ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The NFL application of St. Louis, once thought to be a lock for an expansion team, entered today's league meetings in turmoil.
Two investor groups apparently will make pitches before the owners today, the culmination of a series of back-room negotiations that failed to resolve differences between the leaders of the efforts.
A group headed by Columbia, Mo.-based developer L. Stanley Kroenke apparently has the blessing of the NFL. But Francis W. Murray, an investor who has shown up in at least four other NFL deals in recent years, said he will also field a bid and said he controls the lease to the city's domed stadium.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Murray will be allowed to make a presentation today, as will Kroenke.
Although the race remains too close to call, troubles in St. Louis could work to Baltimore's advantage. The two are the "old cities" -- former homes to NFL teams -- in a competition the league has said it might settle by choosing an old and a new market.
The other finalists -- Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Memphis, Tenn. -- never have had NFL teams.
After weeks of trying to find a new lead investor, Jerry Clinton, a St. Louis beer distributor who founded the St. Louis NFL Partnership, announced yesterday that he was not going forward with his application.
His group was badly shaken Sept. 9, when James Busch Orthwein, a wealthy scion of St. Louis, quit as chairman, setting off a scramble for new investors. A number of candidates appeared close to signing, but all backed down, some protesting the role minority investor Murray would play, one NFL source said.
"We got this team down into the red zone and the clock is running out on us, and what we need is a good field-goal-kicking unit to come in and put it up through the uprights and win this thing for us," Clinton said.
That group apparently emerged several hours later, when a partnership headed by Kroenke called a news conference in St. Louis and announced that it was going ahead with a separate bid. The group filed the necessary $100,000 application fee and $20 million letter of credit with the league yesterday.
The group, called the Gateway Football Partnership, consists of Charles Cella, president of a racetrack in Arkansas; Sam Fox, a corporate investor; Fred S. Kummer, head of a design and building firm called HBE Corp.; Charles F. Knight, Emerson Electric chairman; Andrew C. Taylor, president of Enterprise Rent-A-Car; and John E. Connelly, a Pittsburgh-area businessman and riverboat casino operator.
"We're really excited and really enthusiastic about returning St. Louis to the NFL. We believe St. Louis is ready for some football," Kroenke said.
However, Murray appeared later in the day, saying he will pick up the reins and lead the St. Louis NFL Partnership, although it was not clear who the partners would be.
He said he was exercising rights of succession to take over as controlling partner from Jerry Clinton.
"In the absence of him doing what he was charged with doing, I'm picking up the ball and running with it," Murray said yesterday.
He said he would be representing the original members of the partnership: Clinton, Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton, Orthwein and St. Louis businessman Tom Holley. But a spokesman for the former group said it was unknown if any of the members would follow Murray's lead.
Murray said the partnership remains the entity on the lease to the stadium/convention center expansion now under construction in downtown St. Louis.
"That is the basis of our authority," he said.
Murray last week raised some eyebrows by offering to pay the franchise fee for a team in St. Louis and swap the charter with Orthwein, who owns the New England Patriots. In another of his many deals, Murray has offered to buy the Patriots and move them to Hartford, Conn.
Yesterday, Murray said his Hartford partnership would have to continue without him if he got a St. Louis team.
"I'm convinced that St. Louis deserves a franchise, and we're fully qualified to get one," Murray said.
Meanwhile, the last-minute addition of the Kroenke group to the St. Louis application angered at least one rival city's investors.
William Dunavant Jr., a cotton merchant who is heading the Memphis bid, said, "I don't think it's fair.
"It would certainly give you the opinion looking in from the outside that the league liked St. Louis. We have tried to live up to the criteria the league has set," Dunavant said.
THE EXPANSION CANDIDATES
Stadium: 70,000-seat, $150 million stadium to be built by public financing.
Market: Population of 2.43 million (17th among U.S. cities). TV market ranked 22nd.
Ownership: Two groups: Malcolm Glazer, a Florida-based corporate investor, is a sole bidder. Retail executive Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, a Baltimore native, heads a group that includes moviemaker Barry Levinson and ex-Colt Joe Washington.
Pros: Big city, consistently strong financial package; demonstrated fan enthusiasm.
Stadium: 72,302-seat, $160 million stadium to be built by private financing.
Market: Population of 1.2 million (42nd among U.S. cities). TV market ranked 29th.
Ownership: 19-member partnership led by former Baltimore Colt Jerry Richardson, who owns Denny's and Hardees restaurants.
Con: Nagging questions about financing and huge debt load.
Stadium: Proposed $120 million renovation of Gator Bowl, expanding to 82,000 seats.
Market: Population of 943,500 (55th among U.S. cities). TV market ranked 54th.
Ownership: Led by J. Wayne Weaver, who made his fortune in shoe retailing. Group includes Jeb Bush, son of the former president.
Pro: Abundance of club seats (10,000) make it a lucrative place for visitors to play.
Cons: Smallest population of expansion finalists; in a state with two other NFL teams.
Stadium: Proposed $50 million renovation of Liberty Bowl, expanding to 63,000 seats.
Market: Population of 1 million (49th among U.S. cities). TV market ranked 42nd.
Ownership: Led by cotton merchant William B. "Billy" Dunavant Jr. Includes a black investor -- former player and broadcast executive Willie Davis -- as well as Federal Express founder and chairman Fred Smith.
Pro: Ownership group considered one of the most appealing to the league.
Con: Old stadium.
Stadium: Publicly funded 70,000-seat, $260 million domed stadium/convention center already under construction.
Market: Population of 2.47 million (16th among U.S. cities). TV market ranked 18th.
Ownership: Who knows? Shopping-center magnate Stan Kroenke emerged yesterday as leader of a new group that includes Charles Knight, chairman of Emerson Electric; Andrew Taylor, head of Enterprise Rent-a-Car; and Pittsburgh entrepreneur John Connelly. Fran Murray, one of the original St. Louis expansion leaders, heads a rival group that includes Anheuser-Busch heir James Busch Orthwein and former Chicago Bears great Walter Payton.
Pros: Public funding for stadium; largest city without NFL team.
Cons: Divided ownership groups; inability to sell out premium seats.