St. Louis' NFL expansion group is close to signing up the major investor it has been looking for, a development that could hurt Baltimore's chances of rejoining the league.
Jerry Clinton, the lead investor in the city's expansion effort, said he has narrowed the search to one investor with whom he is exchanging documents toward completing a deal. The new investor could be identified as early as today.
Clinton could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he would relinquish his role as controlling partner in favor of the new investor, whom he declined to identify.
The investor, he said, is not from St. Louis but is familiar to the NFL, which should speed his acceptance.
St. Louis' bid for an expansion team had been considered a front-runner until last month, when former controlling partner James Busch Orthwein reduced his investment after bickering with Clinton. That sent the community racing to line up new investors.
Riverboat gambling executive John E. Connelly of Pittsburgh is also available to join the group, but as a minority investor, Clinton said.
Although there are five finalists for two expansion teams to be awarded as early as next Tuesday, many view it as unlikely the league would pick both Baltimore and St. Louis, two cities that lost teams. The other contenders are Jacksonville, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C.
Meanwhile, a group of investors interested in buying the New England Patriots from Orthwein and moving them to Connecticut yesterday submitted a $133 million contingency offer.
Francis W. Murray, who has shown up in NFL ownership groups in St. Louis, Boston and Hartford, Conn., said a group he assembled has forwarded its offer to a Wall Street investment firm hired to consider Patriots offers.
The deal is contingent on St. Louis winning an expansion franchise next week, league approval to move the Patriots to Hartford, and a lease agreement with Connecticut. Lawmakers in Connecticut have approved $252 million to finance a stadium in downtown Hartford.
NFL officials privately say they would prefer the club stay in the Boston area, and the current owner, Orthwein, says that is his first choice.
Legislators in Massachusetts are debating ways of funding a stadium/convention center there, but the project is uncertain.
Orthwein says he would sell his Patriots stock before the St. Louis team takes the field, eliminating a conflict of interest.