The personal finances of the owners of the 28 National Football League teams rarely are revealed. But Philadelphia Eagle owner Leonard Tose is embroiled in a contentious divorce in which a percentage of his Super Bowl-bound team is at stake, so some of his financial affairs have gotten into the court record.
Among other things, the records reveal that Tose, 65, bought the Eagles a decade ago using borrowed funds. He now pays himself about $400,000 a year salary. The records also show that the former trucking company owner has used the team as a tax shelter to escape paying personal income taxes during the past 10 years.
Tose acquired the team in 1970 for $16.5 million from Jerry Wolman, a bankrupt builder who now lives in Washington. By 1978, the value of Tose's investment had grown impressively to $25 million, according to records in the Court of Common Pleas, Delaware County, Pa.
The purchase was financed by loans of $6.5 million from a group of private lenders and $10 million from a consortium of banks headed by First Pennsylvania Bank of Philadelphia.
Not long after the acquisition, Tose had a falling out with the private investors who wanted to have a say in running the club. Tose said they were lenders, not partners, and a court upheld his opinion. That group was replaced with another group of lenders.
When he bought the Eagles, Tose put a value for tax purposes of only $50,000 on the franchise. All the rest he said was the value of the players.
In effect, Tose was accounting for the players for tax purposes like a company does machinery, each year writing off a share of what he figured was their declining value. This gave Tose a very large paper loss, which he could charge against his total income and thus avoid paying taxes on the income.
Other wealthy sports franchise owners have used players as tax shelters. In fact, the practice became so blatant that the 1976 Tax Reform Act limited the amount of the purchase price of the whole sports franchise that could be allocated to players to 50 percent or less.
The high value Tose put on players for his tax purposes during the years prior to the 1976 law is currently being challenged by the IRS.
In 1978, the consortium of lending banks canceled Tose's $10 million loan reportedly because he was drawing too much money from the club. But Tose got a helping hand from his fellow NFL club owners.
William Clay Ford, who owns the Detroit Lions, arranged an interim loan for Tose from a bank in Detroit. Then Charles W. Sullivan, a New York attorney whose family owns the New England Patriots, got Tose permanent financing at Citibank in New York.
At about this time, the NFL got its immensely rich television contract from the networks, which has paid each of the team owners $5.8 million annually. Tose apparently has used that money to service his Citibank loan, while he pulls down the $400,000 a year in income from the team. Tose also bought out his second group of private financial backers, and now is the sole owner of the Eagles.
But that situation may change, if his ex-wife Andrea has anything to say about it.
Not long after he bought the Eagles, Tose left Andrea to live with another woman, according to allegations made in court. Under the Pennsylvania divorce laws at the time, a wife was not assured of support from her ex-husband after a divorce. So Andrea Tose would not grant a divorce.
In a 1972 court settlement, Tose agreed to pay her $350,000 over three years. After another court contest in 1978, Tose agreed to pay Andrea $55,000 tax free a year, plus he said he would pay the taxes on $25,000 of her personal income.
Then, last July, Pennsylvania initiated a no-fault divorce law. It made divorces easier to come by and it also provided for the equitable distribution of a couple's property. This meant that a divorcing couple splits any property either acquired during the marriage.
Because Tose bought the Eagles in 1971 while still married to Andrea, her attorney is arguing that the team is "marital property," which under the new law should be distributed equitably between Tose and Andrea.
Last month, Tose finally divorced Andrea, which frees her to move for a share of the property. Almost immediately, Tose married Caroline Collum, a former airline stewardess who runs the Liberty Bells, the Eagles' cheerleading squad.