Fee could trip Patriots
By Will McDonough, Globe Staff, February 17, 1999
They sit and wait and wonder, in silence.
Will Bob Kraft have to pay the way they did when they decided to move their
This is a question the National Football League is not prepared to answer
yet, and one the folks who own the Baltimore Ravens, St. Louis Rams, and
Tennessee Titans have great interest in.
All of them paid big bucks to move, what the NFL calls a ``relocation
But Kraft told the Hartford Courant recently that he does not anticipate
having to pay a relocation fee.
If he doesn't, then the fun will begin. The folks we have spoken with at
two of these franchises say that if the Patriots don't have to pay, they won't
pay either. That would be a major headache for the NFL.
Moving from Cleveland to Baltimore cost Art Modell, owner of the Ravens,
approximately $45 million. He is on the books to pay the NFL $29 million (or
$1 million to each other team) for being allowed to move. Also, he had to
forfeit his share of what the league will get from the new Cleveland Browns
expansion franchise, which is around another $16 million.
The Rams lost a bid in court to avoid paying the $29 million relocation
fee, forfeited their $16 million of the Cleveland expansion money, and had to
pay more than $25 million to get out of their Anaheim lease.
The Titans (nee Oilers), who relocated from Houston last year, reportedly
are down for a $27 million relocation fee, though it is unclear why their
price is different from the others. Reportedly, such figures are determined by
the league's Finance Committee, of which Kraft is a member.
A league source said no decision has been made on whether Kraft will have
to pay a relocation fee to move to Hartford from Boston. But by league rule,
he is clearly moving the Patriots out of the ``home territory,'' the
stipulation by which the others teams have been hit with the fee.
``Home territory'' is defined as the area within a 75-mile radius of the
city to which the franchise was granted, in this case Boston. Hartford, 100
miles from Boston, is outside that.
Kraft, who would have to remove himself from the Finance Committee if it is
to rule on a relocation fee, is expected to argue that Hartford is in the same
market. It clearly is not.
When Kraft and Governor John Rowland of Connecticut agreed on the deal to
move the Patriots last week, the Courant wrote, ``If the league charges a
relocation fee -- as it did to the Rams, which paid the league $46 million
when the team moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995 -- it could be a
problem. The agreement assumes that the league will not impose a relocation
fee. If it does, the agreement (Kraft-Rowland) does not bind either the state
or the team to pay. It does go on to say that if the NFL imposes an
unacceptable condition for the relocation, either party can terminate the
agreement after Oct. 31 (1999).''
The people in Connecticut already are very concerned about overpaying to
bring the Patriots to the state, and another $30 million relocation fee -- $1
million for each other team in the league, presumably -- could be the
deal-breaker. Kraft most likely would have to be the one who decides whether
he wants to pay that himself or forget the Connecticut deal.
The teams in Baltimore, St. Louis, and Tennessee, for the most part, have
not paid the NFL their relocation fees yet. Now they want to see how Kraft is
treated. If he doesn't pay, they won't pay. And if they don't pay, the league
will have $85 million at risk.
This problem could leave the door open for the state of Massachusetts and
the city of Boston to get back into the picture in a big way.
Just about the only one in the league who wants to see the Patriots move
out of this market is Kraft. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made it clear at his
Super Bowl press conference that he would prefer the team stay in Boston. Gene
Upshaw, head of the Players Assoication, said the same thing. And there is
little question that the majority of owners across the league favor Boston
However, this state and this city seem content to let the team leave when
it wouldn't be that difficult to put together a deal to keep it. But no one in
a position of political leadership seems to want to do that.
There is no question that the league would break its own rules to allow
Kraft to move to Hartford, despite the problem of the relocation fee.
Ironically, it was the battle for the St. Louis relocation money that
solidified the league rules on allowing franchises to move. The city of St.
Louis, which is on the hook to pay $20 million of the $29 million owed in
relocation, went to court over that, but the court upheld the NFL. After the
trial, NFL lead lawyer Frank Rothman was asked what was the most significant
thing to come out of it was. He said, ``The court said that our rules
[regarding team movement] are valid, that we don't have to vote for any team
to move unless the owners decide to do so.''
The two key guidelines for moving are support of the fans, in buying
tickets to the games, and support of the financial community, in paying for
local radio/TV contracts, stadium signage, advertising, and the like. The
Patriots have not had an empty seat in five years, and they claim to have a
waiting list that exceeds 20,000. Also, they have had tremendous local
support, generating more than $22 million per year from Foxboro Stadium in
Patriot-related events, one of the top numbers in the NFL.
In 1987, Bill Bidwill, owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, wanted to move his
team. Pete Rozelle, who was commissioner at the time, wanted Bidwill to move
to Baltimore and replace the Colts, who had left for Indianapolis. Bidwill
opted for Arizona, though, and the league imposed a relocation fee, which was
new at the time. Bidwill reportedly paid $7.5 million.
The league tried to make Al Davis pay a fee for moving the Raiders from
Oakland to Los Angeles in 1983, but Davis won a court case that allowed him to
move and not pay. Davis is back in court with the NFL in California. The
league wants him to pay for moving back to Oakland. He refuses to do so.
It was the first Raiders trial that led the court to suggest that the
league draw up its own guidelines for moving, which it did -- the ones that
theoretically should prevent Kraft from moving.