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.

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport