With a day to go before the NFL is scheduled to award a pair of expansion franchises, St. Louis is expected to announce today who will lead its football effort -- and there is a possibility the city will end up with two rival groups.
NFL sources say investors led by L. Stanley Kroenke, a Columbia, Mo.-based developer and relative of late Wal-Mart nTC founder Sam Walton, appear close to announcing a group.
Kroenke has passed background checks by the league and has a group of co-investors who can perform the deal, said one NFL source.
Jerry Clinton, head of the St. Louis NFL Partnership, whose name appears on the lease to the city's convention center/stadium now under construction, is negotiating a merger of his group and Kroenke's.
If those talks fail, St. Louis may enter tomorrow's meeting with two potential ownership groups, Kroenke's and Clinton's, an NFL source said. Now, only Baltimore has two groups vying for ownership.
If, as speculated, the league opts for one new city and one former NFL city in awarding teams, St. Louis is Baltimore's chief rival.
The sudden appearance of two St. Louis bidders could further the image of disunity in the city's candidacy. However, by itself, Kroenke's group would present a stronger financial package than Clinton's.
"I would think they would announce something today," said the source.
Clinton is also a founder of the partnership, and he took over as the majority investor after New England Patriots owner James Busch Orthwein cut his investment on Sept. 9. Orthwein had been controlling partner of the group, but cut his stake to 12 percent after bickering with Clinton.
If a merger can be negotiated with Kroenke, the developer apparently would be the lead investor.
Houston businessman Robert McNair also has expressed interest in St. Louis, but those talks have faltered, in part over the role co-investor Fran Murray would play. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today that McNair has dropped out.