Angelos' NFL road is bumpy Bid for Redskins faces owners loyal to Cooke, cross-ownership rule

Record price expected, too

Orioles owner: 'I told them I was interested'

October 31, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mike Preston and John Steadman contributed to this article.

If Orioles owner Peter Angeles is able to make a successful bid for the Washington Redskins, he'll probably have to pay a record price for an NFL franchise.

He'll also have to overcome two obstacles -- the fact that most NFL owners prefer to keep the team in the Cooke family, and the league's cross-ownership rule, which currently wouldn't permit the Orioles owner to own an NFL team.

Since the owners changed the cross-ownership rule just last year to allow Wayne Huizenga of the Miami Dolphins and Paul Allen of the Seattle Seahawks into the league, stretching it again shouldn't be a problem if Angelos has the high bid.

The bidding for the Redskins will likely top the $530 million price that Al Lerner recently paid to obtain the expansion Cleveland franchise.

"There's not another one like it because of its tradition and the fact it's in the nation's capital," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of the Washington franchise yesterday. "It most assuredly will be the highest price ever."

The record price would be supported by the revenue streams provided by the team's new stadium that features 80,000 seats, including 15,000 pricey club seats (although not all are sold), and 208 luxury boxes.

According to information provided by the New York investment firm of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter to prospective owners -- and confirmed by an NFL owner who didn't want to be identified -- the Redskins have an operating profit of $70 million a year, although that's reduced by the debt service on their new stadium.

The Redskins' profit margin is probably topped only by the Cowboys, who have 375 luxury boxes. Jones wouldn't say just how profitable his team is. "I'm mum on that," he said.

Although Angelos has obtained a 100-page confidential information memorandum filled with figures detailing the team's revenues, cash flow, expenses, stadium debt and terms of the sale, he has yet to actually make a bid for the team.

"It's kind of premature even though I told them I was interested. I got the preliminary information about the parameters of the sale from the investment banker who's arranging the sale," Angelos said from his office.

The Cooke legacy

When Jack Kent Cooke died in April 1997 at age 84, he stipulated that his estate, worth up to $800 million, be sold so the proceeds could be placed in a foundation that will award scholarships to underprivileged children.

His son, John Kent Cooke, has stated publicly and privately that he has a financing plan to buy the team although his father didn't leave him enough money to buy it.

If Cooke's bid is similar to other bids, the NFL owners are likely to approve the sale to him.

"I'm for John Cooke," said Dan Rooney, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I would like to see him stay."

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson seconded the motion.

"I hope John is able to keep the team. It's been in the Cooke family for decades," he said.

Cooke has represented the team for years at league meetings since his father rarely attended them and he has operated the team since his father died.

But if Cooke can't match the highest bid, the highest bidder would likely get the nod of the other owners.

Cross-ownership rule

If Angelos has the high bid, they would likely change the cross-ownership rule the way they did in March 1997 when they voted 24-5-1 to allow Huizenga and Allen into the league.

The new rule stipulates an owner can own other teams in the same town (Huizenga owns the baseball Florida Marlins and NHL Panthers) or a team in a town that doesn't compete with an NFL team (Allen owns the NBA Portland Trail Blazers and Portland doesn't have an NFL team).

Since Angelos' Orioles compete with the Ravens, he would be in violation of the current rule.

But the NFL has a long history of tailoring its rules to specific situations. When Huizenga bought the Dolphins in 1994, he said he'd sell his other teams if the league didn't change the rule by 1996.

When commissioner Paul Tagliabue couldn't get the votes to change the rule in 1996, he simply extended the agreement a year until he could get the votes. It helped that Huizenga threatened a lawsuit and the league has a long history of losing court battles.

"Are you kidding? That's a sure bet," said one owner, who didn't want to be identified, when he was asked if the league would change the rule for Angelos.

Angelos has made earlier attempts to join the NFL fraternity. After Baltimore failed to get an expansion team in 1993, Angelos spoke to both Los Angeles teams at the time -- the Rams and the Raiders -- about moving here. He also made an offer to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for $210 million in January 1995.

So he isn't exactly a stranger to the NFL owners.

Opposition, resignation

But Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots who is chairman of the finance committee, was skeptical that the owners would change the rule for Angelos or any other owner competing with an NFL team.

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