Race for Rams expands, but Baltimore leads pack

June 18, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

As other cities join the race for the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore finds itself in the enviable position of leading the pack.

Officials in St. Louis, led by House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., announced last week that they will visit Los Angeles on June 27, and one potential investor already has visited. Representatives of Hartford, Conn., Memphis, Tenn., and San Antonio also have been in communication with the team.

But for now, Baltimore appears to be engaged in the most serious negotiations.

Prospective team owner Peter G. Angelos, the majority partner of the Orioles, has visited Los Angeles twice, most recently last ,, Friday.

"We are encouraged by the discussions and we intend to continue them," Angelos said.

He said he considers St. Louis his most significant competition, and predicts he will know one way or the other in the next six to eight weeks.

Meanwhile, Angelos also recently has renewed communication with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. Team owner Hugh Culverhouse is ill with cancer and his heirs are expected to sell the team upon his death.

Rams owner Georgia Frontiere has said she is interested in selling a minority share in the Rams and moving the team to a city willing to provide a better deal than it now gets from Anaheim, Calif.

Team officials have said privately they are very impressed with Baltimore's offer of a publicly funded stadium and with Angelos as a potential partner, according to several sources.

Publicly, the team is more circumspect. After last Friday's meeting with Angelos, Rams executive vice president John Shaw told the Los Angeles Times: "They were negotiations, yes, to explore a move to Baltimore. But it's a very difficult transaction and there are still a number of issues on the table.

"It's all exploratory and I don't anticipate a decision soon."

Another group of Baltimore investors, led by attorney Robert Schulman, also has had conversations with Shaw.

Shaw said the team has met with potential investors from St. Louis, and expects to meet with some from Hartford. Representatives of some Southern California communities also have expressed interest, but none is offering a publicly funded stadium, he said.

"I don't know how competitive they can be because they are talking about private funds and the cities we have been talking to have public funds to construct a stadium," Shaw said.

Baltimore's $165 million, open-air stadium would be constructed adjacent to Camden Yards and financed by lottery-backed bonds.

Hartford's legislature has approved bonds to finance a stadium there, and St. Louis already is constructing an expansion of its convention center that will double as a domed stadium.

St. Louis has taken steps to clarify questions about who holds the rights to play football games at the stadium. Disputes over the issue helped sink the city's effort to obtain an expansion team last year.

Hartford's bid would involve investors from last year's failed effort to purchase and move the New England Patriots, including representatives of some Native American tribes in Connecticut who control vast casino revenues.

The effort is led by Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr., who has spoken with Shaw by telephone, but has no visit planned, according to

Douglas Quat, a Weicker spokesman.

San Antonio is offering use of the recently opened Alamodome. But the lease with its current sports tenant, the NBA Spurs, gives that team all revenue from skyboxes. Ex-Spurs owner Red McCombs is involved in the NFL effort and is expected to seek a share of skybox revenues.

Angelos declined to discuss his offer to the Rams, but it is believed to include a significant payment -- estimates range up to $100 million -- for slightly less than half the team's stock and an agreement that the controlling share eventually be offered for sale to his ownership group, which includes Baltimore-born novelist Tom Clancy.

But Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who is planning to build a stadium in Laurel, is expected to mount a fierce challenge to any team 15 miles north in Baltimore.

el,.4l The league constitution does not provide any team exclusive territorial rights, but owners may oppose a franchise on the grounds it encroaches on another's prospective fan base.

League bylaws require approval from other owners before a team can move, although the legality of that control is in dispute. The fact that the league voted to include Baltimore among the expansion finalists may make it difficult for the league to legally claim the city is unsuitable for a franchise.

"Obviously [Cooke] has very strong feelings," said one NFL team owner, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the views of Cooke, who rarely attends owners meetings and is not generally active in league politics, would not necessarily sway a majority of votes from the other teams, however.

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