Memphis may abandon NFL pursuit after look at bottom line of expansion PRO FOOTBALL

June 03, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

The NFL hopes of Memphis, Tenn., a city that has been chasing pro football for two decades, appear to be troubled.

Investors in that city's prospective ownership group complained the loudest last week when the league set a franchise fee of $140 million. With interest and terms, the cost of entry into pro football could near $200 million.

William B. Dunavant Jr., a cotton merchant and head of Memphis' bid, said last week: "If the ownership group can make the financing work -- we haven't yet -- and we can come up with a Liberty Bowl that is state of the art, then Memphis can have a franchise. Those are two huge ifs."

Memphis is competing with Baltimore, Jacksonville, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis for one of two expansion teams.

Financial consultants for Memphis' effort met yesterday in New York with NFL officials, going over the terms of the franchise fee.

But as other cities, including Baltimore, prepare to launch a drive to sell premium seats this summer, Memphis has delayed any announcement until its NFL future becomes clearer, said spokesman Pepper Rodgers.

"Until he was sure that the numbers were right and he was still in, he did not want to announce anything," Rodgers said of Dunavant.

"Until you're sure you're playing the game, it doesn't make any sense to put people through this," he said.

Asked if that meant Dunavant was considering abandoning his bid, Rodgers said: "I think they are giving serious thought to how they can make it work -- I'm trying to look at it positively."

Two months ago, Ron Terry, a banker and chairman of the Memphis and Shelby County Sports Authority Corp., said Memphis had "practically no chance" of landing an NFL team without at least a long-term plan to build a new stadium.

Memphis' application calls for an $11 million upgrading of the 27-year-old Liberty Bowl, adding more club seats and sky boxes, to be paid for partly with a rebate of state sales taxes accrued at the stadium.

The sports authority has been studying ways of financing a new stadium or a more extensive renovation of the Liberty Bowl, but has not announced a recommendation.

But Rodgers said: "We don't have time to build a new stadium." The NFL is scheduled to award two teams in October for play in 1995.

The group will decide on whether to proceed in coming weeks when the sports authority completes its work, Rodgers said.

Meanwhile, Charlotte plans to announce today its private financing plan for a stadium and team. Investors have discussed a plan in which season ticket holders would pay one-time fees of $1,000 or more to help finance the stadium.

Baltimore's leaders say they will announce details of their premium seat campaign soon. Jacksonville plans an announcement today; St. Louis' probably will come next week.

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