Clancy drops NFL bid to pursue O's Author says economics of pro football are deteriorating with new agreement

May 19, 1993|By Jon Morgan and John Steadman | Jon Morgan and John Steadman,Staff Writers

Tom Clancy, the Baltimore-born literary superstar an childhood Colts fan, has officially abandoned his bid for a National Football League franchise in favor of trying to buy the Orioles.

Mr. Clancy said the economics of football have deteriorated badly with a new player labor agreement, uncertain television revenues and the likelihood of a franchise fee in excess of $150 million.

His partner, filmmaker and native Baltimorean James G. Robinson, said he does not want to pursue the team without a major partner and also has dropped out of the race. Mr. Robinson, chairman of an independent Hollywood studio, Morgan Creek Productions, was to be the controlling partner of the football team.

The withdrawal of the Clancy-Robinson group leaves Baltimore with two ownership groups vying for a team: partnerships headed by clothing retailer Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Florida-based corporate investor Malcolm Glazer.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that Mr. Clancy's withdrawal should not damage the city's chances of winning a team.

"Baltimore was in the enviable position of having three viable ownership groups -- three times as many as any other city. Now it only has twice as many. They only need one," Mr. Aiello said.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and head of the city's NFL bid, said: "I don't see this as having any effect whatsoever."

In fact, he said he has received inquiries in recent months from two other investment groups -- one based in Texas and the other in Canada -- interested in bidding on a Baltimore expansion team. He has referred the inquiries to the NFL, he said.

"The NFL has not told me the door is closed and the deadline has passed. But I think as time passes it becomes less likely" that another investor can emerge as a contender, he said.

Baltimore is competing with four other cities for two teams scheduled to be awarded this fall.

The son of a Baltimore mailman, Mr. Clancy attended Loyola High School and Loyola College and was a devout fan of the

Colts before they moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. He has amassed a fortune by writing a string of best-selling novels, beginning with "The Hunt for Red October."

He lives in Calvert County.

"I don't think football would be economically viable. I've seen the finances of other clubs. An owner with another team called and told me to get out, that it wasn't going to be worth the cost," he said.

The new player labor agreement, reached earlier this year after players filed suit accusing the league of antitrust violations, gives players limited free agency in exchange for a salary cap that restricts player pay to a percentage of team revenues.

Mr. Clancy said he is not sure the agreement will withstand legal challenges that could delay NFL expansion. "As sure as God made little green apples, some first-round draft choice is eventually going to test the legality and this will re-introduce chaos," he said.

"I've been involved in this for two years now and I don't see closure. I'm not sure the NFL will go ahead with its commitment to expand," Mr. Clancy said.

MA Meanwhile, the franchise fee, scheduled to be determined next

week, is likely to be $150 million to $175 million, he said. "I'm in good financial shape, but I'm not a plutocrat," he said.

By contrast, owners of the two National League expansion teams that began play this season paid franchise fees of $95 million.

The Orioles seem to be a better investment than football, Mr. Clancy said. He announced several weeks ago that he had joined Baltimore attorney Peter Angelos and contractor Henry Knott Sr. in a bid to buy the Orioles.

At the time, Mr. Clancy said he was not ending his NFL bid. But his group notified the Maryland Stadium Authority on Friday that it was withdrawing. The stadium authority notified the NFL yesterday.

The Clancy-Angelos group is competing with at least three other groups that say they intend to bid for the Orioles. One of them, led by Cincinnati investor and Texas Rangers part-owner Bill De Witt, has offered about $145 million for the team.

A New York art dealer, Jeffrey H. Loria, also has said he is interested in buying the Orioles. A group headed by brothers Douglas, Marvin, Stephen and Lawrence Jemal, owners of Nobody Beats the Wiz, a New Jersey-based chain of electronics and recorded music stores, also is considering a bid.

The Orioles sale has been complicated by the April 19 bankruptcy filing of team owner Eli S. Jacobs. Creditors have said they are interested in getting as high a price as possible for the team, believed to be Mr. Jacobs' most valuable asset.

Mr. Robinson, in France for the Cannes Film Festival, released a statement saying his main reason for withdrawing was "the unfortunate timing of Clancy's decision" to make an "unexpected bid" on the Orioles.

There is not enough time to develop a relationship with a new partner and Mr. Robinson does not want to pursue the bid by himself, the statement said.

Co-investors in the Clancy-Robinson football effort were Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts tight end John S. Mackey and lumber wholesaler Louis J. Grasmick. Neither was immediately available for comment yesterday.

Bryan Glazer, a spokesman for his father's NFL bid, declined to ** comment on Mr. Clancy's decision.

Mr. Weinglass, chairman of the Joppa-based Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, was unavailable for comment, but a member of his investment group, E. Douglas Carton, said: "We always felt pretty confident that if Baltimore got a franchise we'd be the group to get it. I feel even stronger about that now."

Mr. Carton is the founder and owner of the discount retailer C-Mart in Forest Hill, Md.

The other cities competing for an NFL franchise are St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn.

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