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The Cleveland Thunderbolts have ceased operations as a member of the Arena Football League citing "financial problems." AFL spokesperson Mike Jackowski: "The Arena Football League certainly would like to have a franchise in Cleveland. It just couldn't happen, for financial reasons, under the scenario of the current ownership group." The league is not ruling out, however, the possibility of the city being a "candidate for expansion" in '96 (Dennis Manoloff, Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 3/7).
In news that "stunned" the city of Vancouver, Arthur Griffiths announced he has sold majority control of his Northwest Entertainment Group (NEG) to U.S. billionaire John McCaw, Jr. NEG controls 87% of the Canucks, and 100% of the Grizzlies and the soon-to-be-completed GM Place arena. Sources told the Toronto GLOBE & MAIL that McCaw, who previously held 30% of the partnership, paid close to C$110M for another 30%. Griffiths will continue to be Chair and CEO of the company, and McCaw will serve as Vice-Chair. Griffiths also announced that he "cannot be unseated and the teams cannot be moved." The deal would make the Canucks and Grizzlies the only pro teams in Canada financially controlled by U.S. interests, and that "seemed to unsettle some fans" (Neil Campbell, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 3/8). In Vancouver, Archie McDonald writes that losing the basketball team is one thing, but the selling of the hockey team "sent some heart tremors rippling along the 49th parallel" (VANCOUVER SUN, 3/8). The deal is subject to approval by the NBA and NHL, and NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik said he expected their Board of Governors to approve the restructuring (Vancouver PROVINCE, 3/8). WHY THE SALE: For months, reports in Canada had speculated that Griffiths had overextended his "financial empire." The NBA entry fee for the Grizzlies was US$125M, the new arena cost C$160M and the Canucks "suffered through" the recent lockout. Griffiths said he wondered if he was going to "blow his inheritance on sports" (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 3/8). Griffiths considered taking on more minority partners, but he said "future global opportunities for the company would be" better served without them. He denied cost overruns at GM Place "had anything to do with his decision" (Howard Tsumura, Vancouver PROVINCE, 3/8). MCCAW'S ROLE: McCaw, 44, who has a family fortune of $3.5B, also has a share in the Mariners. He "prefers a low profile and might have broken Howard Hughes' previous records by not showing up at the press conference," according to Archie McDonald of the VANCOUVER SUN. But McCaw's fortune is "a comforting image in times of runaway spending." Michael Korenberg, COO of NEG, on McCaw's absence: "You should not read into this that there is any disinterest whatsoever" (VANCOUVER SUN, 3/8). Griffiths on U.S. control of NEG: "This is a company that is Canadian born bred and will continue." In Vancouver, David Baines writes, "Continue what? That question hung as large as McCaw's absence" (David Baines, VANCOUVER SUN, 3/8). McCaw is so "reclusive" that even his secretary wouldn't release a photo of him yesterday, and the Mariners don't have a photo on file (Dan Stinson, VANCOUVER SUN, 3/8). MORE ANNOUNCEMENTS: NEG also announced they are pursuing the $1 million Greater Vancouver PGA tournament in '96, and that they have applied for, "and will likely be granted" the '99 NBA All- Star Game. Canucks President Pat Quinn's contract has also been extended for five years. A source also reported that NEG "has been quietly negotiating with CTV on its S3 regional sports channel project." NEG wants an "equity interest in the project as well as being a programming provider" (Campbell, Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 3/8).
Harvey Leighton, who holds 3.1237% of the Yankees, has gone public in trying to sell his limited share, according to a front- page report in the N.Y. TIMES. Leighton, who wants to sell because of health problems, placed an ad in the WALL STREET JOURNAL offering 1% of the stake for $2.95M. Sales of limited partnerships are "usually cloaked in secrecy," and ads such as Leighton's are "unheard of." But team majority owner George Steinbrenner has full "veto power over who can even own the smallest piece of the team," and Leighton believes two recent potential buyers were blocked by the front office. Yankees General Counsel Daniel Sussman, couldn't comment on the specifics of the Lieghton case, but said the partnership rules make the "managing general partner responsible for protecting the club's profitability and reputation, and that means the policing who can buy in" (Kirk Johnson, N.Y. TIMES, 3/8).