soon as the National Football League decides to award the two it has promised for 1994.

At this point, St. Louis is the front-runner, and the remaining six in the NFL expansion pool are fighting for the second spot.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said twice last week that Orthwein has made an "iron-clad" legal agreement not to move the Patriots out of New England, which seemed to comfort some that there is no way the team will be moved. Not so.

As Tagliabue said this week, "I have told Victor and Fran in the past that there is no way we could keep a team there in perpetuity."

During the past week, this reporter has learned of some proposed "deals" that were offered around in the past month, which should paint the future of the Patriots more clearly.

Several weeks ago, key members of groups put together to secure an NFL franchise for Memphis, Jacksonville and Baltimore were told the same thing -- they could buy the Patriots as long as they would agree to keep the team in New England "if" a new stadium was built in the Boston area within two years.

And after San Antonio was eliminated from the expansion hunt, people from that city immediately contacted Kiam, but couldn't put a deal together at the last minute.

"[The NFL] told us that if the stadium was under way or ready to get under way in two years, then we could move the team," said a key figure in one of these groups. "But when our people looked at the financial deal to buy the team [from Kiam and Murray], it was so bad we didn't want to have anything to do with it."

The NFL has guidelines under which a team can move with the approval of 21 of the 28 owners. In general, the guidelines say that if a franchise is struggling financially because of low attendance (the Patriots have the worst in the league) and a bad stadium lease (the Foxboro Stadium deal is called by many the worst in the league), and sees no relief from these problems in the near future, it can petition to move.

When Kiam came to town, this reporter wrote that he would fail because the deal he made to buy the team from the Sullivans was so bad financially, it couldn't possibly work. I also said the sale would start the ball rolling for the team to leave New England. There is little doubt that it did, and has.

For a time, I thought I was wrong. That was when the NFL signed the greatest television deal in the history of entertainment. But as it turned out, not even the mega-contract, which has turned out to be a disaster for the networks, could save Kiam.

"You wrote when I came here that I wouldn't be able to make a go of it," said Kiam Thursday night. "I would have bet anything at the time that you were wrong, but you turned out to be right. If I listened to you, I would have saved $20 million."

Now Murray and his attorney, Bob Popeo, will try to put together the group that will buy Orthwein out of the deal, save the team for New England and get a stadium built.

Solid sources say Reebok president Paul Fireman is still very interested in the Patriots and has been making discreet inquiries through a third party.

Those of us who have lived in the area all our lives know the chances of a stadium being built here are slim and none. Bill Weld and Ray Flynn are nice guys, like sports, but do not have the creativity, the clout or the focus needed to get it done.

No stadium can be built here without the Red Sox playing in it and getting the most out of it. They would have to be the prime tenant. Murray and his would-be partners hope to meet with Red Sox owners John Harrington and Haywood Sullivan to see if there is common ground.

Within two years, the NFL will name the two expansion cities. If the announcement were today, St. Louis definitely would be one. Another would go to Baltimore, Memphis, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Oakland or Sacramento. This means that five of those cities would be left out, and in hot pursuit of the Patriots.

This is when the Patriots -- without a new stadium -- would petition to be moved, and get the vote to do so. The league can't hold the team hostage here forever, or, as one likes to say, in perpetuity.

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