Baltimore's National Football League hopes, which seemed to be fading in recent weeks, received new life yesterday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went up for sale and Peter Angelos said he would take up the chase.
Officials running the team for the heirs of deceased owner Hugh Culverhouse said they would prefer to sell to someone who would keep the team in Tampa, Fla., but did not make that a condition of sale.
Angelos, majority owner of the Orioles, who is trying to bring an NFL team to Baltimore, said he would renew his offer for the Bucs. Earlier in the year, he offered an estimated $200 million for the franchise if it was moved to Baltimore.
Financial World magazine estimates that the team is worth $142 million in Tampa.
"Clearly, we have an interest, and clearly, we intend to pursue it," Angelos said.
The NFL released a statement in New York, saying, "The league would very much like to see a strong and successful team in Tampa."
The possible sale of the team had been rumored for more than a year, even before Culverhouse, who had operated the expansion franchise since its inception in 1974, died Aug. 25 of cancer. But the trustees appointed by Culverhouse to operate the team and control his other assets had said repeatedly that they were not taking offers.
That changed this week in the face of conflicts between the trustees and Culverhouse's heirs, as well as the team's dismal performance on and off the field. The Buccaneers' 2-7 record and low attendance -- averaging 44,619 so far this year with just 23,000 season tickets -- are among the worst in the NFL.
Minimum salaries required under the league's new union contract also reportedly crimped the finances of the team, once one of the most profitable in the NFL.
"They just decided the team is not going in the right direction, and maybe it's time to sell it," said one source who has discussed the matter with the trustees.
The heirs want to keep the team in Tampa and will have to approve a deal, the source said.
Culverhouse's widow, Joy, and son, Hugh Jr., went to court over the past few weeks in separate complaints related to the handling of his estate. Mrs. Culverhouse is seeking to overturn a property distribution agreement she claims she agreed to under duress, and her son accused the trustees of slander for posting a sign barring him from one of his late father's condominiums.
"Circumstances have occurred to cause the trustees to re-evaluate the feasibility of continuing to operate the team in a trust arrangement," said Steve Story, one of the three trustees overseeing the Buccaneers and the rest of Culverhouse's $360 million estate.
"It has become obvious to the trustees that, for competitive reasons, it is in the best interest of this franchise to expedite a sale of the team as swiftly as possible," Story said in a written statement.
Story said the trustees wanted to begin seeking a buyer now so the new owner could prepare for the 1995 season. He said the team would respond to potential buyers who previously had expressed an interest, as well as to new suitors.
Several Tampa-area investors have expressed interest. Florida-based financier Malcolm Glazer, who unsuccessfully sought a team for Baltimore when the NFL expanded last year, has inquired before and probably would do so again, according to his son, Joel.
Joel Glazer said: "We'd probably keep the team where it is."
Angelos is negotiating to buy the Los Angeles Rams, and expects to visit Southern California during the next week, but the team has indicated in recent weeks that it is leaning toward accepting an offer from St. Louis investors. Angelos also has made an offer for a portion of the Los Angeles Raiders, but owner Al Davis appears to be awaiting a decision by the Rams.
Angelos said Baltimore's offer of a publicly financed stadium, leased on terms designed to maximize team profits, would provide his investor group an edge.