Memphis, Birmingham get CFL expansion OK

January 28, 1995|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The Canadian Football League's board of governors approved expansion teams for Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala., yesterday, but put off a decision on the fate of three ailing franchises.

The league set a Feb. 15 deadline to resolve crises with the Las Vegas Posse and Ottawa Rough Riders, both of whom are searching for new owners, and the Sacramento Gold Miners, who are looking for a new home.

Although there were reports this week that the Posse would be relocated either to Los Angeles or Jackson, Miss., it now appears the franchise will be suspended or folded.

"With Las Vegas, we have a couple of deals that are percolating," said commissioner Larry Smith. "If people deliver on what they say they can do, there's a very interesting opportunity for Vegas in a couple of sites. If they can't deliver, we'd be better off to mothball that franchise for a year."

Ottawa is close to reaching a league mandate of 15,000 season tickets and $1.5 million in corporate support, but still must come up with a new owner.

And Sacramento owner Fred Anderson might have given up on the idea of taking his team to Oakland, Calif. He spent the week in San Antonio exploring a lease for the Alamodome, where he faces long odds.

"I'm going to be there in '95," Anderson said during league meetings in Edmonton, Alberta. "I just wish . . . I knew where I was going to be."

The Alamodome is prohibitive because of the lease arrangement held by the NBA's San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs control all but two of the luxury suites and all dates to the building. They also get all revenue from signs and concessions. A football team would be required to pay $25,000 each time it needed to change the dome from a basketball facility to a football facility.

It now seems possible that the Gold Miners also might shut down for the 1995 season if Anderson is unable to find a place to play.

The good news for the governors was that Birmingham and Memphis have deposited $10 million each with the league for expansion fees and operating costs in 1995. Although the league had been seeking an expansion fee of $6 million per team, both new franchises will enter for $3 million. That will provide a recommended cushion of $7 million for operating expenses.

The league approved Federal Express chairman Fred Smith's application for Memphis despite stadium problems and a late start in ticket sales.

The Liberty Bowl cannot accommodate a 110-yard CFL field with 20-yard end zones. Pepper Rodgers, team president and coach, said renovations will cost $1.7 million and that Smith has agreed to pay for the changes.

Birmingham's franchise will be owned by A. L. Williams, an Atlanta businessman who sold his insurance company to Primerica in 1989.

Forbes Magazine reported that Williams sold the company for $75 million in cash and a 20-year incentive program that will pay him $35 million a year. Retired and living in Amelia Island, Fla., Williams first considered putting a team in San Antonio until he discovered he could get a better lease for Birmingham's Legion Field.

Renovated in 1991, Legion Field has a capacity of 83,091, but will be limited to between 40,000 and 60,000 for CFL games. It will have 15-yard end zones instead of the standard 20 yards.

The CFL is the fourth professional football league to hit Birmingham. The previous ventures -- the World Football League, the U.S. Football League, and the World League of American Football -- all folded.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.