What's so great about having an NFL franchise? Let William Hudnut count the ways.
"It has a galvanizing effect on the spirit of the city," Hudnut says, "it has a multimillion-dollar economic impact and it catapults you into the major league category."
Hudnut should know. He was mayor of Indianapolis in 1984 when the Colts sneaked out of Baltimore and moved to his city.
"We've woken up," Hudnut said upon the Colts' arrival. "We were called 'Naptown,' but we're a city to be reckoned with now. We're a major league city."
Wakeup calls begin Oct. 26-28 in Chicago, when the 28 NFL owners vote on which two cities will be awarded teams and gain entry into one of the most lucrative fraternities in all of sports.
Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., and St. Louis are the finalists, and each city believes it will be fielding a team in 1995.
"Don't bet against us," says Jerry Clinton, the beer distributor who heads the St. Louis group. "We're going to be there."
The owners' decision will wind up almost four frantic years of posturing for favorite-city status. Unlike the Colts' arrival in Indianapolis, this is a planned expansion, with a $140 million pricetag on each franchise.
"This project has been much more difficult than any of us would have ever anticipated," said Mark Richardson, whose father, Jerry, heads the Charlotte group. "It would have been easy to quit a dozen or so times along the way, but we hung in there, we've worked together and when we had to alter our strategy, we did."
Jacksonville, in fact, did quit briefly in July because of a Gator Bowl lease disagreement between prospective owner J. Wayne Weaver and local officials.
Here's what's at stake:
Analysts and ownership groups estimate an NFL team would pump up to $130 million a year into the local economy and provide about 3,000 jobs. So while cities spend hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private funds to get a team, the payoff appears to be worth the investment.
The ownership groups understand the impact of owning an NFL team. Before he bought the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones was a successful Arkansas oilman. Today, his Cowboys are defending Super Bowl champions and his name appears in sports pages almost daily. Business, needless to say, is booming for Jones, despite his temporary reluctance to pay running back Emmitt Smith $13.6 million over four years.
"The NFL is still a fairly exclusive fraternity," says John Myrland, president of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. "Some of these people have made millions already and they still have very large egos. The NFL is appealing to them."
Which is why the fight for a franchise has each city looking for any way to gain an edge.
--In Memphis, the group headed by cotton merchant William B. Dunavant came up with a cool nickname--the Hound Dogs--and brought the estate of Elvis Presley into the bidding.
--The Charlotte group, led by Flagstar Companies head Jerry Richardson, devised a new method of stadium funding: selling permanent seat licenses (PSLs) from $600 to $5,400, and then allowing those fans to purchase season tickets.
--The Jacksonville bidders, headed by Weaver, pulled out of the race in July, but got back in after selling 10,000 club seats in 10 days, worth $75 million. Then they got the city to agree to $121 million in Gator Bowl renovations.
--In Baltimore, the two groups bidding for ownership are accentuating the sentimental angle based on the history of the Colts.
--St. Louis, constructing a $258 million domed stadium, wants everyone to know it's the largest TV market not to have an NFL team.
In the NFL's first expansion since 1976, when Seattle and Tampa, Fla., came into the league for a mere $16 million each, controversy has creeped in, too.
In Charlotte, racism charges against Denny's, a restaurant chain owned by Richardson's company, died down after the Richardsons signed a Fair Share Agreement with the NAACP. In Baltimore, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the main investor in one of the two bidding groups, was quoted in a 1990 article in Gentleman's Quarterly as saying he lost $1 million gambling on the 1982 pro football exhibition season.
There are questions about ownership in St. Louis, where as late as Wednesday, Clinton still was seeking investors.
For years, the five cities have been promoting themselves as the perfect place for the NFL. But the league has its own criteria, starting with quality of the ownership group and stadium situation.
At the ownership level, all but St. Louis appear solid. The Memphis group probably is the most formidable, with Dunavant, Wall Street money manager Paul Tudor Jones II, Federal Express Corp. chairman Fred Smith and Elvis' estate, worth about $100 million.