NFL expands questions, seeks final answer Weinglass' past enters into owners' discussion

October 15, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer Staff writer John Steadman contributed to this article.

IRVING, Texas -- With less than two weeks to go before they award a pair of expansion franchises, NFL team owners have gotten down to the details that will determine who wins and who loses.

Does a former street scrapper with a ponytail have the right stuff to be a team owner? Is a $50 million face lift of the Liberty Bowl sufficient for NFL standards? And how much debt is too much for groups that are laying out hundreds of millions to join one of the world's most successful leagues?

Committees of team owners looking into expansion met on Wednesday in this Dallas suburb and heard detailed reports on the five finalists contending for two franchises that will be awarded Oct. 26: Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Jacksonville, Fla.

The 11 committee members, including NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, heard about four hours of reports based on material compiled by Citibank, hired to perform financial analyses of owners and proposals, and Warren Welsh, the league's director of security, who supervised character checks of the prospective owners.

No city representatives were present at the meetings.

Questions arose on all of the cities, any of which could tip the scales, but none that would eliminate any finalist, participants said. "It was a very positive meeting," said Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman.

Atlanta Falcons owner Rankin Smith said that the presentations were thorough and detailed and that he was comfortable with everyone still in the running.

Privately, a number of people participating in the closed-door meeting acknowledged some applications resulted in more discussion than others.

In Baltimore, for example, prospective owner Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass received the longest character report of any of the applicants.

Weinglass, who was born into a Baltimore family of modest means and built a nearly $1 billion-a-year retail empire, has been described by childhood acquaintances as a scrapper and hustler in his early days.

He began his business in the 1960s with a shop in Atlanta that sold used blue jeans and marijuana paraphernalia.

He has acknowledged some high-stakes betting but says he gave it up a decade ago when he settled down with a family and successful business, the Joppa-based clothing retailer Merry-Go-Round Enterprises. He is now active in a number of charities and communities.

No Weinglass surprises

Sources in the meetings said Weinglass, 51 but still sporting a trademark ponytail, has been upfront about his past, and nothing was revealed in the presentations that hasn't already been the subject of media accounts.

But, they caution, individual owners, some of whom have received anonymous mailings critical of Weinglass, are bound to react differently to such material.

"Frankly, there's always been some concern about Boogie, but I don't think it's going to be a problem," said one source.

Though some have questioned Weinglass' past, several owners have acknowledged the role a team owner closely connected with a community, such as Weinglass, can play in a franchise's financial success.

Florida-based financier Malcolm Glazer also is seeking a team for Baltimore, making it the only city with two ownership groups. Glazer, also a man of humble beginnings who achieved fabulous business success, is the only prospective owner who is not part of an investment group.

Team owners raised some questions Wednesday about the debt contained in Glazer's application. Contrary to public suggestions, the financier has not officially proposed paying for the team "with a check," but will finance it, as the other groups plan.

"We've got some questions about the equity, but I think they are just questions that can be answered," one meeting participant said.

Bryan Glazer, who is assisting his father's bid for a team, said the NFL seemed more comfortable with their financing the team. But, if need be, his father is willing to pay cash, he said. Some degree of borrowing enhances the tax benefits of the deal.

Asked about Weinglass and Glazer as potential owners, Falcons owner Smith said, "We feel pretty comfortable with them."

Charlotte's debut

Debt is an even bigger issue in Charlotte, N.C., where a group led by ex-Colt and food-service executive Jerry Richardson plans to finance a stadium and team.

After going back and forth, the league persuaded the group this week to reduce from 15 to five years the amount of time it proposes to divert certain visitors' gate receipts.

The Charlotte group has asked for a temporary exemption from a requirement that all money from club-seat fees be shared along with other seat revenue with visiting teams.

Though the owners prefer no diversion of this money, they may be willing to accept it if Charlotte can demonstrate that, after five years, visiting teams would get gate splits competitive with the other cities, a source said.

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