As National Football League owners prepare for a meeting Tuesday in Chicago that will produce the second and final expansion franchise, the expected sale of the New England Patriots has sparked a great deal of behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
The New York investment firm of Goldman Sachs has completed its prospectus and already has contacted several potential buyers, but serious negotiations aren't expected to begin until after the owners name a winner from among the six groups from Baltimore, Jacksonville, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis. Charlotte, N.C., received the first expansion franchise Oct. 26, but the league could not come to a consensus on a second franchise group.
Patriot owner James B. Orthwein, a native of St. Louis, is lobbying for that city's Gateway Football Partnership but his attorney, Walter Metcalfe, insists that the Patriots will be sold early next year, regardless of where the new franchise goes.
"What happens in Chicago has no bearing on the sale of the Patriots," Metcalfe said. "The process is moving faster than some people might think. The hope is to complete this in the early part of the year so the new owner can start in on free agency and the draft."
If St. Louis does not receive a franchise, there has been speculation that Orthwein will move the Patriots there--something Metcalfe repeatedly has denied.
Patriot executives, while not completely ruling out that possibility, expect the process to move quickly once the expansion issue is resolved. Some predict the sale will be completed by Jan. 30, the date for Super Bowl XXVIII.
And while things have seemed relatively quiet on the Connecticut landscape since Francis W. Murray's St. Louis group collapsed two weeks ago, Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. has been busy. Between spending time with his family and cutting down official Christmas trees, Weicker has been pushing Hartford and its approved $252.1 million stadium package to anyone who will listen.
"Connecticut's hopes for a team rest on a decision by James Orthwein as to whether or not he'll sell the Patriots," Weicker said. "We are trying in every way possible to interest prospective owners in the New England Patriots, should that come to pass."
Weicker declined to say who he has talked to about the team.
The Hartford stadium is the chief selling point, because Massachusetts has yet to approve a proposed megaplex for downtown Boston. With the concept of a new stadium virtually dead in this year's Massachusetts legislative session and unlikely to resurface before the team is sold, the Patriots still are bound by a difficult Foxboro Stadium lease that runs through 2002.
"If you're going to operate a professional team into the '90s, you need all the revenue streams you can get," said Pittsburgh Penguins president Howard Baldwin, one of several people interested in buying the Patriots. "You need parking, concessions and luxury boxes so you can break even or, God forbid, make a little money."
Baldwin, whose partner is Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, is an old friend of Weicker and already has discussed Hartford's possibilities with Weicker and his staff.
"When Lowell Weicker talks, I've always been willing to listen," Baldwin said. "Of course I would sit down with him."
Baldwin said his Boston attorney, Robert Caporale, has been in contact with Goldman Sachs and expects to begin discussions "sometime soon, probably the first couple of weeks in December."
Other potential buyers of the Patriots: Robert Kraft, who along with Stephen Karp owns Foxboro Stadium Associates, which controls the stadium lease; Jeff Lurie, nephew of Boston-area businessman Richard Smith; Texas businessman George Lindemann; Murray, who said he is preparing a bid with a New England partner he wouldn't name. Murray, who has been very public in his efforts to buy the Patriots, said he hasn't been contacted by Goldman Sachs.