The NFL Saved Football in Massachusetts

Published on November 30th, 2022 2:30 pm EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

American businessman and New England Patriots owner - Robert Kraft. Robert Kraft is often hailed as the savior of football in New England, and for good reason.

Kraft, through his ownership of the Patriots' old stadium, fended off multiple attempts to move the Patriots to cities such as Jacksonville.

If it weren't for Kraft, the New England Patriots would almost certainly not exist anymore. You see, Kraft owned the old Patriots' stadium (and its lease with the Patriots), and used this as leverage to eventually buy the team. Multiple owners of the team tried to move them away, but Kraft refused to let them move.

Did you know, however, that Kraft was within an eyelash of moving the Patriots to Hartford in the early 2000s?

The situation boiled down to getting a new stadium built. Kraft was having a hard time getting a deal done with the state of Massachusetts, and Connecticut's governor came calling with a deal that was almost too good to refuse.

Connecticut was prepared to spend over $1 billion in order to get the Patriots to move to Hartford - a deal that included a new stadium, infrastructure upgrades and revenue guarantees.

It was an unbelievable deal - some say the best such deal that has ever been offered in any sport.

It was such a good deal that Kraft had no choice but to sign a memorandum giving Hartford exclusive rights to negotiate a stadium deal with Kraft.

A big issue, however, was the location of the proposed stadium and what was on it at the time.

There was a huge steam plant located on the site of the proposed stadium in Hartford, and moving it was going to be a colossal pain.

Other sites were proposed, but Kraft was adamant - it had to be at this location, as it was close to the city and easily accessible by multiple highways.

Moving the steam plant was going to be a massive undertaking, however, and Kraft negotiated several outclauses into the deal with Hartford, that would allow him to back out if progress on moving the plant wasn't being made quick enough.

At the same time, Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was attempting to save the New England Patriots.

Rooney, with the help of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul Kirk Jr., got the NFL involved in trying to keep the Patriots in New England.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue agreed that the league couldn't leave the Boston market.

The problem? Kraft couldn't negotiate with Massachusetts anymore, as he had signed an exclusive negotiating rights deal with Hartford.

Tagliabue decided that a young NFL executive by the name of Roger Goodell would be tasked with trying to restart talks to build a new stadium for the Patriots in New England. Kraft couldn't negotiate directly with the state of Massachusetts, but the NFL could negotiate.

The NFL was clear to the state of Massachusetts - if a stadium deal wasn't able to be reached, the team would be moving to Hartford, as the proposal would certainly garner enough votes from the owners to go through. It was a sweetheart deal, and as much as the NFL didn't want to leave the Boston market, they would leave if they couldn't reach a stadium deal.


A stadium deal was struck to keep the Patriots where they were.

Kraft had smartly negotiated some out-clauses into the deal, and in the end, the steam plant ended up saving the team in New England.

Moving the plant was proving to be a nightmare for the state, and Kraft was able to exit the deal as a result. One of Kraft's out-clauses stated that if there hadn't been noticeable movement on the plant site by a certain date, he could walk.

The state of Connecticut, which had already lost the Hartford Whalers, was irate and threatened a lawsuit.

Robert Kraft, who had agreed to negotiate a new stadium deal in Hartford with tears in his eyes, had his new stadium deal in New England.

In the end, it took the very real prospect of moving for a deal to finally get done, with a very big assist from the NFL and some power brokers.


Kraft pulled out the tried-and-true gameplan when it came to getting a new stadium deal - he threatened to move the team.

Was he actually serious about moving the franchise? We'll never know, but the NFL was certainly serious if the state of Massachusetts hadn't agreed to a deal.

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