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A Patriot or a traitor? Glazer may drop Baltimore for New England franchise


Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer has clouded Baltimore's football expansion picture by entering into serious negotiations to buy the financially troubled New England Patriots.

Norman Braman, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, said yesterday that he put Glazer in touch with Victor Kiam, the majority owner of the Patriots, about three months ago.

Glazer and sons Bryan and Joel are one of three groups that have paid the $100,000 application fee for a possible National Football League franchise in Baltimore.

Braman said when Glazer called to introduce himself, "I told him he should also investigate purchasing the New England Patriots, and I gave him Victor's phone number."

Kiam has been unable to meet a $38 million payment due to the Patriots' minority owner, Fran Murray, who is attempting to get an expansion franchise for St. Louis, and has been trying to find a buyer for months.

Neither Kiam nor Murray was available for comment, but a Patriots official said that both will be in Florida this weekend to continue talks with Glazer that have reached the "serious" stage and could be completed in two weeks.

A second Patriots official told three sources that Glazer was negotiating to buy the team.

Herbert J. Belgrad, the chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, wasn't told by Glazer that he is attempting to buy the Patriots. But he said Glazer's defection wouldn't hurt Baltimore's effort for a NFL expansion team and might even help because he assumes Glazer would vote for Baltimore in the expansion derby.

Glazer's bid, however, raised several questions about what effect it would have on Baltimore's attempt to get an expansion team. They include:

* Would the loss of Glazer's ability to write a check for a franchise be perceived as a setback for Baltimore?

* Would the group headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the head of Merry-Go-Round, a nationwide chain of clothing stores, be perceived as strong enough to get the franchise?

* Would Glazer attempt to move the Patriots to Baltimore in the future if the state of Massachusetts doesn't build him a new stadium?

* Would Glazer return to the Baltimore picture if the negotiations with the Patriots fall apart, or would he have burned his bridges here?

There are no easy answers to those questions, but Belgrad continued to be upbeat about the city's hopes of being named one of the two expansion teams this fall.

The new teams are scheduled to begin playing in 1994, but the NFL's expansion timetable could be derailed if the league doesn't have a collective bargaining agreement with its players.

If Glazer winds up owning the Patriots, Belgrad said, "I hope it'd mean another vote for Baltimore. Since he was willing to invest $100,000 to apply for Baltimore, I'd have to believe that he is favorable toward Baltimore and would be a strong proponent."

Neither Glazer, who lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., nor his two sons, Bryan, who lives in Chicago, and Joel, who lives in Washington, returned phone calls the last two days. Malcolm Glazer's secretary said he wasn't expected to be in his office until Monday.

The Glazers are scheduled to be in Baltimore for the Ed Block Courage Award Dinner on Tuesday, although it's uncertain if they still will attend in light of the negotiations taking place.

It is assumed that if Glazer buys the Patriots, there will be a provision that he has to keep the team in New England for at least a period of time while Massachusetts officials try to arrange financing for a new stadium.

The Patriots' Foxboro Stadium is in an inconvenient location and lacks revenue-producing amenities such as luxury boxes and club seats that help make pro sports teams profitable.

Neil Austrian, the president of the NFL and top aide to commissioner Paul Tagliabue, met Tuesday in Boston with Gov. William Weld and Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn to discuss the possibility of getting the team a new stadium to keep it in New England.

Although the team has 10 years left on a lease with K. Corp., the private company that owns Foxboro Stadium, it is believed it could buy out of that arrangement.

Since Boston is a top 10 television market, the NFL is working behind the scenes to find ways to keep it in New England. NBC-TV's broadcasting agreement with the NFL expires after the 1993 football season. If the Patriots leave before then, the network would demand compensation for losing a major market.

When Belgrad was asked what he'd do if Baltimore was bypassed in the expansion derby and Glazer called two years from now offering to move the team, he said his first move would be to call the commissioner to see if the league would oppose the move.

If Glazer buys the Patriots, it will be the second time in the last year that Baltimore has lost a major potential owner. New York businessman Robert Tisch pulled out of the Baltimore expansion picture a year ago to buy half of the New York Giants.

But Belgrad remains confident that Baltimore will get one of the two expansion teams even without Glazer in the picture.

"I don't think we'll lose anything because we will have one or two strong viable groups," he said.

He first mentioned the group headed by Weinglass because he has outlined his financial backing, saying his group is worth up to $350 million. The other group is headed by author Tom Clancy, who has yet to detail his financial outlook.

"I've very optimistic," Belgrad said. "I have no problem being one of the top three at the top of the stretch."

In most expansion speculation, Baltimore is listed as third behind St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C. But when Braman, a member of the expansion committee, was asked if he felt that St. Louis and Charlotte are the front-runners, he said, "I don't think there is a front-runner in this thing."

It would probably be cheaper for Glazer to buy the Patriots than purchase an expansion team. Kiam and Murray, who originally combined to invest $86 million in the team, now need $110 million to break even.

An expansion team probably would cost between $125 million and $140 million.

At a special meeting in Dallas yesterday, the owners discussed the possibility that the NFL could buy the team on an interim basis to solve Kiam's financial problems and then sell it again.

No recommendation was made after the 90-minute meeting. The topic will be discussed at the annual weeklong meeting in Phoenix next month if Kiam hasn't sold it by then.

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