At $34.3 Million, Eagles' Profits Were Best In Nfl In The Financial League, Owner Norman Braman And His Team Were Super Bowl Champions From 1985 Through 1989.

Posted: July 08, 1992

MINNEAPOLIS — For years, Norman Braman has insisted that he does not make money on the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, his own records show the franchise to be the most profitable in the NFL.

Braman made an operating profit of $34.3 million during the first five years he owned the Eagles - far and away the largest return of any of the NFL's 28 clubs. By contrast, the typical team reported a profit of just more than $4 million from 1985 through 1989. No figures were available for 1990 and 1991.

During those five seasons, Braman raised ticket prices three times.

In 1990, Braman did not file a profit-loss sheet with the league. But in a separate document, he disclosed that he paid himself a salary of $7.5 million for that season. Over the four years from 1987 to 1990, no other NFL owner, executive, coach or player was paid as high a salary in one season as Braman received in 1990. Indeed, it is more than double the next-highest reported salary, the $3.5 million that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson paid himself in 1990.

From his vacation home in France yesterday, Braman declined to discuss Eagles finances.

"I'm not going to comment on what's going on," he said. "When I'm out of the country, I don't comment on things."

The Eagles' financial records, as well as those of the other 27 NFL clubs, were made public yesterday as part of an antitrust suit, filed by eight of the league's players, which is being heard here.

The internal league documents - many marked "highly confidential" or ''for designated experts only" - disclose the NFL to be a league in which most teams made money.

And none makes more than the Eagles.

The players are trying to use the financial reports to show that they are underpaid, largely because of the league's tight restrictions on free agency. NFL attorneys had tried to block access to the documents, but U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled Monday night that they were open to public scrutiny once they were introduced into evidence at the trial.

Braman has repeatedly said that he does not make money on the Eagles. Upon raising ticket prices in 1987, Braman said, "Look, you don't get rich from owning a football club. I'm glad I don't have to depend on the Eagles for my

financial well-being."

That season, the Eagles reported an operating profit of $6.6 million - the highest in the league. The typical NFL club finished in the red that year, losing an average of $729,000.

That was a strike season, and teams lost one game in the schedule and drew scant attendance at three so-called replacement games. Take away the Eagles, and the average NFL club that season lost more than $1 million.

The league reports show that the Eagles had the NFL's largest operating profits in 1986, 1987 and 1989. Operating profits are those before taxes and interest expenses are factored in. The Eagles had higher-than-average interest costs because of the large debt Braman incurred when he bought the club for $65 million in 1985.

The Eagles' operating profits were the second highest in the league in 1988 and fourth in 1985, the first year that Braman owned the club. The reports do not state what the club chose to do with its profits.

Stanford University economics professor Roger Noll, who analyzed NFL

financial figures for the players in this suit, testified yesterday that he believes the Eagles - and other clubs - were conservative in the profits they reported to the league. Revenues, Noll said, were consistently understated and expenses overstated.

Noll also disputed statements by NFL attorney Frank Rothman that Braman's profits must be weighed against $18 million that Rothman said Braman invested soon after buying the club to save it from bankruptcy.

"The club never faced bankruptcy," Noll said. "The only one was (former owner) Leonard Tose's personal bankruptcy. The Eagles have been profitable since 1980."

Although the entire NFL - and not just the Eagles - is on trial here, yesterday's testimony frequently centered on Philadelphia:

* Robert Fraley, an agent for coaches and players, testified that in 1990 he represented a client who offered to buy the club from Braman for $100 million.

Fraley would not disclose the client's name. But he said that Braman told him, "I'm not interested in selling the ball club at any price. I want to keep the team for my children."

* Fraley also testified that Eagles president Harry Gamble once dismissed the NFL's Plan B free-agent plan as "something the (NFL's) lawyers contrived." But Gamble used the system as an excuse to deprive defensive tackle Mike Pitts of a signing bonus.

Pitts was protected under Plan B in 1991 when Fraley was negotiating his contract with the Eagles. According to Fraley, "Gamble said he didn't have to give (Pitts) a signing bonus because the player was not free to go elsewhere."

* Financial forms reveal that in 1990, when Braman earned $7.5 million in salary, head coach Buddy Ryan earned $297,789; Gamble earned $197,788; trainer Otho Davis earned $101,662, and then-offensive coordinator Rich Kotite, now head coach, earned $99,000.

What is actually on trial here is Plan B, in which each NFL club gets to freeze the rights to its 37 best players each spring while the others can hunt for new jobs. According to Noll's testimony, Plan B cuts the average player's salary between 25 and 50 percent.

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