Patriots sale not contingent on Mass. stadium deal


The owner of the New England Patriots expects to sell the team soon and is not waiting for the outcome of efforts to build a stadium for the team in Boston, according to a representative of the owner.

lTC Walter Metcalfe, an attorney for Patriots owner James Busch Orthwein, said the emergence of a possible stadium deal in the Massachusetts legislature this week will not affect the process of selling the franchise, an effort that has been under way for months.

"We're not delaying it, and we're not speeding it up," Metcalfe said.

A number of potential owners -- including investment groups based in Baltimore, Boston and St. Louis -- submitted sealed bids last week for the team. Metcalfe would not say when bids would be opened, but predicted a decision on the sale would come in the next few weeks.

"I think we're still on the same time schedule. We want to sell the team in January. It would put a new owner in place to deal with the draft and other matters. We think it's the perfect time to sell," Metcalfe said.

Massachusetts lawmakers and Gov. William Weld on Monday struck a tentative deal to build a $700 million, domed stadium/convention center in Boston. The project, funded in part by a 10 percent ticket surcharge, will be considered by the state legislature beginning Monday.

There is opposition in Massachusetts to building a stadium with public funds while the state wrestles with financial troubles, but the governor and heads of the state Senate and House have declared support for the measure.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has expressed a desire to keep the team in Boston, and supported Orthwein's effort to replace Foxboro Stadium, a facility the team says is outdated and financially untenable.

Construction of a new stadium would make it tougher to win league permission for a franchise move, although some experts dispute theability of the NFL to prevent team relocations.

"In many ways, that is a judgment for the buyer. Those who are interested in keeping the team in Boston need to have a facility to play in," Metcalfe said.

"There is a national market for an NFL franchise. The value of these is set on a national market," Metcalfe said. Sources involved in the team's sale say the asking price is $140 million -- precisely the fee the league charged its two most recent expansion teams -- but Metcalfe wouldn't discuss specifics of the bidding.

Despite Orthwein's support for putting an NFL team in his hometown of St. Louis, bidders from that city have no formal edge in the effort to buy the team, Metcalfe said.

Orthwein once headed the St. Louis expansion effort, and was the only team owner to support the city in the league's recent expansion to Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. Baltimore and Memphis, Tenn., also were passed over in expansion.

"There's no inside track prescribed in the process. It is to find the best bidders," Metcalfe said. The sale is being brokered by Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street financial services firm.

However, Metcalfe stopped short of saying the team simply will go to the highest bidder, saying he could not say what factors would be used to determine the winner. "There are so many elements that I'd be chasing ghosts to even speculate on what they are," he said.

One element likely to bedevil the new owners is the lease at Foxboro,which runs through 2002 and reserves for the landlord much of the money from parking, concession and other sources that NFL teams often keep.

Representatives of Robert Kraft, whose family owns Foxboro since buying out co-owner Steve Karp last month, have said in the past that whoever buys the team will have to honor the stadium lease, including playing there.

David Engel, an attorney for Kraft, declined to comment on that yesterday, but disputed comments in The Sun yesterday from Michael Megna, a financial adviser who has worked for Kraft. Megna said a new owner may be able to buy out the lease and that Kraft had entered a bid for the team that was less than $140 million.

Engel said yesterday that Megna does not speak on behalf of the Kraft family, which signed confidentiality agreements with the Patriots, nor does he have knowledge of the bid. Megna said yesterday he was misunderstood.

Maryland lawmakers were split on the implications of the Patriots' bid filed by Baltimore investors.

Local attorney Robert Schulman confirmed that a Baltimore group he is involved with has made a bid, but declined to name its members, citing the confidentiality agreements.

Supporters of Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's plans to finance a new stadium at Laurel vowed to revoke the public funding in place for a stadium at Camden Yards unless a commitment is obtained from a team by the middle of February, a cutoff date agreed to by Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"My personal opinion is that I'm happy with the Redskins, and I think that they would serve Maryland as a football team," said Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery County, chairman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee.

"I don't know whether I want to subsidize a team. I'm not doing anything now, but the longer there is a delay in getting a team to move to Baltimore, the more likely that the bonding authority will disappear," Levitan said.

Del. Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, said: "Without a firm commitment by the middle of February -- or something approaching a firm commitment -- I think the football money is going to be increasingly difficult to keep in the budget."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said he is doubtful of Baltimore's chances of landing a team and noted that lawmakers could find other uses for the $24 million in lottery funds already reserved for a Camden Yards stadium.

But Baltimore-area lawmakers vowed to fight for the stadium funding, with one even threatening a filibuster to prevent a premature cutoff.

"This is a perfect example of why we need to go slow in supporting Mr. Cooke," Sen. John Pica, D-Baltimore, and chairman of the city's Senate delegation, said of the Patriots' bid.

"People are going to find that athletic loyalties run deep and the issue of football could divide the Senate. I dare say that there will be one nasty fight," Pica said, adding that he would lead a filibuster if necessary.

Del. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore, said he thinks the Patriots' bid is viable.

"I think it is for real. I think there is a genuine interest on behalf of a local group," Della said.

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