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Patriots plan hits hurdle

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Moving fee could trip Patriots
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Road Block?
Fee could trip Patriots

By Will McDonough, Globe Staff, February 17, 1999

They sit and wait and wonder, in silence.

Will Bob Kraft have to pay the way they did when they decided to move their teams?

This is a question the National Football League is not prepared to answer yet, and one the folks who own the Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams, and Tennessee Titans have great interest in.

All of them paid big bucks to move, what the NFL calls a ``relocation fee.''

But Kraft told the Hartford Courant recently that he does not anticipate having to pay a relocation fee.

If he doesn't, then the fun will begin. The folks we have spoken with at two of these franchises say that if the Patriots don't have to pay, they won't pay either. That would be a major headache for the NFL.

Moving from Cleveland to Baltimore cost Art Modell, owner of the Ravens, approximately $45 million. He is on the books to pay the NFL $29 million (or $1 million to each other team) for being allowed to move. Also, he had to forfeit his share of what the league will get from the new Cleveland Browns expansion franchise, which is around another $16 million.

The Rams lost a bid in court to avoid paying the $29 million relocation fee, forfeited their $16 million of the Cleveland expansion money, and had to pay more than $25 million to get out of their Anaheim lease.

The Titans (nee Oilers), who relocated from Houston last year, reportedly are down for a $27 million relocation fee, though it is unclear why their price is different from the others. Reportedly, such figures are determined by the league's Finance Committee, of which Kraft is a member.

A league source said no decision has been made on whether Kraft will have to pay a relocation fee to move to Hartford from Boston. But by league rule, he is clearly moving the Patriots out of the ``home territory,'' the stipulation by which the others teams have been hit with the fee.

``Home territory'' is defined as the area within a 75-mile radius of the city to which the franchise was granted, in this case Boston. Hartford, 100 miles from Boston, is outside that.

Kraft, who would have to remove himself from the Finance Committee if it is to rule on a relocation fee, is expected to argue that Hartford is in the same market. It clearly is not.

When Kraft and Governor John Rowland of Connecticut agreed on the deal to move the Patriots last week, the Courant wrote, ``If the league charges a relocation fee -- as it did to the Rams, which paid the league $46 million when the team moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995 -- it could be a problem. The agreement assumes that the league will not impose a relocation fee. If it does, the agreement (Kraft-Rowland) does not bind either the state or the team to pay. It does go on to say that if the NFL imposes an unacceptable condition for the relocation, either party can terminate the agreement after Oct. 31 (1999).''

The people in Connecticut already are very concerned about overpaying to bring the Patriots to the state, and another $30 million relocation fee -- $1 million for each other team in the league, presumably -- could be the deal-breaker. Kraft most likely would have to be the one who decides whether he wants to pay that himself or forget the Connecticut deal.

The teams in Baltimore, St. Louis, and Tennessee, for the most part, have not paid the NFL their relocation fees yet. Now they want to see how Kraft is treated. If he doesn't pay, they won't pay. And if they don't pay, the league will have $85 million at risk.

This problem could leave the door open for the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston to get back into the picture in a big way.

Just about the only one in the league who wants to see the Patriots move out of this market is Kraft. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made it clear at his Super Bowl press conference that he would prefer the team stay in Boston. Gene Upshaw, head of the Players Assoication, said the same thing. And there is little question that the majority of owners across the league favor Boston over Hartford.

However, this state and this city seem content to let the team leave when it wouldn't be that difficult to put together a deal to keep it. But no one in a position of political leadership seems to want to do that.

There is no question that the league would break its own rules to allow Kraft to move to Hartford, despite the problem of the relocation fee.

Ironically, it was the battle for the St. Louis relocation money that solidified the league rules on allowing franchises to move. The city of St. Louis, which is on the hook to pay $20 million of the $29 million owed in relocation, went to court over that, but the court upheld the NFL. After the trial, NFL lead lawyer Frank Rothman was asked what was the most significant thing to come out of it was. He said, ``The court said that our rules [regarding team movement] are valid, that we don't have to vote for any team to move unless the owners decide to do so.''

The two key guidelines for moving are support of the fans, in buying tickets to the games, and support of the financial community, in paying for local radio/TV contracts, stadium signage, advertising, and the like. The Patriots have not had an empty seat in five years, and they claim to have a waiting list that exceeds 20,000. Also, they have had tremendous local support, generating more than $22 million per year from Foxboro Stadium in Patriot-related events, one of the top numbers in the NFL.

In 1987, Bill Bidwill, owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, wanted to move his team. Pete Rozelle, who was commissioner at the time, wanted Bidwill to move to Baltimore and replace the Colts, who had left for Indianapolis. Bidwill opted for Arizona, though, and the league imposed a relocation fee, which was new at the time. Bidwill reportedly paid $7.5 million.

The league tried to make Al Davis pay a fee for moving the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1983, but Davis won a court case that allowed him to move and not pay. Davis is back in court with the NFL in California. The league wants him to pay for moving back to Oakland. He refuses to do so.

It was the first Raiders trial that led the court to suggest that the league draw up its own guidelines for moving, which it did -- the ones that theoretically should prevent Kraft from moving.



 


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