April 30: The New England Patriots Back Out of Hartford Stadium Deal

 

In 1998, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots pro football team, was seeking a new home for his franchise, which had outgrown their small and outdated stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

After failing to secure stadium deals in South Boston and then Rhode Island, Kraft set his sights on Connecticut. His quest for a new stadium coincided with Governor John Rowland’s dream to revitalize the Hartford riverfront area south of the intersection of interstates 84 and 91,  an area that had been rebranded “Adriaen’s Landing” for marketing purposes.  Governor John Rowland worked to arrange a ‘sweetheart deal’ worth hundreds of millions of dollars with Kraft that, among other generous incentives, rearranged the development plans for Adriaen’s Landing to revolve around a new state-of-the-art stadium for the Patriots on the banks of the Connecticut River.

Governor John Rowland and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft stand next to an artist’s rendering of Adriaen’s Landing during a press conference in 1998.

The state legislature overwhelmingly approved the plan in late 1998, eager to regain a professional sports franchise following the departure of the NHL’s Hartford Whalers in 1997.  Then, on April 30, 1999, Kraft suddenly announced that he was pulling out of the deal to move the Patriots to Hartford.  While Kraft cited concern over construction delays as his reason for breaking the deal, news soon broke that Kraft had accepted a counteroffer from Massachusetts to build a brand new stadium in Foxboro.

The news came as a shock to Connecticans, many of whom framed the transaction as a cynical, underhanded ploy that manipulated Connecticut politicians and sports fans in order to leverage a better stadium deal for Kraft in Massachusetts. While the broken deal (thankfully) didn’t hinder the development of Hartford’s riverfront, The New England Patriots stadium that never was remains one of the largest “what ifs” in Connecticut sports history.

Further Reading

Tim Rohan, “Hartford’s White Whale: How the Patriots Almost Became Connecticut’s Team,” Sports Illustrated

John Altavilla and Daniela Altimari, “Hartford Patriots? It Seemed Too Good To Be True,” Hartford Courant

Mark Davis, “Was Robert Kraft Ever Serious About Moving Patriots to Hartford?” wtnh.com