After busy week, ownership lineup suddenly takes on a different look

LURING THE NFL

May 21, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

In one of the most dizzying weeks in Baltimore's nearly 10-year odyssey to return to the National Football League, two potential team co-owners have dropped out, another joined a bid for the Orioles, and a baseball investor signed on with a football effort.

"It's almost too complicated for us simple Southerners to follow," said Max Muhleman, a consultant working on behalf of the rival NFL expansion effort of Charlotte, N.C.

Football officials say the changes have not hurt Baltimore's chances, but, for competitors, the topsy-turvy developments are tempting targets.

"I don't think people like change," said Pepper Rodgers, spokesman for the Memphis, Tenn., NFL bid. Memphis faced questions about its application when Federal Express Corp. Chairman Frederick W. Smith dropped out and then rejoined the football effort, he said.

"People like stability," Mr. Rodgers said.

Baltimore has had little of that in the past seven days. On Friday, James G. Robinson, a Hollywood movie producer and controlling partner of Tom Clancy's NFL bid, said he was dropping out of the race because Mr. Clancy had joined a group seeking to buy the Orioles.

On Tuesday, Mr. Clancy, a Baltimore-born novelist and one of the best-known potential NFL investors, told the Maryland Stadium Authority that he was out, too.

Later that day, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass phoned the NFL and asked if he would endanger his football chances by taking a small stake in the baseball effort.

The league said no, so he joined Mr. Clancy in an investment group led by local attorney Peter G. Angelos that is preparing a bid for the Orioles.

If his group wins a football team, Mr. Weinglass, a Baltimore native who is chairman and founder of the Merry-Go-Round clothing-store chain, said he will sell his stake in the Orioles to the other investors -- and bring Mr. Angelos into the NFL partnership.

The NFL is scheduled to announce a franchise fee for expansion teams next week, and award two teams this fall. Competing cities are Baltimore, Charlotte, St. Louis, Memphis and Jacksonville, Fla.

"It's a little surprising to hear," said Jerry Clinton, an investor with St. Louis' bid, about developments in Baltimore. "We're right on the doorstep of something happening. I would have expected this much earlier. I can't say it will help or hurt."

Joe Ellis, NFL director of club administration, said the NFL was not concerned about Baltimore's changes.

"They [Baltimore] still have two very strong ownership groups, and the application will be viewed just as positively," Mr. Ellis said.

"You've got a unique situation down there, and we understand the willingness of people there to keep the Orioles local."

New York Giants part-owner Robert Tisch said: "I'm not concerned from Baltimore's perspective. As long as Boogie gives us a letter saying he will get out of baseball, that's OK. Everybody's a free agent."

Even most of the competitors predicted the changes would have little long-term impact, as long as the city had a strong ownership group when it came time to award a franchise.

"I would be surprised if the expansion committee has even focused on ownership yet," Mr. Muhleman said. More likely, the NFL is looking first at market strength and stadium quality, he said.

Members of the NFL's five-man expansion committee were unavailable yesterday.

Baltimore is the only finalist city with more than one potential ownership group. In addition to Mr. Weinglass, Florida-based corporate investor Malcolm Glazer is bidding to own a team in Baltimore (Mr. Glazer's son and spokesman, Bryan, declined to comment on this week's changes but said: "We're fully committed to bringing a football team to Baltimore").

Baltimore's rivals have hinted in the past that the dueling ownership groups were a sign of disunity. So going from three to two groups could be a step in the right direction.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and head of the city's NFL effort, said the city has two strong ownership groups and that Mr. Weinglass' Orioles investment was "more of a show of support" than anything else.

"Not only is Boogie 100 percent behind football, but he has

brought Angelos behind it," Mr. Belgrad said. Mr. Angelos, a former Baltimore city councilman and mayoral candidate, heads a law firm that has represented thousands of workers claiming asbestos-related illnesses.

As for Mr. Robinson and Mr. Clancy, Mr. Belgrad said: "They said they will do anything they can to help the effort. . . . We will be speaking to them about sky boxes."

The city will be seeking sky box and club seat renters this summer as part of an exercise to prove football can thrive here.

Mr. Angelos said that having him and Mr. Weinglass own part of each other's teams would guarantee cooperation and should enhance both.

"It's something the partners on both sides are looking forward to doing, to be active in both sports franchises, having one franchise support the other rather than one compete with the other," Mr. Angelos said.

NFL bylaws prohibit the majority owner of a football team from having any stake in another major-league club. Some team owners have and are doing this -- Edward Bennett Williams zTC owned a part of both the Orioles and Washington Redskins for a time -- but they were "grandfathered in" after the rules were established, a league spokesman said.

However, neither NFL nor Major League Baseball rules would prohibit Mr. Angelos from having a minority interest in a football -- team, according to football and baseball spokesmen.

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