Baltimore group among bidders for NFL Patriots


A group of Baltimore investors has filed a bid to buy the New England Patriots, a troubled National League Football franchise that the league has vowed to try to keep in the Boston area.

The investment group, one of at least three known to have filed bids for the team by the end-of-the-year deadline, is sworn to secrecy by confidentiality agreements and can't discuss the effort, said Robert B. Schulman, a Baltimore attorney working on behalf of the group.

"I can confirm that a Baltimore-based group submitted a bid for the New England Patriots," Mr. Schulman said. "Anything else would be premature."

He declined to name any of the members of the group, or to confirm whether the group intended to move the team here, saying such disclosure could jeopardize the bid.

Other sources familiar with the plans, however, said the group did intend to move the team to Baltimore if it were successful in buying it from current owner James Busch Orthwein. A decision by Mr. Orthwein could come as soon as next week, sources said.

Several sources said John Paterakis, owner of the Baltimore-based H&S; Bakery, is involved, but probably not as a lead investor. Mr. Paterakis, an investor in Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass' failed NFL expansion bid, did not return a phone call, and Mr. Schulman said it would be premature to name anyone in the group.

The group would face a number of hurdles in bringing the team to Baltimore, including opposition from other bidders and the league. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said he wants the team to remain in Boston, a major television market for the league.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts this week moved closer to agreeing on a funding plan for a new stadium, something that would make it tougher to win support from the league for a franchise move. League rules specify certain conditions -- such as a lack of public support and the approval of three-quarters of the other team owners -- before a team can leave a market.

However, the league has had bad luck trying to block franchise relocations, and Mr. Orthwein has warned Mr. Tagliabue not to hamper his efforts to sell the team. Some legal experts dispute the league's ability to prevent a move.

Several key Massachusetts legislative leaders tentatively agreed Monday on a plan for a $700 million combined stadium/convention center for Boston, but delayed consideration of the bill until next Monday to build support for it. Some lawmakers oppose public funding for the project while the state's economy struggles to regain its footing.

However, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld was quoted by The Associated Press yesterday as saying: "The Patriots are going to leave Massachusetts over my dead body, and I'm too young to die."

One source familiar with the sale said the Patriots are asking potential buyers to assume all liability stemming from lawsuits that may be filed regarding the sale, including those by the league trying to block a move or by the owners of Foxboro Stadium, who have a lease with the team that runs through 2002.

Also, a group that failed to land an expansion franchise for St. Louis is believed to have made a bid for the team. But that group, headed by real-estate developer Stan Kroenke, has failed to resolve questions about who controls the lease on the stadium/convention center under construction in St. Louis.

Foxboro owners Robert Kraft and Steve Karp also filed a bid for the team last week, said Michael Megna, a financial adviser working on their behalf. He said their bid, which assumes the team would stay at the stadium, was for less than the $140 million asking price.

He warned that the Foxboro owners would have to be bought out of their lease if the team moved.

"Everybody is talking about moving the team, but that is easier said than done," Mr. Megna said.

The Foxboro lease, which preserves for the facility owner much of the revenues from concessions, parking and other sources other teams share in, has hobbled the team's ability to make money, Mr. Orthwein has said. The stadium also lacks many modern fan conveniences and suffers from game-day traffic congestion because of its limited highway access.

Mr. Orthwein, who is from St. Louis and at one time headed its expansion bid, bought the Patriots in 1992 to protect a loan he had made to former part-owner Francis Murray. From the start, he said he intended to stabilize the franchise and sell it, preferably to Boston-based investors. More recently, his aides have indicated the team will go to the highest bidder.

A spokeswoman for Gov. William Donald Schaefer said the governor would not comment on the potential Patriots purchase. Mr. Schaefer met this week with Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who has said he wants to move the team to Laurel, midway between Washington and Baltimore.

Mr. Schaefer has opposed Mr. Cooke's plans, saying he wants a franchise in Baltimore.

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