St. Louis backer quits NFL bid Orthwein forsakes chief Baltimore rival to focus on Patriots

September 10, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

In a development that could enhance Baltimore's chances of rejoining the NFL, the chief investor of St. Louis' rival expansion football bid abruptly quit as head yesterday and scaled back his share of the partnership.

James Busch Orthwein -- the Anheuser-Busch Co. scion whose wealth and connections had contributed significant muscle to the St. Louis effort -- issued a surprise, five-paragraph statement saying that he no longer would be majority owner and chairman.

Mr. Orthwein, who has feuded recently with other investors in the group, said he will remain a limited partner in and supporter of the group trying to bring an expansion franchise to his hometown. But he said he will concentrate on trying to sell the New England Patriots, which he bought last year to protect a loan to a team investor.

St. Louis, one of five finalists as the NFL prepares to award two expansion teams next month, has been viewed as an especially important rival to Baltimore because the cities are the biggest in the country without NFL teams and both are offering to build publicly funded stadiums. But there have been suggestions that the league would be reluctant to return to two places where it once had teams -- so-called "old markets" -- and both cities lost teams in the past decade.

"What it does is just highlight Baltimore's strong points. The stability. Baltimore has no question marks," said Joel Glazer, whose father, Malcolm, a Florida-based corporate investor, is hoping to own the franchise if it is awarded to Baltimore.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and coordinator of the city's NFL search, said, "It's a new development. I've gone through so many of these. . . . It doesn't serve a purpose to speculate."

Another person involved in Baltimore's expansion bid, speaking on the condition of anonymity, was not as reserved: "He [Mr. Orthwein] iseverything to them. It took them a long time to get him into the group, and they said at the time they needed his money. I think his leaving speaks for itself."

The remaining partners say they have enough money to continue with the deal, which will cost in excess of $170 million, and suggest the reduced role for Mr. Orthwein would eliminate distractions caused by the unresolved Patriots situation.

But the absence of his name at the top of the organization could be a setback for St. Louis in the last month of its expansion bid.

St. Louis is competing with Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Jacksonville, Fla. The cities are scheduled to make presentations before committees of owners later this month and must, by Oct. 11, provide the league with a $20 million "good faith" letter of credit.

Part of Mr. Orthwein's appeal as a team owner stemmed from his role as a director and significant stockholder of the St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch brewery, the NFL's largest advertiser.

He owns about $63 million worth of its stock. And as owner of the Patriots, he has gotten to know the 28 team owners who will vote on where the new franchises will go.

"It's a bit stunning," said Max Muhleman, a consultant working on behalf of Charlotte, the other perceived front-runner with St. Louis. "There are some very stiff financial requirements ahead that require a lot of cash. . . . He was to be responsible for a very large portion of the money.

"It's a serious financial challenge. They have to reshuffle the ownership deck. The stakes are high, and time is short. I'm sure. . . the other partners will do it," he said.

Pepper Rodgers, working on behalf of Memphis, a city that has scrambled to find its own investors, said: "All of the sudden you've lost the majority money man. Having looked at all the problems we've had . . . it's not a good situation."

In his statement, Mr. Orthwein said: "The next months would require an extraordinary investment of time and resources in both New England and St. Louis and I do not want to leave the Patriots before finishing the job I started."

Jerry Clinton, a St. Louis-based beer distributor and former president of the NFL partnership, will now assume the role of majority investor and chairman.

"We thought this fit Jim's agenda better and my agenda better," Mr. Clinton said.

"We had differences in management styles -- I'm not going to try to hide that. . . . It had a great deal to do with it," he said.

Specifically, Mr. Clinton said he favored hiring a strong general manager and being accessible to the public as a team owner. Mr. Orthwein, he said, preferred a scaled-down front office.

A reduced role for Mr. Orthwein removes questions about what Orthwein would do with the Patriots, and strengthens St. Louis' bid, Mr. Clinton said. The remaining group has the resources to go it alone but may add other partners, he said.

"Nothing has really changed," he said. Mr. Orthwein joined the St. Louis partnership in 1990 and became chairman and majority owner the next year.

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