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Volume 24 No. 159

Franchises

     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).