Mon, 25 Mar 2002, 6:07pm EST
By Curtis Eichelberger

Orlando, Florida, March 19 (Bloomberg) -- National Football League owners said they won't exercise their option to become minority partners in the Arena Football League.

The NFL had negotiated a three-year option in 1999 that allowed it to buy between 24.5 percent and 49.9 percent of the 16- team indoor league before March 31.

During their annual meetings in Orlando, Florida, NFL owners said they supported individuals buying arena league teams, but were against the league taking an ownership stake. Eight NFL owners have bought arena league franchises.

``We couldn't reach a consensus,'' said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. ``It could be revisited, but not at this meeting.''

Arena Football League Commissioner David Baker wasn't immediately available to comment.

The decision, which would have required approval from 24 of the NFL's 32 owners, comes less than three weeks after the indoor football league signed a contract to play its games on General Electric's NBC network beginning in 2003.

If the NFL had exercised its option, it would have shared in the arena league's advertising, sponsorship and merchandising revenue.

``A lot of people here think it's a good thing, but I'm not convinced it's football,'' said Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

NFL Ties

The NFL still has a close relationship with the arena league, overseeing its officiating department and lending expertise in negotiating marketing agreements.

The NFL owners who have bought arena league teams are Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, William Clay Ford of the Detroit Lions, Daniel Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints, Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos, Wayne Weaver of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bud Adams of the Tennessee Titans, and John York and Denise DeBartolo York of the San Francisco *****.

Orlando Predators Entertainment Inc., the only publicly traded company in the arena league, was down 36 cents to $3.10 a share.

The arena league plays indoors on a 50-yard field with eight men to a team. It has produced many NFL players, including two- time Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams.