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Reports last week of Pirate ownership taking offers from out-of-state buyers has further fueled "the acrimony" between the administration of Mayor Tom Murphy and team ownership. The animosity "isn't contrived," according to Ron Cook in this morning's PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, and "it could derail the sale" of the team to Adelphia Communications Chair John Rigas. Murphy, with Pirates Chair Vincent Sarni's approval, endorsed Rigas as the city's best potential buyer, but after months of negotiations, "there is still no sale." Cook writes that "the more [Murphy] tries to pressure the Pirates' board into a deal for Rigas, the more damage he might be doing." Now Murphy is afraid Rigas may walk away from the sale. Cook: "Could you blame Rigas? Who needs a baseball team that badly?" Members of the Pirates board claim that Rigas will not pull out, and that he "has a vision of the franchise's value skyrocketing" if the owners win the strike and a new stadium is built. Cook writes Sarni "appears to have the same vision, which is why he is so hesitant to do a deal with Rigas that could short-change the current owners" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/21).
Despite offers to join the AHL, the Charlotte Checkers will reportedly stay in the East Coast Hockey League, according to this morning's CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Checkers Owner Felix Sabatas and team President Carl Scheer met with ECHL officials Monday and afterward said they were "ambivalent" about moving up to the AHL. The AHL is recruiting a number of ECHL franchises in an attempt to form a Southern Division. Scheer said there was "very little interest" from other ECHL teams about a move, as the added cost estimate of at least $500,000 per year would make it difficult. The IHL has "informed Checkers management it wants to either absorb the franchise or move an expansion team to Charlotte to compete with the Checkers." That could force Scheer to move from Independence Arena (about 9,500 capacity) to the Coliseum (23,000) to "head off another minor-league team looking for a home." Scheer: "We're trying to find a way to protect our market. ... The AHL is not an automatic slam-dunk, like moving from the ABA to the NBA. There are four Canadian (AHL) franchises in trouble" (Rick Bonnell, CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/21).
Lions VP Bill Ford, Jr. made a strong effort to save the Lions Thanksgiving Day game after Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt floated a proposal at the winter meetings to rotate the high-profile contest, according to Vartan Kupelain & Mike O'Hara of the DETROIT NEWS. It was Ford's first appearance at the NFL meetings and he "didn't fumble the ball with a strong presentation on the holiday game begun by the Lions in 1934." If Hunt's move was based on jealousy of the Cowboys, who also host a Thanksgiving game, "then look for the Lions to cut any ties with Dallas and go their own way." With the franchise, Ford "believes in marketing and promotional programs designed to enhance the team's image and popularity" in Detroit, and he will try to make the Thanksgiving game a "bigger attraction than it already is" (Kupelian & O'Hara, DETROIT NEWS, 3/19).