Cleveland-based businessman Alfred Lerner is expected to file an application today to own an NFL expansion team in Baltimore, becoming the third owner vying for a local team.
His emergence, with the encouragement of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, is at least a vote of no confidence for the two other potential owners who have been involved in the effort for more than a year: Florida-based corporate investor Malcolm Glazer and Baltimore-born retail executive Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass.
Although officials would not confirm that Schaefer would endorse Lerner, Weinglass said he was told otherwise during a 50-minute meeting yesterday morning.
"They have informed me that they are going to endorse Al Lerner," Weinglass said last night. "I was shocked when he [Schaefer] told me that one day before the deadline."
Lerner, who must pay a variety of application fees, provide a $20 million letter of credit and a financing plan for the $140 million franchise fee, is believed to be preparing a bid with no partners -- an impressive undertaking given the NFL's lofty price tag.
NFL owners, who are scheduled to award a second expansion franchise Nov. 30 after naming Charlotte, N.C., Oct. 26, have put a deadline of noon today on the four cities to submit ownership changes.
Lerner, 60, a real estate and financial services executive, headed MNC Financial, the state's largest banking company, until its sale this year to NationsBank. He is a part-owner of the Cleveland Browns.
"Their explanation was that I didn't win," Weinglass said. But he added: "We are not out of the running."
THE EXPANSION COMPETITION
Today is the NFL's deadline for applications from prospective owners of expansion teams. A look at where Baltimore's competition stands:
St. Louis: Still the most muddled situation. E. Stanley Kroenke, a Columbia, Mo.-based developer who is related to the Waltons of Wal-Mart fame, has filed the required $20 million letter of credit. Saturday he added John Wallace, chairman of an investment firm, and Marilyn Schnuck, a member of a St. Louis grocery chain, as investors. Kroenke's group deleted John Connelly, president of Riverboat Casinos Inc., because of possible concerns by the league over his gambling involvement.
Kroenke's competition is Fran Murray, who has his name on the lease for the domed stadium now under construction. Murray's finances apparently are shaky, so he might not come up with the letter of credit by today's noon deadline. The third player in this drama is Jerry Clinton, who pulled out, jumped back in and then pulled out again on Friday.
Memphis: Cotton merchant William B. Dunavant heads this bid. Although he talked about dropping out after the NFL delayed its decision on Oct. 26, last week he cited the confusion that surrounds St. Louis' application as one of the reasons his group will stay in the race.
Jacksonville: Lead investor J. Wayne Weaver, who made his fortune in shoe retailing, was angered by the NFL's delay, but has decided to stay in the game. He also has indicated Jacksonville will go after an existing franchise if it doesn't get an expansion team.