The Phoenix Firebrands are in negotiations to relocate to Austin, TX, for the '97 season, according to today's ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The Firebrands and Austin city officials have worked out a plan which "provides for an unusual public-private venture to build" an $18M, 12,000 seat stadium on city parkland. A study concluded the team could draw up to 450,000 fans and bring about $9M to the city's economy (Bob Eger, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/24).
The potential for a "lengthy" and "nasty" court fight between the NFL and the Rams is examined by Thomas George in this morning's N.Y. TIMES. "You know the league doesn't want it," writes George. But by voting down the Rams move to St. Louis, their feeling "must be a strong one to opt for the courts rather than allowing the move." Rams President John Shaw said he saw a group of owners forming to block the move because they "see the opportunity we have and wish they had it. Pure jealously." Before the vote, the league reportedly played a tape of Rams Owner Georgia Frontiere "passionately giving reasons why the league had to right to prevent" the Raiders from moving in the early '80s. George writes the "crux of the matter" is whether the league is treating Frontiere unfairly because she is a woman. Shaw calls their chances for legal success "excellent" -- but George adds, "So, too, are the chances for an ugly spectacle during the NFL's most fruitful times. And for plenty of blood" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/24). SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's "Scorecard" reports the NFL "stands little chance of winning in the courtroom with the argument it is currently making," but that keeping a team in the L.A. market during a period of legal action is their "top priority" (SI, 3/27 issue).
Eagles Owner Jeffrey Lurie presented Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell with his idea of "Eagle World," a "miniature city revolving around the Eagles football team." The plan includes a state-of-the-art practice facility, a museum, a movie theatre and an interactive theme park, plus shops, restaurants, and a hotel. Rendell said he liked the idea, but could not help with financing the project. To which Lurie responded that municipalities in PA and NJ "would love to lure such a project out of the city." Those familiar with the plans say Lurie "does not want to spend a dime on his facility," as the team wants to sell a developer and a municipality on the "idea of using the Eagles' name to attract businesses to the site." Lurie: "We think a project like this would lend great excitement and value to our fans and the surrounding community." Rendell's office has sent Lurie's plans to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a city agency that facilitates development deals (S.A. Paolantonio, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/24).
Minneapolis officials finalized the buyout of the Target Center Wednesday, also completing the T-Wolves sale to Glen Taylor for $88.5M. In keeping with Taylor's plans to make the franchise profitable, the team is reportedly looking into using "virtual billboards" to increase revenue. Virtual billboards allow for ads that are seen on TV, but which aren't displayed in the arena. Wolves President Rob Moor: "The revenues just quadrupled in terms of our corporate signage." Sam McCleery, Marketing VP for Princeton Electronic Billboards, says his virtual billboard product has passed tests and they are "close to contracting" with an National League team to use the system this year. The "new" Wolves organization is also looking at other ways to increase revenue, including acquiring an NHL team, developing the area around the Target Center, changing the team logo. One possibility for redevelopment includes "perhaps incorporating a Niketown or Sony superstore" and other attractions around the arena. Also, team officials speculated that in-arena attractions, sponsored by business interests, could draw more fans games. Moor: "Sports traditionally has been such a stick-in-the-mud industry" (Bruce Orwall, ST. PAUL PIONEER- PRESS, 3/23). LACE 'EM UP? As part of the buyout, Taylor has first chance at owning any NHL team that might move to the Twin Cities. Taylor is responsible for paying the building's property taxes, and another revenue-maker in the facility would lessen that burden. Taylor: "My first goal is to get [a team] here. I don't have to own it all." Target Center Exec Dir Dana Warg meets with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman today. Warg claims two MN-based groups are interested in the Jets (Jay Weiner, Minneapolis STAR-TRIBUNE, 3/23).