Tom Clancy puts up $200m to join the costly hunt for sports world kudos

The best-selling author Tom Clancy (estimated gross income for 1996-97 $50m) is trying to buy the Minnesota Vikings football team. Rupert Cornwell asks why the fabulously rich and famous do such crazy things.

In the United States, Tom Clancy once proclaimed, "there ain't no excuse. You can go out and do anything you damn well please if you try hard enough". Like producing best-selling novels, or buying a National Football League (NFL) football team. Except that he may find the latter an even tougher endeavour than writing The Hunt for Red October.

Earlier this week, it seemed a sure thing: Clancy, already a member of the ownership group of the Baltimore Orioles baseball franchise, had bid $200m (pounds 120m) for the moderately successful Minnesota Vikings, and the offer had been accepted. But Roger Headrick, the Vikings' President of the Vikings has matched the bid, and under NFL rules, in the case of a tie the incumbent wins.

So for Clancy, if he is going to do what he damn well pleases, either a bidding war or a legal war looms. Which raises the question: why do people want to own US football teams?

The answer is: for reasons not dissimilar to those which impel otherwise sane businessmen to invest in what was once known as Fleet Street. Like British newspapers, US sports franchises are rarely profitable; indeed the underlying economics in both cases may politely be described as lunatic.

You pay a fortune (in Clancy's case the record $200m). But to keep the fans happy, you need a winning line-up. So you commit yourself to a team payroll of $73m (the 1998 Baltimore Orioles) or more. To get your money back, you ratchet up ticket costs and tell the local city fathers that unless they build you a state-of-the-art new stadium you will take the team elsewhere.

In the end the prime beneficiaries are not the fans but the players, among whom wages of $2m a year buys you a journeyman at best. For the owners, the thrill are less tangible. Sometimes they amount to a sense of doing one's local duty. More often it is the gratification of becoming a local big-shot, and of being able to use the sports team as a flashy loss-leading brand for a business empire.

The feelings towards the Orioles of Clancy, born and bred a Baltimorean, must be presumed to fall into the first category. Not so some others. Altruism is a not a quality associated with Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of Chicago's baseball White Sox and basketball Bulls, or the Yankees' owner George Steinbrunner in New York. Steinbrunner's main claims to fame are sacking managers like other people shell peanuts, and telling NY City that, failing a spanking new $1bn stadium in lower Manhattan, he will decamp to New Jersey.

Probably the majority of US sports teams are still owned locally, either by individuals or by home-town corporations. Increasingly though, they are in the arms of the media multinationals. Ted Turner of CNN owns the Atlanta sports teams and Blockbuster Video's Wayne Huizenga the Florida Marlins and Panthers in Miami. Not to be outdone, Rupert Murdoch is buying the Los Angeles Dodgers. And there is a logic in it. After all, if you own television channels, why not buy them sports teams whose games they can exclusively broadcast?

Very occasionally, gentler traditions prevail. The Green Bay Packers, for example, are a co-operative owned by their fans. And the system works, for the Packers won football's Super Bowl in 1997 and were runners-up this year. With or without Tom Clancy, the Vikings need a miracle to come close to that in 1999.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions