Tampa drives up price without driving away

January 12, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The headline in yesterday's St. Petersburg Times said, "Three bids with Baltimore ties." Steve "Tell Us A" Story couldn't have written it better himself.

Story is one of three trustees conducting the sale of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he's doing his best to scare up a local bid. The greater the panic, the more likely he will succeed.

Oh, Story rejected one local offer this week, but that $163.3 million was small change. By forcing a bid out of Peter Angelos, Story already has driven up the price $40 million -- and the fun is just beginning.

Not that the good people of Tampa-St. Pete should be concerned.

Only Baltimore could produce three bids with local ties, and still get shut out.

How would such a thing be possible? Because Angelos is the only bidder with clear intentions, the only one publicly committed to Baltimore. By now, we know all the players. We don't need a scorecard.

Angelos won't take no for an answer. Malcolm Glazer won't give yes for an answer. And Robert Schulman won't bother to answer at all.

Our best hope is still Angelos.

But the trustees fear him the most.

Yes, the trustees are obligated by their fiduciary responsibility to the Hugh Culverhouse estate, but the late owner's family wants the team to remain in Tampa.

Doesn't that count for something? Culverhouse's widow still lives in Tampa. That's all she needs, to be scorned the rest of her life for accepting a higher price -- and losing the team.

The trustees are obligated to seek the best, highest offer, whatever that means. Basically, they can finesse this any way they want. And that's where Glazer comes in.

Glazer reportedly is offering to keep the team in Tampa a minimum of two years. It's a perfect out for the trustees, and a perfect way for Glazer to endear himself to the community.

Just a citizen of the world, that Malcolm. In the past few years, he has tried to buy every team but the Bad News Bears -- and failed more spectacularly and predictably each time.

Once upon a time, he refused to fork over $50,000 to help promote Baltimore's expansion effort, only to be embarrassed into it. No doubt, he can't wait to pony up his $190 million.

Here's Glazer at McDonald's:

"I'll have a quarter-pounder with cheese, a super-size fries and a large Coke."

"That'll be $3.59, sir."

"Uh, I think I'll try Burger King."

Just because Glazer helped out in the expansion fight doesn't make him a "Diner" guy. He wants to buy a sports franchise for his two sons. His only roots are in his wallet.

Baltimore, Tampa -- it's all the same to the Glazers.

Here's Joel, from June 1992:

"Baltimore's got the money in place for the stadium. Baltimore's got a previous track record. All the other cities talk about what they can do. Baltimore's done it."

Such quotes will make for fine bulletin-board material in Tampa, but who knows if Glazer is offering a genuine $190 million, a sort-of $190 million or a fictional $190 million?

The same can be said of Schulman, who bid for the New England Patriots, then the Los Angeles Rams, now the Bucs, but never names his investors, and never gets a team, either.

Still, Schulman spent all day with the trustees yesterday. He also could offer the two-year guarantee to Tampa -- the guarantee Angelos would never make, and could never make, because everyone would regard it as transparent.

Two years would give the Tampa fans time to demonstrate their support for the Bucs. And two years would give the new ownership time to secure financing for a new, high-revenue stadium.

Of course, Glazer or Schulman would remain in excellent negotiating position only under one condition -- if they had the threat of moving to a $160 million publicly funded stadium in Baltimore.

The moment the state legislature revoked the money would be the moment Baltimore's NFL chances disappeared -- and the moment Glazer or Schulman turned into the next Eli Jacobs, realizing how much he overpaid.

The Bucs are not worth $190 million in their old stadium -- $140 million to $145 million is more like it. And without the leverage of Baltimore, the incentive to build a new stadium would be gone.

Again, all this is contingent on whether Glazer and Schulman are sincere. But even if they're not, it's still possible a big-money local investor such as George Steinbrenner could emerge.

Too bad Socrates Babacas wasn't legitimate.

Just imagine Babacas vs. Angelos.

The loser would have bought Greece.

Anyway, the trustees aren't going to postpone this a year -- things are moving too quickly. But for Angelos to succeed, he'll probably need to raise his bid even higher, then fight the NFL to get the Bucs to Baltimore.

At some point, it becomes economic suicide.

Not to mention, mission impossible.

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