The Philadelphia Eagles, whose owner has been seeking relief from personal debts estimated as high as $40 million, are considering a move to Phoenix, a team spokesman said yesterday.
"Mr. Tose (owner Leonard Tose) is considering a move to Phoenix, but nothing has been signed and no final decision has been made," said Ed Wisneski, a club spokesman.
Later, the National Football League announced that it had received a "proposed refinancing agreement" from Tose and that it "makes no reference" to a move by the Eagles. And in Philadelphia, Mayor W. Wilson Goode said that he had spoken four times with Tose since rumors of the team moving surfaced about a month ago, but that "he had no plans to move the team."
Goode also said, "I'm aware that Mr. Tose does have some financial problems. I'm aware that part of the reason for the thought of moving the team is because it may be a way to help him alleviate that problem. I do believe that we can match whatever offers he gets from other places. We're prepared to go to bat at this point, if there is a need to, to keep the team here in the city."
Goode said there were at least two businessmen willing to invest in the team, but he declined to name them.
Philadelphia has already lost its U.S. Football League team, the Stars, who are moving to Maryland. Yesterday, the Stars reached an agreement in principle to use Memorial Stadium starting in 1986. (The team will play in College Park this spring since the Baltimore Orioles' lease precludes a football team using the stadium in the spring.)
Mike Kaine, a team spokesman, said the Stars will move to Baltimore regardless of the outcome of negotiations between the Eagles and Phoenix. The Stars moved to Baltimore because of a conflict with the Eagles and Phillies in using Veterans Stadium in the fall of 1986. "The position we're taking is it doesn't affect us," Kaine said. "We've announced our intentions and we're following through."
Pro football sources suggested that Tose is using Phoenix for leverage in either refinancing the team or selling a minority interest in it.
One NFL owner said he was aware that Tose had been working on refinancing for several months.
The team's confirmation of its talks with Phoenix came a few hours after the Arizona Republic reported that the team appeared ready to move to Phoenix within days after the NFL regular season ends Sunday.
The Republic also reported that the Arizona State University Board of Regents had approved the use of Sun Devil Stadium by the Eagles on an emergency basis until a domed stadium is built in Phoenix by 1988 or 1989. In addition, it reported that Tose would sell a 25 percent minority interest in the team to James Monaghan, a Canadian real estate developer who lives part-time in Phoenix.
Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) said last night that the move, which reportedly would involve Tose selling 25 percent of the club, is virtually assured, and plans call for the announcement Monday. "I have a very reliable source who says that that is going to happen," DeConcini said. "I'll be very surprised if the move doesn't take place."
Tose and his daughter, Susan Fletcher, the team's general manager, were not available for comment yesterday. Ed Lynch, who is the leader of a group of Phoenix businessmen attempting to attract an NFL franchise, also was unavailable. Lynch has been quoted in the past two weeks as saying an existing NFL franchise would announce a move to Phoenix by Christmas.
In New York, Joe Browne, NFL director of information, issued the following statement:
"We have had no contact with Leonard Tose or Susan Fletcher concerning an Eagles' transfer out of Philadelphia. The Eagles have notified us several times in recent months that we would be receiving a proposed refinancing agreement and probably information regarding a new minority partner. We have just received the refinancing agreement this morning, and it makes no references to an Eagles' move."
Sources pointed out that if Tose moved his franchise to Phoenix, the USFL's $1.2 billion antitrust case against the NFL would be strengthened. The USFL's Arizona Outlaws have a contract to use Sun Devil Stadium, which seats 70,021. The USFL is planning a move to fall football in 1986.
"It's a questionable move on the NFL's part as far as the (antitrust) litigation is concerned," said one lawyer who deals with the issues in pro football. "I'm sure the NFL counsel would advise them not to move, but I'm not sure the NFL can stop them after the Raiders' case."
The NFL's rule on franchise shifts was voided by a federal court jury in the Raiders' case. The decision was upheld by a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The NFL is appealing an award of $49 million to be paid to the Raiders and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.