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
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
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
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
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
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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little