Now there's a headline you probably don't expect in the wake of the King of Pop's death yesterday at age 50. But it's true. Michael Jackson played a significant role in Robert Kraft becoming the owner of the Patriots.
Puzzled? A Forbes magazine feature story on Kraft from September 2005 spells it all out, detailing how the a disastrous business venture by the Sullivan family -- the founding owners of the franchise -- indirectly helped Kraft fulfill his dream of owning the Patriots.
According to the article, Kraft's first step toward purchasing the team was a subtle and savvy one -- he began purchasing land around the stadium.
He wanted to own not only the team but also its stadium and all the surrounding land. He started by locking up purchase rights to 300 acres around the stadium in Foxboro, Mass. The Sullivan family, founding owners of the Patriots, owned the team and the stadium but not the surrounding land. In 1985 Kraft bought a ten-year option on the property, paying a group of Boston businessmen $1 million a year for first dibs to buy the land someday for $18 million. It was risky, but "the option gave me ten years to try to figure out how to get the team," he says.
In the 1986, the Sullivans put the team up for sale, but not the stadium. Kraft decided to hold off on bidding on the team. Victor Kiam -- the founder of Remington shavers who would prove to be an embarrassment to the franchise -- bought the team for $87 million.
Kraft's opportunity may have been lost -- until a failed venture with Jackson and his musical family forced the Sullivans' hand in 1988.
". . . Two years later he snagged the second piece of the puzzle--thanks to singer Michael Jackson. In 1988 Kraft and a partner put up $25 million to buy the Foxboro stadium from the Sullivan family, besting a $16 million offer from Kiam. (Kraft would buy out his 50-50 partner for a small premium five years later.) Charles Sullivan had used the stadium as collateral to fund the Jackson brothers' Victory Tour back in 1984. Over-leveraged, Sullivan went bankrupt and was forced to sell the arena.
By the end of 1988 Kraft had rights to the land, but when the team was put up for sale in '92, he again held off. Kiam sold to James Busch Orthwein, who a year later decided he wanted to either move the team to his hometown of St. Louis or sell it. But Kraft owned the stadium's operating covenant, meaning anyone who wanted to buy the team had to negotiate with him.
Instead and at last, in 1994, he bought the team for $172 million, then the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise. And the rest is history, with the three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots being on a victory tour of their own this decade.
Oh, and here's the kicker: To this day, Kraft keeps a poster from the Victory Tour among his mementos.