He also had hoped to cut sweetheart deals on stadium rentals with his NFL brethren, but most were never consummated, and, as usual, he ended up paying top dollar. Finally, in the ultimate humiliation, Chuck couldn't even bring the Victory Tour to his own stadium. The Foxboro town fathers canceled the three concerts Chuck had scheduled there, because they feared the shows would attract throngs of rowdy kids.
Midway through the tour, Chuck started asking Jackson for help. Jackson agreed to lower his take of the ticket-sale gross, but Chuck still couldn't cover his expenses. He made one final stab at financial redemption by paying $18 million for certain licensing rights to Jackson clothing, which would allow him to cash in on souvenir T-shirts and the like. As luck would have it, Jackson went into seclusion for almost three years right after the tour, dampening the demand for Jackson memorabilia. Physically and financially drained, Chuck suffered a mild heart attack. The venture cost him at least $20 million.
Business at the ballpark was also turning sour. Even though the Patriots were selling out most of their home games, they were losing money. They had one of the highest payrolls in the league. The luxury boxes were not selling well. The town of Foxboro restricted the number of concerts and other events that could be held at the stadium. No one could make a privately owned stadium pay with only 10 professional football dates a year.
In the summer of 1985, Billy asked Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment banking firm, to help him sell his holdings. But a funny thing happened: New England ended up in the Super Bowl for the first time, and Billy began telling people that he was having too much fun to give up his team.
His euphoria didn't last long, however. Shortly after the Sullivans had regained control of the franchise in 1976, three disgruntled groups of shareholders filed separate suits against them, claiming, among other things, that the stockholders weren't paid enough for their nonvoting shares. In 1986, two suits came to conclusions. The judge in one case ruled that the Sullivans had grossly underpaid the stockholders. The shares, he determined, had been worth $80 each, not $15, and the Sullivans should pay the plaintiffs $2.5 million. The judge in the second case ruled that the buyout was illegal and awarded the stockholders $584,000.
Where would the money come from? Time to mortgage the future again. A Boston radio station had recently signed a five-year, $4 million contract with the Patriots for the broadcast rights to their games. The Sullivans began passing that money on to the plaintiffs.
And the losses were mounting elsewhere. Even though the Pats had gone all the way to the Super Bowl, court documents show that they had a deficit of $9.6 million for fiscal 1986. The harness track, according to a source with knowledge of the operation, lost $1.6 million that fiscal year, and the Sullivans began falling way behind on their payments to creditors. Then, on April 10, 1987, they lost the third shareholder suit. If the judgment is upheld on appeal, it will cost them at least $7 million.
After Super Bowl XX, the Sullivans again started talking about selling the Patriots and the stadium. But the question was, Did they really want to?
The Sullivans often seemed as if they were just looking for a way to hang on. Indeed, the sales talk briefly served to placate their creditors, but by October 1986 the Sullivans couldn't hold out anymore and began negotiating to sell an option on the team to a group of businessmen headed by Murray. The Sullivans eventually received from Murray $16.6 million plus a $3.9 million line of credit. In addition, Murray agreed to pay $24,500 per quarter to cover Billy's $5 million life insurance policy. But all the Sullivans had really done was announce an engagement. They were still nowhere near the altar.
They needed more money to get out of the hole. Some three months after signing the option deal, the Sullivans asked Murray for more money. He quickly advanced them another $2.1 million. According to court documents, some of the cash was used to keep the Fleet National Bank of Providence from foreclosing on the team and to keep other banks from foreclosing on the Massachusetts homes of Billy, Chuck and Patrick.