NO FLIGHT FOR THE EAGLES
The game of holding cities hostage, one played with increasing success by pro sports entrepreneurs, was raised to a high art last week by Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose. After threatening to move the Eagles to Phoenix, the financially embattled Tose—he reportedly is $40 million in debt—agreed to keep them in Philadelphia in return for concessions from the city fathers that included construction of luxury boxes in Veterans Stadium, deferral of stadium rent for 10 years, a new practice facility and a bigger share of food and beverage concession revenues. Tose indicated that the possibility of a loan from the NFL had also entered into his decision to remain in Philadelphia.
Although city officials should be commended for having kept the Eagles in town, it's clear they had to swallow hard in doing so. Mayor Wilson Goode had sought without success to line up local financing to bail out Tose, but he also had threatened to go to court to enforce the Eagles' lease at Veterans Stadium, which runs until 2001. (The lease will be extended for another 10 years under last week's agreement.) For its part, the NFL had already resorted to legal action. Earlier last week it filed suit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to prevent the Eagles from moving to Phoenix. Obviously, the city and the league were using the stick as well as the carrot in dealing with Tose.
That the team of Van Buren, Bednarik, Carmichael and Montgomery could even have contemplated leaving town is distressing. The Eagles have been a Philly fixture for 51 years, and their departure would have been even more wrenching than the recent relocations of the Raiders and Colts. Unlike the Raiders, who quit Oakland after 22 years in that city, the Eagles hadn't voiced any serious gripes about their stadium. And unlike the Colts, who left Baltimore after 35 years there, Tose couldn't pretend that Philadelphia fans hadn't supported their team. Eagles rooters have been among the NFL's most rabid, a devotion not always warranted by the quality of the product that Tose put on the field.
Tose's only justification for threatening to leave was that he'd managed to get himself and his franchise, whose finances are hopelessly intertwined, deeply into hock. Losing money hasn't been easy in the NFL in recent years, but the flamboyant Tose squandered where he should have economized. He refused to give up his limos and other extravagances even as his debts mounted, and he amassed huge gambling losses.
When rumors of a possible move to Phoenix surfaced a few weeks ago, Tose said, "The only way the Eagles will move will be over my dead body." Early last week the real story emerged: Negotiations were under way for James Monaghan, a Phoenix resident, to pay Tose $30 million or more for a one-quarter share of the Eagles, who would move to the Arizona city. The news was a downer in Philadelphia, where a crowd booed Tose as he came out of a barbershop and where the Daily News' Mark Whicker wrote of Tose, "Loyalty? That's just a word in the dictionary...behind loser, a few pages behind liar."
Tose's fellow NFL owners weren't too happy with him, either. One reason: A Philadelphia-to-Phoenix move would have removed the NFL from the fourth-biggest TV market and put it into the 25th. But now, with the Eagles apparently secure in Philadelphia, the NFL should learn from the sorry experience and heed the suggestion of the courts by drawing up judicially acceptable guidelines that would allow franchise shifts only by those teams whose fans don't support them. The NFL then could make other teams stay put and spare cities and fans the sort of shameless squeeze play that Tose worked last week.
THANKS A LOT, SON
Marty Appel, vice-president of public relations for New York's WPIX-TV, which carries Yankee games, gave a talk on baseball the other day to a group of children at a local library, after which he invited members of the audience to ask questions. The first query was "How come the ball is so hard?" Appel was stumped. The second was "How come they call them 'stands' when everybody sits?" Stumped again. What made Appel's two strikeouts particularly embarrassing was that both questions were served up by his five-year-old son, Brian, whom Dad had been foolish enough to bring along.
The Dallas Morning News won a major battle in its escalating war with the Dallas Times Herald by hiring away the latter's longtime sports columnist, Blackie Sherrod. Sherrod's first column for his new paper will appear on Jan. 2, and the News is heralding its coup with a commercial on local TV. It begins in front of the Times Herald Building with Sherrod working at his desk as it's being towed through the streets by an unseen truck. As traffic cops clear the way, Sherrod taps away at his word processor, oblivious to distractions, until, at last, he arrives at the News' offices.