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Ram Suitors Have Another Team to Court in Buccaneers

November 11, 1994|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rams might soon have company in the NFL's highly competitive relocation market after Thursday's announcement that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are for sale.

Officials running the Buccaneers said they would prefer to sell to someone who would keep the team in Tampa, Fla., but did not make that a condition of sale.

Peter Angelos, the Baltimore Oriole owner who is attempting to purchase a minority share of the Rams and move them to Maryland, said he would renew his pursuit of the Buccaneers. Earlier this year he offered an estimated $200 million for the franchise Financial World magazine estimates is worth $142 million in Tampa.

"Clearly, we have an interest, and clearly, we intend to pursue it," said Angelos, who is expected to travel to Los Angeles soon to resume talks with Ram President John Shaw and, perhaps, Raider owner Al Davis.

St. Louis investors also have expressed interest in the Buccaneers this year and are expected to renew their pursuit.

The Rams, meanwhile, continue to focus their attention on St. Louis. Former U.S. Senator Thomas Eagleton, lead negotiator for the group trying to bring NFL football to St. Louis, was in Southern California Thursday to meet with Shaw, and the two are expected to resume negotiations today.

Neither Shaw nor Eagleton was available for comment Thursday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing an unidentified source, reported Thursday that Stan Kroenke, a Columbia, Mo., businessman who is attempting to purchase a minority interest in the Rams, was in Los Angeles this week to meet with Shaw.

Kroenke is poised to buy up to 40% of the team at an estimated cost of $80 million, and he and Shaw are said to be close to a resolution on a buyout clause that would allow Kroenke, if the Rams move to St. Louis, to purchase the remaining interest in the Rams at a later date.

In Orange County, Newport Beach sports agent Leigh Steinberg, co-chairman of the Save the Rams task force, said he might meet with Shaw next week.

"We want to flesh out all aspects of our proposal and specifically show them how we will guarantee profits for years to come," Steinberg said.

The local offer includes a $60-million renovation of Anaheim Stadium, new practice facility and business-backed guarantees on luxury-suite and season-ticket sales, a package Steinberg claims will assure the Rams profits of $15 million to $20 million annually. The Rams are projecting losses of about $6 million this year.

"We're still here and fighting," Steinberg said. "We're still optimistic."

The possible sale of the Buccaneers had been rumored for more than a year, even before owner Hugh Culverhouse died Aug. 25 of cancer. But the trustees appointed by Culverhouse to operate the team and his other assets said repeatedly in recent months that they were not taking offers.

That changed this week in the face of conflicts between the trustees and Culverhouse's heirs, as well as dismal performance by the team. The team's 2-7 record and paltry attendance--averaging 44,619 so far this year with only 23,000 season tickets--are among the NFL's worst.

The heirs want to keep the team in Tampa and will have to approve a deal, the source said. Steve Story, one of the three trustees overseeing the Buccaneers and the rest of Culverhouse's $360-million estate, said the trustees wanted to begin seeking a buyer now so the new owner could prepare for the 1995 season.

Story has said there is no provision in Culverhouse's will that restricts the sale to local investors. But he said Thursday: "I am very aware of the importance of the Buccaneers to this area."

NFL rules--the legality of which are hotly debated--require approval of three-quarters of the other team owners before a franchise can be sold or move.

The Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.

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