The Titans believe that the persistent concerns regarding the team’s ownership structure have been resolved. The league isn’t willing to go quite that far.
When team founder Bud Adams died, ownership of the Titans was split equally among three branches of his family tree, without designating any one of them as having control. Susie Adams Smith and her husband, Kenneth, originally served as the controlling owners. That later shifted to Amy Adams Strunk.
Through it all, the NFL pressed the Titans to alter the structure permanently so that one of the three ownership groups would have full and irrevocable control. The largely-ignored controversy mostly simmered; periodic flare ups included the league fining the Titans $250,000 and the Titans consulting with an antitrust lawyer for potential litigation against the league.
Recently, Strunk told Paul Kuharsky that all is well.
“I think we have pretty much ironed that out,” Strunk said. “I haven’t seen any problems, nothing’s come up that would make us think there is still a big issue.”
As Kuharsky explains it, the third branch of the Adams family tree (consisting of Bud Adams’ daughter-in-law, Susan Lewis, and her sons, Kenneth Adams IV and Barclay Adams) designated the control aspect of their shared 33 percent to Strunk. In return, it appears that Strunk has agreed to transfer control to Kenneth Adams IV, when Strunk retires as controlling owner.
“I’m not planning on retiring anytime soon, but ultimately it’s for Kenneth to take over,” Strunk said.
So the question becomes whether the league is OK with this approach. In an email sent Friday to PFT, league spokesman Brian McCarthy stopped short of providing an unequivocal endorsement.
“We are very comfortable with the direction of the team,” McCarthy said. “The team is well managed by Amy Adams Strunk and has strong leadership in place with executives such as Steve Underwood. The team is very committed to the community and has tremendous momentum on the field as a playoff team last year and a new coach for this season. League staff is working with the club and the finance committee to resolve any outstanding issues.”
McCarthy, in a follow-up, declined to identify the “outstanding issues.” They could involve the same issues that has been the core issue since Bud Adams died: The NFL wants one person to essentially be THE owner, with no misunderstandings about who calls the shots for the franchise.
Strunk didn’t get control when she got a third of the team. No one did. It appears that Strunk struck a deal with Lewis and her sons to exercise control for as long as Strunk wants, with an understanding that control will eventually be handed to Kenneth IV.
If the league thinks that’s fine, the league should say it’s fine. The league hasn’t said it’s fine. Which suggests that the league doesn’t think it’s fine, but that the league isn’t interested in a fight over it, for now.
Meanwhile, Smith still wants to sell her third of the team. As PFT explained recently, some potential buyers have been interested, with at least one coming very close to closing the deal. Ultimately, however, no one has been willing to purchase the asset — possibly due in large part to the inability to establish a path to control.
With Strunk securing control under an apparent deal that consists of eventually giving control to Kenneth IV at some point in the future, no buyer of Smith’s 33-percent interest in the team would have any chance to eventually have any say at all over how the team is run. Which means that Smith could remain involuntarily stuck with her third of the team, indefinitely.
The fact that these issues haven’t impacted the management or performance of the team is admirable. Still, it continues to feel like the Titans are sitting atop a bomb with a very slow-moving fuse that the league could shorten considerably whenever it wants.